March 2024 Primary Election Guide to Cannabis Candidates and Measures

 

Read about all federal and state races, candidates’ voting records, and more at NORML’s Smoke the Vote Guide

Every registered voter in California will receive a vote-by-mail ballot for the March 5 primary election. Ballots can be returned as soon as they are received. Vote-by-mail drop boxes opened on February 6 and in-person voting will be available in all California counties.

The deadline to register to vote online was February 20th. You can check your voter status online. If you need to register after February 20, you can do so at your county elections office or polling place on the day of voting.

In California, you can vote even if on parole, probation, or post-release community supervision. See information about having voting rights restored after serving a state or federal prison term for a felony conviction.

Presidential Primary

California has open primaries, meaning all voters can vote for candidates of any party, even for partisan offices. The exception is the Presidential primary, where the Republican, Green and Peace & Freedom parties aren’t allowing cross-over voting by Californians not registered to any party, but the Democratic, American Independent, and Libertarian parties are if a form is filled out and returned to county elections offices or brought to a polling place.

Read about Presidential candidates at NORML’s Smoke the Vote Guide

 

California Senate Race

Three Democratic Congress Members and a Republican ex-baseball player are the top candidates vying for the CA Senate seat vacated when Dianne Feinstein died. Laphonza Butler, who was appointed by Gov. Newsom to fill the seat, is not running for election to the seat. Feinstein’s term was set to expire in January 2025. In the March 5 Primary Election, voters will have the full-term contest on their ballot, and they will also see a separate contest for the remainder of the unexpired term ending in January 2025. 

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) is a longtime friend and champion of the marijuana reform movement. She was a staffer for Rep. Ron Dellums, one of the first Congress members to advocate marijuana reform in the 1970s, and continued to support marijuana reform as a state legislator and Congress member during the darkest days of the drug war. A strong racial justice advocate, Rep. Lee denounces cannabis laws for their disproportionate impact on minorities.  Lee is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.  She was a leading co-sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, the first-ever federal legalization bill to be approved (twice, in 2019 and 2021) by the House of Representatives.  At age 77, Rep. Lee is the most senior major candidate in the race, but also the most likely to push cannabis as a high-priority issue in the Senate.

Adam Schiff (D-West LA, Valley), is the frontrunner and top money earner in the race. He is best known for leading the House impeachment investigation of Donald Trump,  but has been more reticent on cannabis and criminal justice reform. He has typically voted well on cannabis bills, but has generally held off from co-sponsoring them. One exception is the STATES Act of 2018-9, a Trump-era bill that would have protected the legality of state marijuana laws.

Katie Porter (D-Orange County) is co-chair of the Democratic Progressive Caucus.  A single mom, she takes pride in being the only candidate who never accepts corporate donations.  She is  particularly well versed in economic issues, but has consistently voted well on marijuana bills.  She has participated in the Congressional cannabis caucus and co-sponsored the MORE legalization act. Porter is the only single mother in Congress. She was voted toughest questioner in Congress for her tough questions to corporate executives on wage and banking issues. Porter is fighting to beat out Republican Steve Garvey in the race for second place in the primary, so she can run face-to-face in the runoff against her Democratic colleague Adam Schiff, who is leading the polls. Porter was the first Democrat to be elected to represent her district, which covers much of south-central Orange County.

Ex-baseball star Steve Garvey is fighting to come in second in the primary so as to make the runoff as a Republican in this open primary. A political novice, Garvey has been vague about his views on practically everything. However, he has some experience with cannabis: He is boosting a CBD topical product line known as Level Select. “It keeps me in the game of life at 73,” he told Market Watch. But he has made it clear his products do not contain THC.

 

KEY CONGRESSIONAL RACES

U.S. House District 16 (Palo Alto / Pacifica)

Evan Low (D) is an openly gay Democratic Assemblymember who has been a vocal supporter on LGBTQ rights and cannabis issues in the state assembly.  He sponsored AJR 27 calling on President Trump to leave legal cannabis industry alone and was supportive of cannabis businesses as chair of the Assembly Business and Professions committee.

Santa County Supervisor Joe Simitian (D) voted well on cannabis issues when he was in the legislature a decade ago, including a medical marijuana employment rights bill and another classifying marijuana possession as an infraction.  He is endorsed by the retiring incumbent Anna Eshoo.

Sam Liccardo (D) built a reputation as a can-do reformer as mayor of San Jose.   During his eight years of tenure, San Jose was on the forefront of California cities that encouraged licensed cannabis businesses.

Rishi Kumar (D) responded to a constituent inquiry saying, “I am for personal choice…people can decide, Legalization makes sense.”

