California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of the most prominent supporters of efforts to legalize marijuana in November, urged his fellow political leaders to support the cause and stop trying to avoid a fight.
In an interview with The Huffington Post during the Democratic National Convention in July, Newsom, a Democrat, said lawmakers and other politicians need to take a stand on cannabis reform. A petition to legalize the drug for recreation will appear on the ballot Nov. 8, and it is expected to pass. Leaders need to realize the drug wars have failed, he said.
“What we’re doing to criminalize the drug is not working,” he said. “And the drug is ubiquitous. Every young person would say it’s easier to get marijuana than it is alcohol.”
Many California politicians, Newsom said, give lip service to ending the war on drugs but refuse to take part in the campaign to legalize marijuana. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, for one, has said he’s still unsure about the initiative, titled the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). Others, including Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate General Kamala Harris, have remained publicly neutral on the issue.
Statewide government is entirely controlled by Democrats, as is the legislature, but even liberal politicians are willing to offer no more than tepid support for full legalization. Their reticence echoes the position taken by political leaders across the country. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, was a rare exception, introducing a bill during the campaign that would make it easier to legalize cannabis at the federal level.
In California, one senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, is openly opposed to the idea, while the other, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has said she isn’t ready to back the AUMA but may change her mind. Boxer is retiring, and neither of her potential successors – both of who, thanks to a quirk of state law, are also Democrats – has taken a solid position on legalization.
Politicians need to take a stance
“How do you justify the current conditions?” Newsom told The Huffington Post. “For me, you can’t be neutral here. This is a social justice issue. It’s an economic justice issue. It’s a racial justice issue. People need to step up, either come out vehemently against it with a better alternative, explain away the status quo because you’re complicit in it ― society becomes how we behave ― or come on board.”
The lieutenant governor noted the benefits of full legalization, such as eliminating violent drug cartels, generating tax revenue, and reforming a racially biased criminal justice system. Legalizing cannabis, he said, would also help anti-drug groups discourage underage marijuana use.
“You don’t have to be pro-marijuana to be anti-prohibition,” Newsom said. “I do think there are absolute legitimate concerns about the use and abuse of marijuana and cannabis for young folks, despite some of the medical benefits, and as a parent I’m not here celebrating [drug use] or promoting it.”
But he said the time has come to move past decades of failed drug policy.
“The war on drugs cannot persist without the war on marijuana,” he said.