Political Notebook

Newsom, pot panel hold Fresno State hearing

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other panelists on his blue ribbon commission on marijuana policy, at Fresno State Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other panelists on his blue ribbon commission on marijuana policy, at Fresno State Wednesday, June 3, 2015. molinger@fresnobee.com

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy made an appearance at Fresno State on Wednesday as part of a statewide series of meetings on legalizing marijuana.

About 75 people showed up for Wednesday morning’s session at Fresno State’s North Gym.

“This is complicated, and good people can disagree,” said Newsom, who has been supportive of legalizing marijuana use. “I want you to know that most of the people involved in this aren’t ideologues. I’m not an ideologue.”

Commissioners discussed a wide variety of subjects stemming from the potential for California marijuana legalization (supporters are seeking to get a 2016 ballot initiative), including tax revenue and how to spend it, and what regulations to put into place if legalization occurs.

The central San Joaquin Valley skews conservative on the issue; for example, the Fresno City Council in April voted down an ordinance that would have allowed indoor growing of up to four mature plants and 12 immature plants.

Brenda Linder, a local attorney, was in the audience at Wednesday’s event and described Fresno policy toward marijuana as “no dispensaries, no collectives, no plants. Indoors, outdoors, nothing … sometimes I think they’ve outlawed even saying the word.”

Steve Worthley, a member of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, discussed the inherent difficulty of city or county governments attempting to override state law.

“One of the problems we see in county government is that if you have one county take a very strong position on any kind of criminal activity, whether it involves gang activity or marijuana cultivation, there’s a tendency for people to move along,” Worthley said, “so you don’t solve anything. You just push it off on the next county.”

The panel also discussed potential conflicts that could arise between California law and federal law. “Whatever we do in California has to be a step towards and in the context of federal policy change,” said Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU for Northern California and a commission member, “because the gray area we have inside the state will still exist as a federal gray area.”

Not everyone on the panel was supportive of legalization. Joe Garza, the president of the California Police Chief’s Association, expressed concerns about legalized marijuana creating “red light districts like they have in Amsterdam.” He went on to call marijuana a gateway drug and asked the audience to consider the effect that legalization may have on families, schools and communities.

His comments were met with laughter and derision until the audience was quieted as Soltani asked that people let everyone’s views be heard. It’s was a sentiment echoed by Newsom.

“I want disparate beliefs to be represented,” said Newsom. “Those disparate views will be represented, trust me, in Sacramento through the implementation phase.”

As the discussion drew to a close, Newsom underscored the importance of citizen involvement in the legalization process.

“This conversation continues with this platform, please engage us,” Newsom said.

Michael Olinger: (559) 441-6141