November 2012 California Election Guide
Marijuana and Drug Issues
Marijuana and drug reform have not figured as prominent issues in this year's election campaign, even though public support for legalization has been surging to record levels. Although marijuana is not on the California ballot this year, and the major statewide candidates offer little choice, there are a number of local races of interest.
Pro-reform candidates are highlighted in green - hostile candidates in red.
US Senate - no recommendation
Yes on Prop 36 (3 Strikes Reform )
CONGRESS Key races: Santa Barbara: Lois Capps ; Fremont Pete Stark , Ventura Julia Brownley , East Sacto/Fair Oaks Ami Bera
LEGISLATURE Key races: Hayward: Bill Quirk , Oakland/Alameda Abel Guillen
LOCAL CANDIDATES Major races: Oakland Council (at large) Rebecca Kaplan; City Attorney Barbara Parker; San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Los Angeles City Attorney: Mike Feuer - Other contests in San Leandro, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda Co., Sebastopol
PRESIDENT - MAJOR PARTY FAILURE. To the disappointment of many former supporters, President Barack Obama has failed to honor his campaign pledge to respect state medical marijuana laws, instead leading a more sweeping federal crackdown against it than any of his predecessors. The administration has unleashed the Justice Department, Dept of Treasury, IRS, and DEA against leading California dispensaries, cutting off access to medicine for their customers, hobbling the industry economically, runnning rougshod over local regulations, and costing the state thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues. On the other hand, his administration has allowed veterans to use medical marijuana and approved reduced sentences for crack cocaine.
For his part, Mitt Romney has expressed disdain for medical marijuana, saying that he will fight it "tooth and nail" and that supporters of legalization should vote for "the other guy." Although Romney's VP pick, Paul Ryan, briefly muttered a few platitudes about states' rights, he quickly clarified that he opposes medical marijuana, too.
In the end, when it comes down to the two major candidates, Romney would most likely be worse than Obama, since he is a committed teetotaler and is supported by hard-core, law-and-order drug warriors, such as millionaire anti-pot zealots Mel and Betty Sembler, founders of STRAIGHT and Save Our Society from Drugs.
However, there's no need to vote for the lesser of two evils, given the availability of three minor party candidates who all support legalization:
On the Libertarian Party ticket, Gov. Gary Johnson was the first sitting governor to endorse legalization. His vice-presidential pick, Judge Jim Grey, has been a long-time advocate for ending the war on drugs. The Libertarians, who advocate individual freedom, limited government, and free-market economics, boast of being the third largest party in the country, and could swing the balance in battleground states like Colorado.
On the Peace and Freedom ticket, comedienne Roseanne Barr is running on an unapologetically pro-marijuana platform. An avowed pot smoker, Barr credits marijuana with "breaking through your mind-control programming and having some free thought." The Peace and Freedom party, which advocates socialism, democracy, ecology, feminism and racial equality, is the oldest third party in California, with roots in the sixties antiwar movement.
The Green Party is running Dr. Jill Stein, a Boston physician, whose lengthy "Green New Deal" platform includes planks to legalize marijuana and end the war on drugs. The Greens are on the progressive side of the political spectrum, with particular interest in environmental issues.
Given that California is certain to vote for Obama this year, a strong third-party protest vote is in order. Pot smokers and drug reformers can't change the outcome in California, but they can send a message to Washington that current policies are unacceptable.
US SENATE - NO GOOD CHOICE : With the elimination of third-party candidates from this year's ballot, marijuana supporters have nowhere to turn in the race for U.S. Senate. The runaway favorite, incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein, prides herself on supporting tough anti-drug laws. Feinstein opposed Prop. 215 and has done nothing to utilize her powerful influence on the Judiciary Committee to advance California's interest in changing federal medical marijuana laws. Feinstein also chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, which thumps the tub for anti-drug military intervention abroad. Feinstein's hapless opponent, Republican Elizabeth Emken, failed to answer our queries and has been mum on the issue but professes to share the socially conservative views of her party. (Ironically, Emken is an advocate for children with autism, but is probably unaware that cannabis has been found useful for treating severe autism.)INITIATIVES :
While marijuana will not be on the California ballot this year, legalization initiatives will be on the ballots in Washington (I-502), Colorado (Amendment 64), and Oregon (Measure 80). Victory in at least one of these states now appears likely and would provide welcome relief from federal pressure here in California. In addition, Massachusetts and Arkansas will be voting on initiatives to legalize medical marijuana, and Montana will be voting on a referendum to repeal a bill by the legislature that sharply restricted the state's medical marijuana law.
