The push to legalize marijuana in California received a boost Thursday as the state's Democratic lieutenant governor announced that he was leading a blue ribbon panel that plans to study the issue with the goal of producing a legalization initiative for the November 2016 ballot.
In announcing the formation of the 16-member panel of medical, legal, political and law enforcement experts, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom made plain that he fully endorses the idea of making adult sales and recreational use of marijuana legal and challenged other elected officials to do the same.
"We've been sitting here most of my life -- literally and not just figuratively -- fighting this failed war on marijuana, and the results are pretty overwhelming,'' said Newsom, who previously served as San Francisco's mayor. "I'm proudly now asserting a point of view that I've had, candidly, for years and didn't have the courage at the time to express it. And I hope others will do the same, if they believe this is the right thing to do.''
The American Civil Liberties Union of California convened the committee because of research showing that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately subject to arrest and imprisonment for possessing and selling marijuana, Allen Hopper, the ACLU's director of criminal justice and drug policy.
Hopper said the panel plans to meet over the next 18 to 24 months and in developing recommendations that could be written into a ballot initiative to draw heavily from the experiences of Colorado and Washington, which last year became the first two U.S. states to treat marijuana like alcohol by authorizing its use by adults and taxing sales.
The ACLU on Thursday also released the results of a new poll that shows large majorities of Californians support doing the same in their state, regardless of age, race and whether they personally use pot.
The Tulchin Research telephone poll of 1,200 residents who said they were likely to vote in the 2016 general election found that 65 percent of respondents overall favored legalizing marijuana as long as it remained illegal for minors and sales were limited to stores subject to state regulation.