California Lt. Gov. Newsom pledges to campaign for marijuana legalization

mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoGavin Newsom pledged his support for marijuana legalization.

mike koozmin/s.f. examiner file photoGavin Newsom pledged his support for marijuana legalization.

If California legalizes marijuana use for adults in 2016, one of the biggest champions of the cause will be Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Speaking at an event in Marin County on Tuesday, the former San Francisco mayor pledged to campaign on behalf of a future ballot initiative to legalize the drug, “if it is the right initiative,” according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Newsom said social justice, not tax revenue or libertarianism, sparked his shift in attitude, he said during a luncheon hosted by the Marin County Bar Association.

Marijuana probation disproportionately affects young and poor black and Hispanic males and contributes to prison overcrowding, he said.

“I don't like drugs. I don't like drug abuse,” he said, according to the newspaper. “But I hate the drug war more.”

Newsom, who since taking statewide office has become a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization, is the highest-ranking California elected official to openly embrace overturning laws banning cannabis use by adults.

Gov. Jerry Brown appears to oppose marijuana legalization, voicing fears of a “nation of potheads” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this year.

As for California’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Kamala Harris this week laughed off the legalization question when asked by reporters for her stance.

But legalization is gaining traction elsewhere in the U.S., with Colorado and Washington voting in 2012 to allow adults to use small amounts of marijuana. Sales went into effect this year, allowing Colorado to take in $23.6 million in tax revenue during the first six months of 2014.

Newsom opposed legalizing marijuana in California in 2010, when the initiative Proposition 19 only garnered 46.5 percent of the vote.

Several legalization initiatives, including one supported by New York City-based Drug Policy Alliance and funded in part by late billionaire Peter Lewis, made initial efforts to get onto the ballot this year. Yet most failed for lack of funding.

Newsom has also been tapped to chair an expert panel, convened by the American Civil Liberties Union, that has been tasked with studying legalization. That panel, formed last year, has yet to produce its first report.

Attitudes on the drug are changing rapidly.

A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to several major nationwide polling firms, and The New York Times published a series of editorials last week advocating for legalization.Bay Area NewsGavin NewsomGovernment & PoliticsMarijuanamarijuana legalizationPolitics

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