Newsom calls for marijuana legalization

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is using his bully pulpit to advocate for marijuana legalization.

For all his flaws, Gavin Newsom has never shied away from taking a stand or showing leadership on emerging issues, particularly when the politicians are lagging behind public opinion. As mayor, he did it on same-sex marriage, temporary public art, and taking street some space from cars. And today, as the state's lieutenant governor, he is calling for an end to marijuana prohibition.

“It is time for California to decriminalize, tax and regulate marijuana and decide who sells it, who can buy it legally, and for how much. When California became the first state to approve medical marijuana, we led the nation on progressive drug policies, and now it is time to lead again,” Newsom wrote in a Huffington Post column that was posted last night.

Newsom recites a case for legalization that the public has long supported, particularly here in California, citing how damaging and expensive it is to wage “war” on a substance that most Californians know is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, peppering his column with compelling stats like this: “The U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its citizens, with less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population.”

The Drug Policy Alliance amplified Newsom's column with a press release today, calling for other politicians to follow his lead and finally remove marijuana from its federal listing as a Schedule One narcotic, “where is current sits alongside heroin,” as Newsom noted. He closes by writing: “There is no reason why California cannot set the example for the nation in responding to drugs in a rational and sensible way. It is time to be bold enough to consider the science and the examples set forth by other states and nations. The time has come to decriminalize, tax and regulate marijuana -- anything less is not enough.”

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann praised the stand, writing, “What I find remarkable is that not one sitting governor or U.S. senator has spoken out in favor of legalizing marijuana notwithstanding the fact that a majority of Americans now support that approach. But I am confident that it’s only a matter of time until elected officials follow in Gavin Newsom’s bold footsteps as they did with marriage equality.”

Indeed, when Newsom unilaterally began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, it was opposed by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US Senator Dianne Feinstein (in fact, all but two US Senators), and the official platforms of both major parties. Today, after a rapid upwelling of political support, it is supported by President Obama and half of the US Senate and it may be on the verge of being legalized by the US Supreme Court (we find out next month). Newsom showed foresight on that issue, and he's doing so again with marijuana.

Washington and Colorado voters legalized recreational uses of marijuana last year, and they are well on their way to reviving their economies promoting what is already California's top cash crop, despite its strained legal status. In fact, we also got a press release today from Gaynell Rogers, who handles public relations for Harborside Health Center, the Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that is currently waging an expensive fight for its life after a federal raid.

“Investors Gather to Fund the Most Promising Marijuana Companies in Seattle,” was the headline of a press release about an April 29 event where 40 wealthy investors will “hear pitches from the top entrepreneurs in the hot, new legal cannabis industry,” an event hosted by ArcView Investor Network, which includes many tech entrepreneurs and investors.

"Cannabis is the next great American industry,” said ArcView co-founder and CEO Troy Dayton. “Now that a majority support legalization, a geyser is about to go off. The question is: which companies will be seated on top of it? That is what's being decided at this investor event."

Similarly, as California wrestles with tight budgets and a overcrowded prison system, can we really afford to continue wasting money and lives criminalizing such an industry that already is already an important part of the state's economy? Newsom says no, and so do we.