After years of opposing the full-scale legalization of marijuana, California's outspoken Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has officially come out in favor of ending prohibition on weed. And he's urging other politicians to do the same.
"These laws just don't make sense anymore," Newsom said in a recent interview with the New York Times. "It's time for politicians to come out of the closet on this."
"It's shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users," added Newsom. "These are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people. Increasingly, people are willing to share how they use it and not be ashamed of it."
This position is a policy shift for Newsom, who previously only supported legalizing cannabis for medical use. However, he predicted this ideological shift would occur eventually. In a 2010 interview with SF Appeal's Chris Roberts, the then-San Francisco mayor said he wasn't quite ready to support full-scale legalization:
"This is a hard one for me... but I'm just not there yet," Newsom told The Appeal. "I'll never cede my strong support [for medical cannabis]," but concerns over exactly how full-on legalization would be implemented -- from taxation to dispensation to "the message it sends" -- soured Prop 19 in Newsom's eyes. "I'm frustrated with myself on this one, to be truthful," Newsom added. "But I'm just not there yet. I hope to be there someday, though."
Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, views Newsom's change of heart through a political lens. "Gavin Newsom is clearly an ambitious and calculating politician who has his sights set on higher elected office. For him to come out in favor of marijuana legalization shows that this issue has arrived in a big way," explained Angell. "Once looked at as a dangerous 'third-rail' of politics, polls show that the time is coming--if it hasn't already arrived--when opposing marijuana legalization will be a real political liability, at least for Democrats running in primary elections."
Angell notes he was disappointed Newsom essentially sat out of the debate over California's Proposition 19, which failed to legalize recreational marijuana in 2010. But he hopes that the lieutenant governor will get involved in future legalization efforts.
Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana this past November, and there's been some speculation that California may soon follow suit.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we will see an initiative on the [California] ballot either in 2014 or 2016," Steve DeAngelo, co-founder and executive director of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary, told the Huffington Post earlier this year. "The victory of these [other state] initiatives has energized activists all over the United States and all over the world."