Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


California's voters, in all their wisdom, chose an unknown quantity in
electing political neophyte Arnold Schwarzenegger as their new
governor in the Tuesday recall election.

The Austrian-born action film actor cruised to victory in
change-hungry California without taking specific stands on the issues,
instead getting by on a combination of celebrity worship, mass media
fascination, and speeches consisting primarily of platitudes and
buzzwords. Schwarzenegger boldly announced he was for "change" and
against "politicians." That was good enough for 48% of the voters, and
48% was good enough to make him governor.

But for drug reformers in the Golden State, along with many other
policy observers, Schwarzenegger's victory raises more questions than
it answers.

Schwarzenegger's storied past, replete with unrepentant tales of
marijuana smoking during his wild youth, and his identification as a
"socially liberal" Republican, provide reformers with some hope that,
at the least, he will not be an ardent drug warrior.

But the composition of his team of advisors, including most
notoriously former Gov. Pete Wilson, who built a political career on
turning California prisons into a growth industry, is causing some
serious jitters.

In the campaign itself, Schwarzenegger allowed that medical marijuana
should be legal, but, as with so many other issues, did not go into
specifics on that question.

Neither did he offer up positions on other drug policy-related

It should be noted also that supporting medical marijuana in a state
where 80% of voters approve of its use was neither controversial nor

With so slender a public record to weigh, reformers who spoke with
DRCNet this week about drug reform in the era of Arnold had little to
go on but hope and speculation. "We don't really know what
Schwarzenegger's election means," said Judith Appel, deputy director
of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance's (
Oakland office. "This is really the first time a major party candidate
in a large state has been clear about the fact he used drugs," she
pointed out. "I don't know how that will translate into any kind of
drug policy reform, though," she conceded.

"This is just bizarre," said Hilary McQuie of Americans for Safe
Access (, the grassroots group leading an
aggressive defense of California medical marijuana in the face federal
assaults. "All bets are off when it comes to Schwarzenegger," she told
DRCNet. "Nobody knows what he is going to do, how much he will be
influenced by the Bush administration or the Kennedy family.

Nor do we know whether he will be a corporate lackey or will be
independent because of his wealth and lack of previous political

"Well, it's a new day for California," said Dale Gieringer, head of
California NORML ( "I hope the new governor,
with all his talk about not raising taxes, will be mindful of all the
waste in marijuana and drug law enforcement," he told DRCNet. But
Gieringer, too, was unsure which way Schwarzenegger will lean on drug
reform issues. "He has shown that he's a moderate Republican on social
issues with liberal views on medical marijuana, but that's the
mainstream view here in California," said Gieringer. "Certainly he
shouldn't be pointing the finger at people for smoking pot, given his

The question is how far will he go down the path of drug

Whatever Schwarzenegger does, the consensus among California reformers
is that he will be better than ousted Gov. Gray Davis, who steadfastly
refused to sign progressive reform bills and who, beholden to the
powerful prison guards' union, oversaw the fruition of Pete Wilson's
draconian vision of a state with more money for prisons than for
colleges. "Gray Davis was terrible," said Gieringer. "He blocked
sentencing reduction bills, he wouldn't sign the needle bill, he
didn't even wholeheartedly support medical marijuana.

Gray's loss is no loss in that regard."

"Davis didn't make any friends among reformers," agreed ASA's McQuie,
"or among people interested in the public health and other normally
Democratic constituencies. He has some good people working under him,
whom I hope Schwarzenegger will keep on, but their hands were tied by

Only the Drug Policy Alliance, which still hopes to work with Davis to
get him to sign pending reform legislation before he leaves office,
declined to badmouth the outgoing governor. "Gray Davis has a chance
to adjust his legacy by signing these bills he has been sitting on,"
said Appel.

As for Schwarzenegger, Appel said, he could give an early indication
of support for drug reform if, in the event Davis neither vetoes nor
signs the needle purchase or medical marijuana registration bills
Davis has so far ignored, Schwarzenegger picks up the governor's pen
and makes the bills law. "We hope that he will be positive on these

We hope when he says he supports medical marijuana that means he will
sign Senate Bill 420 [medical marijuana registration] if it is still
on the governor's desk," Appel said. "We hope we can work with him on
drug policy reform."

The state's $8 billion budget deficit and Schwarzenegger's vow,
reiterated since his victory, not to raise taxes, leave a huge
potential opening, the reformers suggested. "Money spent imprisoning
drug offenders is not money well spent," said Appel. "Hopefully,
Schwarzenegger's emphasis on education and the fact there is no money
will lead him to see that. He isn't beholden to the prison guards'
union, and we can only hope he will surround himself with people who
are open to being educated about drug reform."

"Schwarzenegger prides himself on being free of special interest
entanglements," agreed Gieringer. "Everybody knows the prison guards'
union has wielded substantial power over Davis with its contributions.
Let's hope that Schwarzenegger will take a fresh look at the prison
situation and the crime creation program that is our drug laws."

Even with all the doubts about Schwarzenegger and drug reform,
Gieringer, at least, saw some other good coming from the election.
"This just might break the grip the moralistic far-right Christians
have on the state Republican party," he suggested. "The reason
California has been so Democratic is that all the Republicans
candidates have been anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-gun

Now we have a Republican governor who supports all those things and
the state Republicans are eating crow. This could have a salutary
effect on the party here, and that could be a good thing, because the
Democrats need some competition. If we can get the state GOP out of
the hands of the blue meanies, maybe Democrats would not have to bear
the burden alone of passing drug reform and other progressive
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