U.S. House District 30 (Pasadena)

In this race to replace Adam Schiff, Asm. Laura Friedman boasts a good voting record on cannabis. Her opponent  Mike Feuer spent six years in the Assembly before serving as LA City Attorney from 2013 to 2022.   While voting well on most cannabis legislation, he opposed Asm. Ammiano’s 2011 bill to defelonize personal use cultivation. After becoming city attorney, he proposed saliva test DUI checkpoints for drugs, which would have resulted in many wrongful cannabis DUI arrests. Feuer has led the charge in cracking down on LA’s many illegal dispensaries.  Also running is CA Senator Anthony Portantino, an old-school moderate Democrat with an OK voting record in the legislature.

U.S. House District 31 (San Gabriel Valley)

Another crowded open-seat race to replace Grace Napolitano features three Democrats with prior legislative experience.

Former Rep. Gil Cisneros  served a term in Congress from Orange County in 2019-20 before losing his seat to Republican Young Kim. While there, he cosponsored medicinal cannabis and banking bills, advocated descheduling, and voted to protect state legalization laws.   A lottery millionaire and philanthropist, he was appointed Under Secretary of Defense by President Biden and is now running to re-enter Congress.

State senator Bob Archuleta leans toward traditional family values, but compiled a commendable voting record on cannabis and drug issues in the State Senate.

State Senator Susan Rubio, another moderate, has avoided votes on controversial drug issues like employment rights and medical cannabis access in the state legislature.

 

KEY STATE LEGISLATIVE RACES

State Senate District 3 (Davis/Vacaville)

In this race to fill Bill Dodd’s open seat, candidate Christopher Cabaldon voted against allowing cannabis businesses as mayor of West Sacramento. Running against him is former Rohnert Park mayor Jackie Elward, has labor support and supports cannabis, having worked with Teamsters on the issue. Former Vallejo City Councilmember and manager of Solano County’s Behavorial Health Adult Outpatient Clinics Rozzanna Verder-Aliga is a third Democrat in the race, in which Republicans Thom Bogue, Mayor of Dixon, and Jimih Jones are also running.

 

State Senate District 5 (Stockton)

Running for this open seat for the seat being vacated by Susan Eggman is Former Rep. Jerry McNerney, less than a year after leaving Congress, where his voting record on marijuana was good. He is running against Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton), who has a mixed voting record in the state Assembly. (His wife, Edith Villapudua is running for the Assembly District 13 seat Carlos is vacating.) Also running for this Senate Seat is Republican Jim Shoemaker.

 

State Senate District 7 (Berkeley/Oakland)

Several candidates are running for this seat being vacated by Nancy Skinner.

Dan Kalb, a hard-working Oakland city councilmember, wrote and supported good cannabis regulations in Oakland and is endorsed by the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Alameda County. He faces Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who sponsored a measure to lower cannabis taxes in Berkeley, serving as a model for other jurisdictions.

Also in the race are left-leaning Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles,  who has courted support from the cannabis community but been criticized for divisive behavior on the city council;  labor advocate Kathryn Lybarger; and Sandre Swanson, an ex-Assemblyman from Oakland who was hostile to cannabis in the past but came around somewhat when the money came in.

 

State Senate District 37 (Orange County)

Incumbent Democrat Josh Newman has been a strong supporter of sensible marijuana laws in the State Senate.  Ten other candidates are running in this primary.

 

State Assembly District 2 (North Coast)

In this race for Jim Woods’s seat, Santa Rosa city councilmember Chris Rogers has been a strong advocate for sensible cannabis policy. His opponent Rusty Hicks is a Democratic party operative who moved from LA to run for the seat.

 

State Assembly District 6 (Sacramento) 

Carlos Marquez resigned his position as the Executive Director of ACLU California Action to run for office. He was formerly senior vice president of the California Charter Schools Association, as well as Deputy Political Director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Also running for this Assembly seat being vacated by Kevin McCarty is California Deputy District Attorney Maggy Krell, who is supported by the California Correctional Officers’ union.

 

State Assembly District 19 (San Francisco)

In the race to replace Asm. Phil Ting, SF Supervisor Catherine Stefani wants to increase the minimum distance between cannabis retail stores and day care centers from 600 ft. to 1000 ft. Running against Stefani is fellow Democrat David Lee, a community college administrator and part time lecturer at San Francisco State University, where he teaches political science. His has been endorsed by Assemblymembers Ting and Anthony Rendon, plus San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan, and Alameda County Supervisor Lena Tam. Also running are Republicans Nadia Flamenco and Arjun Gustav Sodhani.

 

State Assembly District 41 (Pasadena, Sierra Madre)

Vying to replace outgoing Assemblymember Chris Holden is Phlunté Riddle, a state Board of Juvenile Hearings commissioner who formerly served as Holden’s district director and is endorsed by Holden. Riddle spent 30 years working up the ranks in the Pasadena Police Department, where she became the department’s first Black female sergeant, lieutenant and adjutant to the chief of police. Her campaign donors include several law enforcement groups.