YES on PROP 36 - THREE STRIKES REFORM: One good initiative on the California ballot is Prop. 36, to reform the state's draconian "Three Strikes" law. Under current law, offenders with two strikes (i.e. serious or violent felonies) automatically receive a 25-year -to-life sentence for any third felony, including non-serious, non-violent marijuana and drug offenses. Numerous prisoners have received "Three Strikes" sentences for marijuana crimes, such as smoking a joint in prison. Prop. 36 would require that the third strike be serious or violent, thereby excluding drug offenses.
Initiatives to allow medical dispensaries will be on the ballot in Palo Alto (Measure C) and four San Diego County cities: Lemon Grove (Prop T), Del Mar (Prop H), Imperial Beach (Prop S) and Solana Beach (Prop W).
The city of Dunsmuir in Siskiyou County will be voting on an initiative (Measure S) that would loosen some of the city's restrictions on medical marijuana growing.
The city of Needles will be voting on another Measure S, to impose a 10% tax on receipts from marijuana businesses in the city.
The city of Arcata will be voting on Measure I, to impose a tax on households with excessive energy consumption.
U.S. CONGRESS - CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP NEEDED. Congressional elections are important, because only Congress can act to change federal laws on marijuana. Unfortunately, the prospects for this are zero under the current Republican leadership of House Speaker John Boehner (OH) and House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), who are staunch prohibitionists. The only hope for reform is if the Democrats regain control, which would return the speakership to San Francisco's Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has been supportive of reform, and would appoint sympathetic committee chairs. Although her previous Democratic majority did little on the issue, Rep. Pelosi has since declared it "really important" for Congress to take on medical marijuana. Even if this happens, though, progress is far from assured, as the Senate has shown no interest in reform, and California's own senior Senator Dianne Feinstein has been overtly hostile.
Although California has several competitive congressional races this year, marijuana and drug reform have not figured as significant issues in them. Nonetheless, there are noteworthy differences between the candidates in certain races. In most cases, Democrats are more supportive than Republicans on marijuana and drug reform, but important exceptions should be noted - for example, libertarian-leaning Republicans Dana Rohrabacher (Huntington Beach) and Tom McClintock (Granite Bay), who co-sponsored an amendment to stop funding of federal medical marijuana raids.
See California Congressional Scorecard 2011-12 for a summary of key votes and bill sponsored in Congress this year.
Key Races - US Congress
District 1 (Northeast State) - Republican candidate Doug LaMalfa, running for the vacated seat of Wally Herger, was a consistent enemy of marijuana & drug reform in the State Senate and Assembly.
District 2 (North Coast to Marin) - Jared Huffman (D), running for the vacated seat of retiring Lynn Woolsey, voted well in the Assembly and deserves special credit for casting a key vote in favor of Tom Ammiano's 2009 legalization bill.
District 7 (Fair Oaks - Carmichael - E. Sacto) - Incumbent Dan Lungren (R), a notorious arch-enemy of Prop 215, faces serious opposition from Dr. Ami Bera (D), who is said to be sympathetic to medical marijuana.
District 15 (Fremont) - Democrat Pete Stark was the first Congressman to speak out against drug war hysteria under Pres. George Bush I, and has co-sponsored many reform bills in subsequent years. Stark has come under fire due to his age and unfortunate habit of making intemperate and offensive remarks. Stark faces serious opposition from another Democrat, Eric Swalwell, whose background as a prosecutor and city councilman in Dublin, Alameda County is troubling to drug reform advocates.
District 24 (Santa Barbara) - Incumbent Lois Capps (D) has been helpful and supportive of medical cannabis in her district; her opponent, Abel Maldonado (R), though touted as a "moderate," consistently opposed medical marijuana and drug reform while in the state legislature (except for supporting a hemp bill).
District 26 (Oxnard - Ventura) - Julia Brownley (D) was one of the few Assembly members to support Ammiano's marijuana cultivation decrim bill. Tony Strickland (R) has had a miserable voting record in the state legislature.
District 29 (Pasadena - Glendale -Alhambra) - In response to a questionnaire from the NORML Women's Alliance, Republican David Hernandez stated his willingness to sponsor a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition. His opponent, Tony Cardenas, failed to respond to NWA.
District 30 (Los Angeles) - Two incumbent Democrats are facing off in this district: Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. Both have voted OK over the years, but Brad Sherman has gone a step further by co-sponsoring medical cannabis reform bills.
District 47 (Long Beach ) - Candidate Alan Lowenthal (D) has voted well on drug reform issues in the State Senate.
District 52 (San Diego) - Democrat Scott Peters was moderately supportive of medical marijuana on the City Council. His opponent, incumbent Brian Bilbray (R), has had a poor voting record, even though his daughter Brianna came out of the closet as a MMJ patient and advocate
This year's election is unlikely to greatly affect the legislature's position on marijuana or drug issues. Democrats are expected to retain their strong majority, which is fortunate insofar as the Republican leadership has remained unremittingly hostile to reform.
In the Assembly, Democrats delivered a total of 108 votes in support of marijuana reform bills this session, versus 18 in opposition, while Republicans voted 6 - 66 in opposition. In the Senate, Democrats voted 35 -12 in support of reform bills, while Republicans voted 2-25 in opposition.
See California Legislative Scorecard for a summary of this year's votes in the state legislature.
Special credit goes to Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF) for spearheading reform efforts this year, even though their bills failed in the end to win enough support from wavering moderates to be approved and signed into law. Also deserving of mention is Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), the only Republican in either house to support marijuana reform.
KEY LEGISLATIVE RACES:
Assembly District 18 (Alameda - Oakland)
Abel Guillen (D) has the endorsement of OCLA (Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance), which supports cannabis-friendly policies.
Assembly District 20 (Fremont - Hayward)
Bill Quirk (D) has been a vocal advocate for medical marijuana on the Hayward City Council and promises to remain active on the issue in the state legislature. He is opposed by another Democrat with no record on the issue.
Assembly District 77 (La Mesa) - The Patient Care Association of San Diego is supporting Ruben Hernandez, a supporter of medical marijuana.
Assembly District 78 (Point Loma) - Toni Atkins has the support of the Patient Care Assn.; she supports medical marijuana.
Dist. 2 Supervisor (Hayward - Union City Newark) Richard Valle has the endorsement of OCLA (Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance), which supports cannabis-friendly policies.
BART District 3 (Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Lafayette, Oakland, Moraga, San Leandro) Rebecca Saltzman is the former chief of staff for ASA and did other work for the drug reform movement before deciding to run for BART board.
Mayor: Councilman Kriss Worthington has been a staunch supporter of cannabis and drug reform over the years.
School Board: Judy Appel worked for the Drug Policy Alliance and Oakland's Measure Z cannabis initiative.
City Council (at large): Incumbent Rebecca Kaplan has been a leading advocate of cannabis-friendly measures; her opponent Ignacio DeLa Fuente has championed the opposite stance.
City Council (District 1): Dan Kalb is endorsed by OCLA (Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance), which supports cannabis-friendly policies.
City Council (District 5): Mario Juarez sponsored an Alameda Co. Democratic Committee resolution condemning the federal raids on Oaksterdam.
City Attorney: Acting attorney Barbara Parker has worked supportively on cannabis issues over the years, most recently filing a lawsuit against the federal attack on the city's dispensaries.
City Council: Patient advocates are backing Jim Prola and Chris Crow to support access to medical marijuana.
Supervisor: District 1 incumbent Eric Mar, who has been a stalwart supporter of medical cannabis, is facing a strong challenge from a less sympathetic opponent, David Lee. Incumbents David Chiu (District 3), David Campos (District 9) and John Avalos (District 11) have all been quite supportive. So has Christina Olague (District 5), whose challengers include John Rizzo, Julian Davis and Mark Rsignato, who also voice strong support on the issue.
City Attorney: Incumbent Carmen Trutanich (Rep.) has taken the line that medical marijuana sales are illegal, sabotaging efforts to regulate dispensaries and trying to ban them instead. While his opponent, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (Dem.), has not had the best voting record, he has at least taken the position that the city should "strike a balance" between providing access for seriously ill patients while protecting local neighborhoods.
District Attorney: Both candidates in this race have disappointingly indicated they will continue to prosecute the city's medical cannabis dispensaries. "It's my position that over-the-counter sales for money of marijuana are illegal," says Democrat Jackie Lacey. "Those folks are simple drug dealers," says her Republican opponent, Alan Jackson. Lacey supports the Three-Strikes reform initiative Prop 36, while Jackson opposes it.
Mayor: Congressman Bob Filner boasts one of the strongest drug reform voting records in Congress. In contrast, his opponent, Carl DeMaio, has voted poorly on medical cannabis issues on the City Council.
Initiatives to allow medical dispensaries will be on the ballot in four San Diego County cities: Imperial Beach (Prop S), Lemon Grove (Prop T), Del Mar (Prop H), and Solana Beach (Prop W).
The Patient Care Assn. of San Diego is supporting Rudy Reyes for Santee Mayor, Sheryl Parks for Del Mar City Council, Erika Lowery for Imperial Beach City council, and both George Gastil and Racquel Vasquez for Lemon Grove City Council. All are supporters of medical cannabis.