Some attorney general candidates opposed to marijuana initiative
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The major candidates running for state attorney general who responded to the Bay Area Reporter are lining up against an initiative on the November ballot that would legalize marijuana, putting even liberal Democratic candidates at odds with those who say it's time that law enforcement get out of the pot business.
The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 would regulate marijuana in a way similar to alcohol, allowing people 21 and over to possess and consume small amounts.
Among other provisions included in the measure, people 21 and older could possess, cultivate, or transport pot for personal use, while local governments could regulate and tax commercial production and sales. Smoking pot in public would still be prohibited.
California already has a more liberal stance on marijuana than most states. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, which exempts patients who possess or grow marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician from state criminal laws. Since Prop 215's passage, the movement to legalize pot for adult recreational use has steadily grown, as more states moved to pass medicinal measures and the drug lost some of its stigma.
But many of the candidates running to be the state's top cop don't see the benefits of legalizing the herb.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who, when she was sworn in to her first term as the city's top prosecutor promised never to seek the death penalty, has come out against legalizing marijuana.
"As a career prosecutor, I believe that drug selling harms communities; it is not a 'victimless crime,' as some contend," Harris, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general, said in an e-mail. "While I support the legal use of medical marijuana, and personally know people who have benefited from its use, I do not support the legalization of marijuana beyond that."
Another Democratic candidate, Chris Kelly, formerly chief privacy officer for the social networking giant Facebook, is also against the measure.
"I think that we have to make sure we have a regulatory regime in place around medical marijuana and compassionate use of marijuana before we consider any further steps toward decriminalization or legalization," Kelly said in a phone interview.
Kelly expressed support for medical marijuana but said, "At a time that there are more marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles than there are Starbucks, we need to get serious about regulation before we consider any more steps."
He was apparently referring to National Public Radio previously reporting some neighborhoods in that city had more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks.
One Democratic candidate who spoke to the B.A.R. favors legalization.
Mike Schmier, who's based in Emeryville and according to his Web site has practiced employee rights law for over 30 years, said, "I see no reason that it should be illegal. The old reasons that I have read why it is illegal make little sense to me and do not persuade me."
John Eastman, a Republican candidate who most recently served as dean of the Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California, said he opposes the November measure, in part because it would be "completely ineffectual."
"This is a feel good initiative," Eastman said. "We can't make something legal here that is illegal under federal law."
In fact, the federal government also does not recognize medicinal use of marijuana, but the Obama administration has directed federal authorities to back off raids of medical cannabis dispensaries.
Eastman said even if marijuana weren't illegal under federal law, he'd still oppose legalization in California. He called marijuana "addictive" and said leg
Supporters among the smaller parties
Support for the November ballot measure is seen more from the minor party candidates for attorney general.
Peter Allen, a Green Party candidate who is an attorney for the California Public Utilities Commission, said he supports the concept of the proposed measure – which he's reviewed "briefly." However, he said the wording seems "complicated," and "the more complicated legislation is, the more likely it is to have problems in implementation."
On the other hand, Prop 215 was so simplistic and brief in its wording that the state had problems implementing it for many years in terms of developing state ID cards for patients and other matters. Local jurisdictions are still battling with dispensaries in some parts of the state, including San Jose.
Bob Evans, the Peace and Freedom Party candidate who lives in Berkeley, supports the measure "because I believe that the laws against marijuana are foolish."
Evans, a criminal defense attorney, expressed doubt about marijuana being harmful and said "it's certainly less harmful than alcohol, and should be encouraged as an alternative to alcohol...."
Tim Hannan, the Libertarian candidate, said he also supports the proposal.
"It just makes good sense to me," said Hannan, a Santa Rosa attorney. "I'm not persuaded by the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug to more harmful addictions."
Also, Hannan said, "in California, we spend way too much money on prosecuting and imprisoning people for using marijuana."
Backer weighs in
Richard Lee is a main backer of the marijuana initiative. Lee is president of Oaksterdam University, which has a campus in Oakland and according to its Web site aims to "provide students with the highest quality training for the cannabis industry."
He indicated that he wasn't concerned by the stance taken by the major attorney general candidates.
Lee noted that Prop 215 had faced similar opposition before it was passed.
"I really think on this issue, the voters lead elected officials on it," Lee said.
As far as marijuana still being illegal federally, Lee said, "I don't think the Obama administration wants to go to war with the voters of California." He also noted that states' support for medical marijuana has been growing.
Lee said the ballot measure is "very different" from Assembly Bill 2254, legislation proposed by openly gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that is also aimed at legalizing marijuana for adults.
Lee said among the differences between the two proposals is that Ammiano's bill sets up a statewide system of sales and distribution by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, while the ballot measure starts out by giving cities and counties the ability to tax and regulate sales and commercial cultivation how – and if – they want to.
That opt-out provision may result in "dry" parts of the state when it comes to obtaining marijuana should the initiative pass.
AG candidates Steve Cooley, Rocky Delgadillo, Tom Harman, Ted Lieu, Pedro Nava, Diane Beall Templin, and Alberto Torrico did not provide comment for this story by press time.