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A Gubernatorial Pot Primer



When Californians head to the polls Tuesday the cannabis industry won't be on the ballot but it has a lot at stake. Most notably, the state's next governor will oversee the implementation of new regulations slated to be rolled out later this year to govern what's expected to become a $5 billion recreational industry by 2020. And the candidates offer some stark contrasts in approach and outlook to America's second-favorite psychoactive substance.

Earlier this year, the state's top six candidates for the post gathered for the Univision debate and moderator Jorge Ramos asked for a show of hands for who among them had "ever used pot?" Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shot his hand up with no small air of pride, adding, "And unlike some, I inhaled." State Treasurer John Chiang seemed to reluctantly follow suit. Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin's hand was last to go up.

The other three candidates on stage — Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republicans John Cox, a businessman, and Assemblyman Travis Allen — maintained they've never touched the stuff. But even among the two camps, there's some interesting nuances between the candidates' takes on California's new industry. Here's a quick rundown of where they stand, just in case you want to take it into account Tuesday.

Allen — The 44-year-old financial planner was one of two assembly members to vote against Senate Bill 94, California's landmark legislation to license and regulate the medical cannabis industry, last year. He's spoken out against recreational legalization, saying at a debate earlier this month that it will have "disasterous consequences in California, as we have already seen in Colorado."

Chiang — The 55-year-old treasurer has been at the forefront of California's new regulated cannabis economy, most notably convening a working group last year that came up with the landmark recommendation that the state should look into creating a state bank to help the cannabis industry transition into banking and financing and away from its currently fraught cash-only transactions.

Cox — The 62-year-old millionaire snack foods mogul from Rancho Sante Fe has been by far the most outspoken critic of cannabis. Last month, he told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the Golden State should implement a system similar to one in Portugal, where drug possession charges can lead to mandatory in-patient medical treatment. "I'd like to go to the Portugal system where they actually put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse," he told the paper. (He clarified in a follow-up interview that he didn't mean users should be institutionalized, just treated.)

Eastin — The 77 year old has long supported decriminalization and has come out in favor of California forming a public bank for the cannabis industry. While critical of prohibition — "That hasn't worked so well," she told the Ukiah Daily Journal — she's also no huge fan of Proposition 64, which she says could have been written "more strongly" with increased taxes earmarked to put additional funds into mental health treatment programs.

Newsom — The 50-year-old lieutenant governor famously told the Sacramento Bee of cannabis that he "hates the stuff. Can't stand it." But he also helmed the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, championed Proposition 64 and last year took in more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the cannabis industry. While some have criticized his support of cannabis legalization as purely for political purposes, he has maintained he sees it as a social justice issue, no matter his personal views on the plant.

Villaraigosa — The 65 year old who served two terms as mayor of California's largest city was late to support Proposition 64, ultimately only endorsing it a week before Election Day. He's generally seen as pro-cannabis legalization and supportive of the industry, including a number of statements about the need to protect small farms in the face of moneyed corporations. But he has also been outspoken about the need to develop a test to crack down on stoned driving.

So there's the quick rundown. But please remember there's a lot more to running California — the world's fifth largest economy — than one's approach to cannabis. Do your homework and make sure to vote June 5.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal’s news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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