Just Vote ‘No’: What a recall would mean for weed


If the recall campaign against Gov. Gavin Newsom is successful, it could yield a lot of chaos. Whatever one might think of Newsom’s stewardship of California, recalling him could in fact turn out to be a catastrophe. The leading Republican challenger is a right-wing radio bloviator who, just for starters, has vowed to reverse the state’s mask and vaccine mandates in the name of “freedom.”

There are perhaps dozens of reasons more pressing than cannabis policy that should concern people who are not MAGA, starting with the competent administration of government: fighting Covid, dealing with wildfires, addressing homelessness. It’s probably not a good idea to vote based solely on what a recall would mean for cannabis, but many pot advocates say removing Newsom could pose a new threat to an already beleaguered legal-pot industry, a fact that anyone sitting on the fence, and who cares about cannabis, should take into consideration.

The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has issued an emphatic statement: “It’s unlikely that any possible replacement candidate will be as favorably attentive to cannabis policy as Governor Newsom,” the statement begins. “For that reason, California NORML recommends voting NO on the gubernatorial recall and encourages cannabis supporters to make sure you are registered to vote, and to vote against the recall in the election.”

Of course, pot advocates have found plenty of reasons to criticize Newsom: mainly, that he hasn’t moved swiftly to reduce high taxes or burdensome regulations. Advocates for equity in the pot industry are concerned about corporate interests and venture capitalists taking over the legal-weed business to the detriment of small operators and racial minorities. They decry the lack of reforms, and say that marginalizing potential entrants has persuaded many of them to continue working in the illicit market, which continues to dominate the legal market—nearly four-fifths of the pot sold in California is sold on the “black market,” not in licensed dispensaries. 

It’s possible that some of these problems would have been addressed if Covid hadn’t struck, directing Newsom’s and everybody else’s attention toward dealing with the emergency. But Andrew DeAngelo, co-founder of the Bay Area dispensary chain Harborside, thinks that’s no excuse. In fact, he thinks that if Newsom were to act more forcefully on these issues now, it could save him from the recall. Speaking of “Democrats” generally, DeAngelo recently wrote in a column for Forbes’ website: “You’d think they’d care about the cannabis constituency turning out for recall to vote ‘no.’ However, no real reform has passed this legislative session and the cannabis vote continues to be taken for granted or ignored.”

Some pro-legal-pot voters might find themselves confused, since Elder, for example, is an outspoken proponent of federal legalization, a topic on which he has taken a “libertarian” stance.

That’s not good enough for advocates like California NORML. They note that Elder is a rabid Trump supporter, though they make no mention of the fact that, as a lifelong “media personality,” he has zero experience in government, much less any administrative experience.

According to California NORML, Newsom has on balance been a strong advocate for the cannabis business. He “deserves credit,” the group noted in its statement, “for declaring cannabis to be an essential service during the Covid crisis, a move mocked by critics and recall proponents. He also approved emergency rules to allow drive-through and curbside pick-ups of cannabis, to extend the expiration date for medical IDs and recommendations, and to allow for donations of cannabis to needy patients by cannabis businesses.”

And he has vowed to address the taxation, regulation and equity problems. Under a normal term, he would have until Election Day 2022 to fulfill those vows.

In the meantime, voters have to take everything into consideration, not just cannabis policy. For rabid ideologues of all stripes, the “perfect” is too often the enemy of the “good.” If California is taken over by a stunt administration, that could spell big trouble for all of us, and cannabis consumers and those who work in the industry wouldn’t be spared.

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