On election night last November, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, riding high on the news that California voters had approved Proposition 64 to legalize recreational pot, bragged to a reporter: “I think it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana in the United States.”
That was a bit optimistic, even for Newsom, the man who desperately wants to be our state’s next governor.
A few sobering months into 2017, what’s becoming increasingly clear is that California, its cities and counties, and, most troubling, the federal government are far from being on the same page about the creation of an industry for legal marijuana.
Instead, what we’ve seen is a gathering storm of uncertainty that, for the sake of public health and public safety, must be resolved.
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Some cities are moving ahead quickly. Last week, Sacramento and Los Angeles approved laws for commercial cultivation, including a framework for licensing, taxing and zoning marijuana businesses.
Good for them. By going bravely into the new frontier, they provide other cities – Fresno among them – the opportunity to study their proposals and decide the best course of action.
This is why Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld’s proposal to ban recreational marijuana shops is premature. The goal should be to make the right decision – not rush to a decision.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg cited the “tremendous revenue opportunity for us – and jobs, potentially high-wage jobs” as the reason for giving the green light to marijuana. Sacramento expects to raise about $6 million from pot businesses.
But while a new revenue stream is enticing to local governments, there are other factors to consider. Chief among them is finding out whether the legalization of recreational pot makes it more readily available to children and whether it increases crime.
Thus it is incumbent on Mayor Lee Brand’s administration and Bredefeld to get the facts on what has happened in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana was previously legalized.
The state, meanwhile, is behind schedule on drafting regulations necessary to start issuing licenses to growers and sellers in January, when Proposition 64 is supposed to take full effect. The state should take its time. Meeting an arbitrary deadline is far less important than getting the regulations right, even if a delay might pose a problem for cities lusting after a tax revenue windfall.
Those problems are small compared to the wrench the federal government could throw in the works. The Trump administration has the real power. A renewed crackdown on dispensaries and grow farms by federal agents could kill California’s commercial marijuana industry before it even gets off the ground.
For years under the Obama administration, the Justice Department passed on hard-line drug raids, preferring to let states set their own policies on medical and recreational weed. But last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer set off a panic in California, suggesting that states could be subject to “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws.
We opposed Proposition 64, believing it would damage public health and declaring it “half-baked.” We also understand that voters spoke. But far from ending the war on drugs, as Newsom predicted, it would seem the battle lines have merely shifted.