Also running is John Harabedian,  who worked as a prosecutor at the Los Angeles district attorney’s office and was a Sierra Madre City Council member from 2012 to 2020. His campaign donors include the Smart Justice group that advocates for criminal justice reform. In 2017, Harabedian voted against opening cannabis dispensaries in Sierra Madre, saying that delivery services could adequately serve medical marijuana patients.

Jed Leano, another Democrat in the race, is an immigration attorney and former Claremont City Council member who spearheaded the creation of Claremont’s Psychiatric Assessment Care Team (PACT), which responds to behavioral crisis calls. Claremont does not permit cannabis businesses, despite the passage of a cannabis tax measure there in 2022.

Michelle Del Rosario Martinez, running as a Republican, is a community volunteer.

 

State Assembly District 57 (South Los Angeles)

Another open-seat election, this one for Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer’s seat. Running are:

Dulce Vasquez, an educator, community activist and Mexican immigrant. Ending gun violence, ensuring reproductive freedom and investing in climate change policy are all priorities of her campaign. She is endorsed by Jones-Sawyer and former L..A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Efren Martinez, a Marine veteran who has served as the executive director of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce. He has vowed to prioritize “community policing” that focuses on prevention and emphasizes positive interactions with law enforcement. In 2020, Martinez ran against Jones-Sawyer in a tight race, collecting 42% of the vote, in which he enjoyed the support of the California Correctional Peace Officers who opposed the Jones-Sawyer’s criminal justice reform efforts.

Sade Elhawary, an educator and community organizer who has worked for the Community Coalition, an organization dedicated to the racially “exacerbated socioeconomic inequities” in South L.A. that was founded by Mayor Karen Bass. She also worked on Bass’ mayoral campaign in 2022. She has named universal healthcare, reproductive justice and equity issues such as equal pay and paid family leave as priorities if elected.

Greg Akili, a longtime community organizer and co-founder of a labor union for domestic workers. He named restorative justice and the expansion of “good-paying union jobs” as priorities of his campaign.

Tara Perry, an activist and community organizer who created Black Pact, an organization dedicated to opposing racism and securing reparations for the descendants of enslaved African Americans.

 

Read about all federal and state races at NORML’s Smoke the Vote Guide

 

LOCAL RACES

Omar Figueroa for Sonoma County Judge

With more than a quarter century of legal experience, Omar Figueroa has defended hundreds of medical cannabis cultivators, patients, and caregivers and made thousands of court appearances throughout California. After attaining his law degree from Stanford Law School, he joined the pro bono legal team, led by legendary trial attorney J. Tony Serra, defending Bear Lincoln, a Native American facing the death penalty in Mendocino County. Omar has also defended dozens of activists accused of nonviolent crimes pro bono, from computer hackers, to forest defenders, to street medics, to animal rights activists, to political protesters. Additionally, he is an experienced civil litigator, having used civil RICO laws in federal court as a member of the legal team that successfully sued Rohnert Park police officers who allegedly robbed cash and cannabis from motorists on Highway 101.

Nate Miley for Alameda Co Dist 4 Supervisor

Sup. Nate Miley has been one of Alameda County’s leading advocates of legal marijuana since the early days of Prop 215.  When he was on Oakland city council,  he sponsored the nation’s first city ordinance to legally recognize medical cannabis collectives. He then testified in their defense in U.S. court when they were charged with federal medical marijuana “crimes.”

Alameda Co Dist 5 Supervisor

Berkeley city councilman Ben Bartlett has been very supportive of cannabis as well as psychedelics.
Progressive Oakland council member Nikki Fortunato Bas  has not been vocal on cannabis, but voted in favor of increasing the city’s already heavy taxes on cannabusinesses.

Kevin McCarty for El Dorado Supervisor

McCarty is director of Licensing and Compliance for Capitol Compliance Management and Chief Compliance Officer for a cannabis manufacturing business he co-founded in 2020. Read his views on cannabis.

Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee

In AD 69, the Brownie Mary Democratic Club has endorsed Joseph Luis Piñon, and in AD 52, Paul Neuman and Renee Nahum are endorsed.


Humboldt County Measure A 

Highly contentious Measure A in Humboldt County would cap the number of cannabis cultivation licenses and impose water and other restrictions on farmers. Opponents say it will undo years of public process on current regulations and saddle farmers with more onerous requirements. A group of farmers sued, claiming that proponents are misleading the public into thinking the measure will protect small farmers. The Humboldt County Growers Assn., Origins Council, and other groups oppose the measure.

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