April 14 – Serving as acting governor while Jerry Brown is in China on a trade mission, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom called for the decriminalization of marijuana in his speech at the California Democratic Convention in Sacramento on Saturday.
Newsom joked about an acting governor library currently being constructed in the back of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Haight Asbury before speaking seriously about dual-diagnosed substance abusers, homelessness, poverty, job creation and economic development. He called for bold measures by the party, including the end of the death penalty, calling it “racially biased.” He noted in the last 3 decades, California has spent over 4 billion dollars to execute 13 people, “in order to perpetuate the myth that we’re safer as a society with the death penalty.”
About 8 minutes into the speech, Newson said, “I think it’s time for politicians of all stripes to come out of the closet. I think it’s time to decriminalize, to tax and regulate marijuana,” he said to cheers from the nearly 3000 delegates in attendance. “It’s time to own up to the fact that our drug laws have done more harm than good. The war on drugs is an abject failure. In 2011 alone in this country 3/4 of a million of people were arrested for marijuana law violations, 87 percent for simple possession. And listen to me closely: African American children are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than their white counterparts, even though white children are more likely to abuse drugs. We send a higher percentage of aa males to prison and jail in this country that we do to colleges and universities in California.
“So I hope you’re with me. After 42 years of failure, I think it’s time to concede that if we continue to do what we’re done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve got. I think you all deserve better. It’s about standing up on principle. It’s about having the courage of our convictions. It’s about saying publicly what all to often we say privately.”
Newsom then turned his comments to gay marriage and quoted Dr. King on bending the arc of history towards justice to end his speech. Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” was played.
The CADEM conference saw the first outreach booth for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, a group working towards a marijuana legalization ballot measure in California in 2016. “The booth was a huge success,” reports CCPR outreach director and CalNORML boardmember Debby Goldsberry. “Our partners with UFCW, LEAP, CA NORML and Sacramento NORML were all in attendance to promote the need to end cannabis prohibition. The reception we all received was warm, intelligent, and full of support.” An effort is also underway to form a Cannabis and Hemp Caucus within the California Democratic Party, lead by Lanny Swerdlow, who has formed a Brownie Mary Democratic Club in Riverside.
Advocates could hardly ask for a better-looking or more articulate spokesperson than Newsom, who has been making similar comments on Real Time with Bill Maher and elsewhere. His speech at the Convention brought headlines from the LA Times and Associated Press.