Pubdate: Fri, 27 Mar 2015
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2015 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Josh Richman


Newsom Leads State Panel of Experts to Get Policy Done Right

With Californians likely to vote as early as next year on legalizing 
recreational marijuana, a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom 
will travel the Golden State in the coming months to help the state 
think through the issues.

In a new report, the task force says the state should figure out in 
advance how to keep pot from kids and keep impaired drivers off the 
road, whether to tax weed by weight or its sale price and how to 
eliminate a black market.

California is among several states likely to see 2016 ballot measures 
for legalization, as Colorado and Washington state approved in 
November 2012. The American Civil Liberties Union convened this 
commission in October 2013, with Newsom as its chairman, to study the 
issues around legalization.

"I was supportive of it 18 months ago, and I'm supportive of it now, 
but let me tell you - there's a lot of work to do here," Newsom said 
Thursday afternoon. "This isn't going to be easy to implement."

The commission plans to hold open forums across the state and has 
launched a website at

Newsom, who already has declared his candidacy for governor in 2018, 
said he's involved not for campaign visibility or as a popularity 
ploy but because "for me this is really a moral and ethical thing." 
The current system disproportionately pursues people of color for 
marijuana crimes and costs the state many millions of dollars each 
year, he said - a status quo that can't continue.

Legalization "is likely to happen, and on our watch," he said, so 
it's better to carefully craft policy beforehand rather than enacting 
a law that requires years of cleanup afterward - as California has 
struggled to do since legalizing medical marijuana in 1996.

Voters rejected marijuana legalization in November 2010 as 
Proposition 19; it got 46 percent support. A few proposed measures 
failed to gather enough signatures to reach 2014's ballot.

Yet 53 percent of the state's adults now support legalization, the 
Public Policy Institute of California reported Wednesday - the 
highest level since that poll began asking the question five years 
ago. Among likely voters, support stands at 55 percent.

It's an opinion heavily colored by experience: 74 percent of adults 
who have tried marijuana favor legalization, the poll found, while 
only 35 percent of those who have never tried it favor legalizing it.

So public support is growing, but so is concern about underage use. 
The National Institute on Drug Abuse's 2014 annual survey found 34 
percent of 10th graders and 44 percent of 12th graders had used 
marijuana. But that's a compelling case for legalization and 
regulation, Newsom said: "I don't know of a drug cartel that asks 
their street dealers to card children."

The data show "we're failing our kids right now, and for those who 
are opposed to legalization, I'd like to know what they're for," he 
said. "If they're defending what's going on in their communities 
today, that's a poor excuse for leadership."

The commission's report says keeping legal marijuana out of young 
hands might require a new system of education, counseling and 
treatment with new policies and roles for schools. Public safety 
concerns include impaired driving; it's not as easy to measure 
marijuana impairment as it is to gauge drunkenness. And the state 
would have to consider how to deal with those who grow and sell 
marijuana outside the legal system.

How best to tax recreational pot remains an open question, the report 
says. It could be taxed as a percentage of retail price, which might 
not address the product's quantity or potency. Or it could be a 
weight-based tax, but that might encourage a race to create products 
with more potency per ounce. Or, a tax scale could be tied to the 
product's concentration of THC - marijuana's main active ingredient - 
but that would be hard to administer.

The commission includes more than 20 drug policy, law enforcement and 
health experts such as Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus; Dr. Seth 
Ammerman, a Stanford University expert in adolescent medicine; and 
Harlan Grossman, a retired Contra Costa County judge, FBI agent and prosecutor.
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