Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Gavin Newsom on recreational pot: 'We don’t want this to become the next gold rush'

by Take Two®

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, speaks in support of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act ballot measure in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Backers of a marijuana legalization initiative said Wednesday they have collected enough signatures for the measure to qualify for the November ballot in California. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) Jeff Chiu/AP

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is one of the biggest proponents of Proposition 64, the state ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana for California and, in the process, raise an estimated $1 billion in new tax revenue for the state. 

Newsom pitches the initiative as a social justice issue that could cut costs for the state's justice system and provide a new source of income for the state and its citizens. Still, as he tells Take Two, he has concerns about the economic incentives behind the prospect of legalizing pot.  

"We don’t want to this to become the next California gold rush. We’re not doing this for revenue, at least that’s not what I’m about," Newsom says. "In order to generate more revenue, you need more use, and I’m not big into increased use … We have to temper some of that capitalistic appetite." 

Proposition 64 will appear on Californians' November ballot. We've collected some highlights from our interview below. 


Why is it important to put “adult” in the title?

Because no one’s changing the status quo for our children. Even after November, if this does pass, it will still be illegal for our children to use marijuana. We still believe marijuana can be damaging to our young people, particularly very young folks, and as someone who’s a father of four, I don’t want to condone and celebrate the use and abuse of the drug. Nor do I want to sit by and watch the status quo perpetuate itself as we continue to try and criminalize our way out of this problem.

What about this for you makes it so personal?

I’m righteous about this in this context: It’s a social justice issue, it’s an economic development issue, and if you’re anti-big bureaucracy and anti-tax, you should also take a look at this because we’re wasting seam amounts of money for no real return, for perpetuating this war. So for all those reasons, I think we should move in a new direction and, in the absence of others, take the lead on this. 

What does the next day look like if this passes?

Legalization is not an event that’s going to occur on Election Day, November 2016. It’s a process that’s going to unfold over the course of many, many years.

We are very concerned about big tobacco becoming big marijuana. I’m concerned about driving under the influence of drugs, I’m concerned about targeting our youth with these edibles and gummy bears and all these other things out there. I’m concerned that, frankly, the black market will persist because of the interstate commerce issues that haven’t been resolved at the federal level. I’m concerned about the banking issues. All of these things will need to be processed over the course of the next few years through the implementation, and we have to be adults, we have to be stewards. Even if we disagree on legalization we have to be prepared to do it the right way — protecting our kids, protecting public safety.

What about cities and counties, if it passes?

This was the raging debate in the initiative. Some were vehement that we should not provide the local control and that we should force legalization on every county in the state. We compromised and we provided the ability for those communities to still maintain their voice.

At the end of the day, those incentives come with a caveat: If you’re going to restrict, you’re not going to have the benefit of tax revenue.

What estimates do you have about how much the state could make from marijuana?

We don’t want to this to become the next California gold rush. We’re not doing this for revenue, at least that’s not what I’m about. In fact, I’m concerned about this point disproportionate to any other — free market capitalism, free market enterprise. In order to generate more revenue, you need more use, and I’m not big into increased use … We have to temper some of that capitalistic appetite.

A billion dollars, to answer your question, is what the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates will be the tax revenue in the first few years. We’ll see probably in five to seven years a maturity in tax revenue. We’ll take some time from the old to the new, a lot of people will still be in the medical system, not fully into the recreational system.

This interview responses been edited for clarity. To hear more of what Newsom had to say, click on the blue play button above.

Series: From Gold To Green

This story is part of Take Two's special coverage on what the legalization of recreational pot could mean for California's economy, criminal justice system and society.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts and questions below in the comments section or on Take Two's Facebook page.

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