November 2010 Election Guide

State Races - Congressional Races

Cal NORML on State and Local Ballot Propositions

Updated October 16, 2010

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State Races

All of the major candidates for state office this year have stated their opposition to Prop. 19.  This shouldn't be a surprise since politicians rarely lead on cutting-edge social issues. Still, the candidates have differences on other issues of importance to drug reformers.  As usual, voters who want to lodge a protest vote for  legalization can look to candidates of the Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom parties.

Meg Whitman’s website states it clearly: “Meg is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, This is a gateway drug whose use would expand greatly among our children if it were to be legalized.” Meg promises to be yet another “tough-on-crime” governor in the mold of her Republican mentor Pete Wilson. Meg advocates building new prisons, opposes early release, supports Three Strikes and the Death Penalty. If elected, Meg can be expected to embrace the same stultifying Republican tough-on-crime advisors that have repeatedly blocked reform legislation in Sacramento.

Jerry Brown’s website is silent on marijuana. Elsewhere, he has stated his opposition to Prop 19 clearly: “We’re going to compete with China and everybody’s stoned? How the hell are we going to make it?” Anyone familiar with Brown’s career will chalk this up to his usual cynicism. Brown has typically ducked the marijuana issue, but when forced to has risen to the occasion.

As Governor, Brown signed California’s landmark decriminalization law eliminating felony penalties for possession. As Mayor of Oakland, he resisted DEA overtures to close down the city’s bustling medical marijuana scene. As Attorney General, Brown has respected the state’s medical marijuana by issuing workable guidelines that allow dispensaries to operate. A.G. Brown also offended prison reformers by opposing a Three Strikes reform initiative and the ambitious Prop 5 “Non-Violent Offenders Rehabilitation Act.” Though Brown’s record is mixed, it does include genuine accomplishments.

SF Mayor Gavin Newsom has never hidden his drug reform sympathies, though his well-publicized problems with alcohol and cocaine have obliged him to tread discreetly. Like other state candidates, he has shied away from Prop 19. “This is a hard one for me... but I’m just not there yet,” Newsom told The Appeal. “I’ll never cede my strong support [for medical cannabis,” but concerns over exactly how full-on legalization would be implemented -- from taxation to dispensation to “the message it sends” -- soured Prop 19 in Newsom’s eyes. “I’m frustrated with myself on this one, to be truthful,” Newsom added. “But I’m just not there yet. I hope to be there someday, though.”

Newsom’s opponent, former State Senator Abel Maldonado, compiled a dismal voting record in the legislature, consistently voting with his Republican colleagues against drug penalty reductions, medical marijuana, needle exchange, etc. The one exception was a bill to create a demonstration hemp program, which picked up some Republican support but was vetoed by the Governor. Maldonado is considered a “moderate” Republican, but in the tradition of Pete Wilson, Steve Cooley, Meg Whitman, et al., Republican moderates rarely tolerate marijuana.

The Attorney General is the most important officer in the state when it comes to law enforcement.  Although both major candidates predictably oppose Prop 19, their records on medical marijuana are significantly different.

Republican Steve Cooley, the District Attorney of Los Angeles, has led the city's ham-fisted crackdown on dispensaries, resulting in hundreds of closures and lawsuits.  Cooley has taken a crabbed interpretation of  state law, arguing that it does not allow for the sale of medical marijuana, that delivery services are illegal, and that no one should belong to more than one collective.  On issues other than medical marijuana, Cooley has been moderate, declining to seek "Three Strikes" sentences except for violent offenders, and frequently charging small-scale cultivation cases as misdemeanors. 

S.F. District Attorney Kamala Harris has a solid record of support for medical marijuana and civil liberties. As DA, she has been accessible and responsive to patients. Harris has supported the city's dispensaries, while calling for improved state rules to establish consistent standards for ownership and operation.  She opposes sales for recreational use on the grounds this would strain the system and cause headaches for law enforcement.  

Harris and Cooley have joined together in signing the ballot argument against Prop 19. This is understandable, since Prop 19 would undoubtedly create headaches for the A.G. by stirring up new litigation and likely federal opposition. 

On the issue of medical marijuana, however, the choice is clear. For the past dozen years, California has enjoyed A.G.s  supportive of Prop. 215, but the situation could change if Cooley wins.

Although Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer has a raging liberal reputation, she has never been a supporter of marijuana or drug reform. Throughout her career, Sen. Boxer has repeatedly backed tougher anti-drug penalties and more drug war funding. Following the lead of her prohibitionist senior colleague, Sen. Feinstein, Boxer has opposed both Prop 19 and Prop 215.  In recent years, however, she has swung around to voicing support of medical marijuana, and this year she co-sponsored Sen. Webb's bill to establish a national commission on criminal justice to study drug policy.

Republican Carly Fiorina offers nothing better and possibly worse: "Carly opposes the legalization or decriminalization of drugs, including marijuana. She believes medical marijuana dispensaries in California must be consistently regulated to ensure they are complying with California's medical marijuana law and are not fronts for illegal drug distribution." Fiorina is typically more conservative than Boxer on social issues.

Congressional Races

Whatever else it might be criticized for, the Democratic Congress under Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves credit for finally advancing some drug reform measures this session.

Congress repealed the decade-long ban against the District of Columbia’s medical marijuana law, setting the stage for dispensaries to open in the nation’s capital. It also reduced the draconian mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and reversed the federal ban on needle exchange funding. These advances were only possible because Democrats controlled key leadership posts, such as the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by reform-sympathetic John Conyers (MI).

Such gains will be endangered if Republicans re-gain the House. The chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee would then fall to Lamar Smith (TX), a reactionary drug warrior who has loudly denounced the Obama administration for failing to enforce federal marijuana laws.

California voters will have little say over who controls Congress, since virtually every seat in the state is safe for incumbents. One exception could be veteran arch-foe of Prop. 215, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Roseville), who faces a close race against Dr. Ani Bera; yet even Lungren changed his stripes this year by speaking out for crack sentencing reform.

Another Congress member who deserves special mention is Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs), who attacked her opponent, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, for voting to allow a third dispensary in the city. “It’s no surprise that an out of touch elected official like Steve Pougnet would vote for more pot shops,” quipped Bono, who is herself out of touch with the many patients in her district.

In general, