June 8, 2010 Primary Election Guide
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Although the major candidates for state office have predictably declared themselves in opposition to this year's legalization initiative, certain candidates have distinguished themselves as being more supportive than others on marijuana and drug reform issues.
GOVERNOR – Neither party offers a significant choice.
Republican front-runner Meg Whitman has declared, "I am absolutely, 100% not in favor of legalizing marijuana for any reason." Whitman donated big bucks to help defeat Prop 5, the "Non-Violent Offenders Rehabilitation Act" in 2008. Whitman is the former CEO of Ebay, whose subsidiary PayPal has a policy of blackballing medical cannabis businesses.
Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner's website declares that he "will fight all efforts to legalize marijuana and will be a strong advocate against its recreational use." Poizner's actual views may be more nuanced; when teaching at Mount Pleasant High School, he invited NORML to debate marijuana legalization before his civics class. However, Poizner's campaign has taken a rightward drift to cater to hard-core Republican conservatives,
Democrat Jerry Brown faces token opposition. Brown signed California's path-breaking decriminalization law back in 1975, but did little to advance drug reform subsequently. As Attorney General, Brown deserves credit for having issued reasonable guidelines for medical marijuana enforcement. On the other hand, he actively campaigned to kill the Three-Strikes Reform initiative and the Non-Violent Offenders Rehabilitation Act (Prop 5). "I'm not going to jump on the legalization bandwagon," said Brown, "We're going to get a vote of the people soon on that, but I'm not going to support it."
Among Brown's lesser-known competitors, MoveOn.org founder Peter Schurman endorses the TaxCannabis2010 initiative.
ATTORNEY GENERAL – This is the most crucial race, since the tenant becomes the state's chief law enforcement officer and oversees the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. California has been fortunate to have two consecutive A.G.s supportive of Proposition 215, but past gains will be endangered if this election goes the wrong way.
This could well happen if the leading Republican contender, LA D.A. Steve Cooley, wins office. Although Cooley is being lauded by the press for his moderate views on certain issues, such as Three Strikes enforcement, his views on marijuana are hardly moderate. Cooley spearheaded the effort to close down Los Angeles' dispensaries, wrongly insisting that sales of medical marijuana are illegal under state law. Such views could make him an extremely dangerous A.G. Cooley is also a vocal opponent of the TC2010 initiative.
Cooley's primary opponents offer no better, coming from the strident law-and-order wing of the party: State Senator Tom Harman had a perfect 0% voting record on marijuana and drug reform issues in the legislature, while Chapman Law School professor John Eastman denounces marijuana as "addictive" and legalization as "dangerous."
It will be up to the Democrats to offer an A.G. candidate with sympathetic views on marijuana and drug enforcement. Only one candidate, Emeryville attorney Mike Schmier, has come out in support of the TaxCannabis2010 initiative; an outsider, Schmier is not regarded as a serious contender.
The leading candidate, S.F. District Attorney Kamala Harris, boasts a strong record of support for civil liberties. As DA, Harris has been supportive and accessible to medical marijuana advocates, though she is shy about going further. "While I support the legal use of medical marijuana, and personally know people who have benefited from its use, I do not support the legalization of marijuana beyond that," Harris told the Bay Area Reporter. Political pros worry that Harris is the Democrat most vulnerable to defeat in the general election due to her supposed weakness on crime, opposition to the death penalty, and an embarrassing police drug lab scandal.
Facebook attorney Chris Kelly, who poured $8 millions of his own money into the campaign, is thought to have the best shot at overtaking Harris. Kelly has progressive views on most issues, though he is coy about legalization. "I think that we have to make sure we have a regulatory regime in place around medical marijuana and compassionate use of marijuana before we consider any further steps toward decriminalization or legalization," he told the Bay Area Reporter.
Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico of Fremont compiled a decent voting record in the state legislature. While reported to be sympathetic on marijuana, his views are mixed. In an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury. Torrico deplored the lack of oversight of pot doctors and called for "tough regulations" of the medical cannabis industry, which he wrote up in a draft bill. That bill, which was later introduced by Assemblywoman Buchanan as AB 2650, would have made the siting of dispensaries practically impossible and overridden successful regulatory ordinances in San Francisco, Oakland and elsewhere.
Asssemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, a former prosecutor of drug cases, has been more adversarial to marijuana. Nava jumped into an ugly local battle over dispensaries in Santa Barbara by siding with local groups seeking to ban them.
Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance is a cautious middle-of-the-roader with little record. He boasts of his endorsement by the California Police Chief's Association, bitter opponents of drug reform legislation in Sacramento.
Former LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo ran a losing race against Jerry Brown last time around. Though less obnoxious than his successor as city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, Delgadillo did nothing during his tenure to recommend himself on drug issues.
Democrats: SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, famous and infamous for his support of gay marriage, has voiced progressive views on drug policy, though his actions have been more cautious. Newsom has called the war on drugs a failure and voiced proud support of the city's medical cannabis dispensaries. Having struggled with his own personal drug demon of alcoholism (he denies the rumors of cocaine), Newsom says he welcomes the debate on legalization, but believes a federal solution is required.
LA City Council Member Janice Hahn says she never used marijuana, but spoke out in support of medical cannabis patients and dispensaries in Los Angeles. Hahn opposed the City Attorney's proposed ban on sales , proposing instead that the city tax medical marijuana. "In this current economic crisis, we need to get creative about how we raise funds," she said.
Republicans: Incumbent appointee Abel Maldanado of Santa Maria is regarded to be a "moderate," while his major challenger, State Senator Sam Aanestad of Grass Valley, is running to his right. In the legislature, both followed their party's rigid anti-drug line by voting against medical marijuana and drug reform bills, although both backed the hemp cultivation bill, co-sponsored by fellow Republican Chuck Devore.
Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer has done nothing to recommend herself to marijuana supporters in her 18 years in the Senate, backing tough drug sentencing laws and opposing Prop 215, though she has supported needle exchange. Boxer has belatedly endorsed medical marijuana, but done nothing to advance it in the Senate. She faces token opposition from political blogger Mickey Kaus, who has been silent on drug issues.
The Republican primary offers an alternative with sympathetic views on drug reform: former Rep. Tom Campbell, a fiscal conservative with liberal views on social issues. Campbell compiled an excellent voting record in the legislature and Congress, opposing drug sentencing enhancements and mandatory minimums, endorsing Prop. 36, and backing needle exchange and medical marijuana. Campbell was derided by political pundits for suggesting heroin maintenance in his losing campaign against Sen. Feinstein in 2000. Campaigning in the Republican primary, he has declined to support the legalization initiative. Still he says "I have long favored allowing medical marijuana use. I have been critical of the use of federal resources to close down medical marijuana dispensaries "legal in California." If Campbell wins, Boxer may have to fight for votes from the medical marijuana community.
Former H-P exec Carly Fiorina has been campaigning to the right of Campell on social issues. She opposes decriminalization as well as legalization of marijuana, and states that dispensaries must be "consistently regulated to ensure they are complying with California's medical marijuana law."
Assemblyman Chuck Devore of Irvine, the tea party candidate, deserves credit for sponsoring a hemp cultivation bill with Mark Leno. Nonetheless, on important criminal justice issues, including decriminalization and ending discrimination against medical marijuana patients, he has consistently sided with fellow Republican prohibitionists. Taking issue with Gov. Schwarzenegger's call for a debate on legalization, Devore commented, "I think this shows the governor's growing desperation over the budget."
STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION (1st Dist): Democratic incumbent Betty Yee deserves special credit for having endorsed Tom Ammiano's marijuana legalization bill. Yee has repeatedly argued that legal marijuana, medical or otherwise, offers a promising source of tax revenue for the state.
ALAMEDA COUNTY Board of Supervisors: The retirement of two incumbents offers an opportunity to tip the balance of power on this board, which has been resistant to new dispensaries. Local advocates are supporting Nadia Lockyer in District 2 and Wilma Chan in District 3, both of whom have been favorable to medical marijuana. Hayward City Councilman Kevin Dowling, who is running against Lockyer, was instrumental in blocking the restoration of dispensaries to Hayward.
FREMONT (District 20) Assemblymember - Garrett Yee opposes legalizing marijuana; opponent Bob Wieckowski supports marijuana legalization. (Source: Oakland Tribune, 5/25)
LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Superior Court Judge – Local MMJ activists are endorsing Tom Griego for judge; as a prosecutor in the City Attorney's office, Griego has favored leniency in marijuana cases
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 53 (TORRANCE - VENICE) – Running in a field of seven Democrats to fill Ted Lieu's open seat, Venice neighborhood councilmember Nick Karno says he favors marijuana legalization, but wants it implemented carefully so that gangs don't get control. Three others have said they support both medical marijuana and taxing and regulating marijuana: Mitch Ward, Edgar Saenz, and Peter Thottam.
MENDOCINO CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Incumbent DA Meredith Lintott has pressed marijuana prosecutions in a way that her predecessor did not, resulting in prolonged, costly court battles for defendants and the county. Local medical marijuana advocates are backing attorney David Eyster, who has promised to take a harder look before pressing charges in marijuana cases. Deputy DA Matt Finnegan, who handled forfeiture cases for Lintott, is regarded to have similar views on marijuana as his boss.
NORTH EAST-CENTRAL STATE –2nd Assembly District (Siskiyou-Shasta-Tehama– Glenn – Colusa –Yolo –Sutter). No other Democrat having filed in time to appear on the ballot, Ray Henneman is running a write-in campaign for the opportunity to run against incumbent Republican Jim Nielsen in November. In a statement in the Record-Searchlight, Hennemann advocated legalizing marijuana at the federal level.
ORANGE COUNTY Sheriff: Candidate Bill Hunt deserves credit for his statement on marijuana: "As it stands now, medical marijuana is legal in this state by a vote of the people. It is not the job of the sheriff to try to circumvent the will of the people by collaborating with the federal government. If marijuana is legalized I will treat it just like any other legal activity such as the use of alcohol." In contrast, Anaheim PD Chief Craig Hunter has been vocal in supporting the drug war and opposing legalization.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY DA: Candidate Judge Zellerbach has been reaching out to proponents of medical marijuana in his race against incumbent DA Rod Pacheco, who has been actively hostile to patients' collectives and coops. Also see Medical Cannabis Experts Voter Guide to Riverside County.
SAN LUIS OBISPO County - Sheriff Pat Hedges, who involed the feds in prosecuting Morro Bay dispensary operator Charles Lynch, is leaving office and six candidates are vying for his seat: a retired police chief, a police captain, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, a former police sergeant who was a county supervisor, and two current sheriff’s deputies. Four of them made statements about supporting medical marijuana, but not its abuse, to the New Times. Local activists seem to favor former Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez or SLO Police Captain Ian Parkinson.
SAN FRANCISCO 8th Congressional District – Two Republicans are vying for the thankless task of opposing Rep. Nancy Pelosi this November: John Dennis is a libertarian on marijuana and drug war issues; Dana Walsh represents the more conservative traditionalists.
Democratic Central Committee: Marijuana activist Michael Goldstein is seeking re-election to the party's influential central committee.
SISKIYOU COUNTY Sheriff: Three out of the four candidates for this open position seem likely to continue Siskiyou's tradition of good-ole-boy LEO contempt for medical marijuana. The fourth, Mt. Shasta Police Chief Parish Cross, deserves consideration for (reluctantly) allowing three dispensaries in his town.
SONOMA COUNTY - Local activists, while not exactly unhappy with incumbent DA Stephan Passalaqua, feel challenger Jill Ravitch is listening and more likely to be positively involved in the issue. Judicial candidate Jamie Thistlethwaite has support of local activists.
In the District 2 State Senate race (for Pat Wiggins' seat), which includes Solano and Sonoma (parts), Napa, Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt, progressive Tom Lynch is "totally in favor of legalization."