Pubdate: Mon, 30 May 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Kurtis Lee


Touring California, the Presidential Hopeful Endorses the State's 
Legalization Initiative

For Californians resolved to one day enter a dispensary and purchase 
pre-rolled joints or marijuana-infused cookies - all for recreational 
use - a highprofile ally who lives 3,000 miles away has emerged.

As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders darts across the state ahead of the 
June 7 Democratic presidential primary, he's seamlessly woven into 
his pitch to voters an unyielding message of support for an effort 
that would legalize recreational pot in California.

"It makes sense to legalize marijuana at this particular point," 
Sanders told supporters last week on a dusty softball field at a park 
in East Los Angeles where, like at many of his outdoor events in 
California, a slightly pungent pot aroma wafted through the air. "So 
if I were here in your state, I would vote yes on that issue."

Sanders' endorsement of the measure appears to be an effort to corral 
support, as he is down in delegates and faced with an uphill climb 
against Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic 
nomination. A poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute 
of California showed 60% of residents support legalizing pot, and 
referencing the issue often garnered Sanders the loudest applause at 
each of his rallies in Southern California last week.

The proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act would, among other things, 
allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana for 
recreational use and to grow as many as six plants in their home. A 
retail tax of 15% would be imposed on all sales.

Supporters of the effort, including former Facebook President Sean 
Parker, who has helped bankroll the initiative, submitted 600,000 
signatures to state elections officials this month, and the proposal 
is widely expected to appear on the November ballot. In 1996, 
California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

Sanders' support is representative of a change in attitudes toward 
marijuana, said Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the pro-legalization 
initiative. Pot is already legal for recreational use in Alaska, 
Colorado, Oregon and Washington state. And voters in Arizona, Maine 
and Nevada will probably also cast ballots this fall on 
full-legalization initiatives.

"This is one of those issues where the people lead the politicians," 
Kinney said. "That was true to some extent on LGBT rights and 
marriage equality, and it's appearing to be true on marijuana legalization."

Sanders' stance on marijuana is not new - he has supported taking 
marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substances Act and has said 
the decision to legalize pot for recreational use should be decided 
by the states.

But he has been more vocal about his backing for it in California, 
where he is making what amounts to a last stand for his candidacy, 
than he was in earlier voting states.

Last fall, during a candidates debate in Las Vegas, Sanders indicated 
his support for a legalization initiative in Nevada.

"I suspect I would vote yes," a hesitant Sanders said when asked 
whether he would support the measure.

He has made more of an unequivocal endorsement of legalization on the 
trail in Southern California this month. From San Diego to San 
Bernardino, Sanders has voiced his support for the effort and has 
said that minorities, particularly young people, are 
disproportionately affected by petty marijuana offenses, citing that 
as one of his prime reasons for backing legalization.

"If you are a 19-year-old kid applying for a job and your employer 
asks you if you've ever been arrested and you say, 'Well, yeah, I was 
smoking marijuana,' you may not get that job," Sanders told a crowd 
in Santa Monica last week.

He added, to deafening applause, "I tell you that if I lived in your 
state, I would vote for that initiative."

For opponents of the push to legalize pot, Sanders' overt support in 
California is viewed with skepticism.

"He's doing some good old political pandering," said Scott Chipman, 
Southern California chair of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana. 
The nonpartisan group was founded in advance of Proposition 19, an 
initiative that would have legalized various marijuana-related 
activities in California, and was defeated in 2010 by seven percentage points.

Sanders "doesn't care about California's public health and safety," 
Chipman said.

And even some legalization supporters are questioning Sanders' 
intentions. Entertainer Tommy Chong, a marijuana enthusiast and 
supporter of Sanders, was critical of the senator after being 
disinvited from introducing him in East Los Angeles this week.

"It's lip service to get the votes," Chong told the Hollywood 
Reporter. "It was an insult."

Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, pushed back against that 
notion, saying Sanders has always believed that legalized pot is a 
states' rights issue and that if it were on the ballot in Vermont, he 
would actively campaign and vote for it.

Clinton has taken a more measured approach. In response to a similar 
marijuana question during the Las Vegas debate, the former secretary 
of State declined to take a position on recreational marijuana use, 
calling for a wait-and-see approach.

"We have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing 
recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today," 
she said. Clinton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment 
about the legalization effort in California.

Some of Clinton's most prominent supporters in the state, such as Lt. 
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, support the initiative.

Julia Goldfarb-Sousa, 23, a waitress in Redlands, attended Sanders' 
rally in San Bernardino on Tuesday. She uses marijuana medicinally 
for migraines and anxiety and supports legalizing it for recreational use.

"This is just a plant; it's better than any drug being pushed by the 
pharmaceutical industry - it's natural," said Goldfarb-Sousa, noting 
that she took a few puffs from her pipe before attending the rally.

"To hear Bernie speak out so strongly for it only reaffirms my 
support for its full legalization and for him."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom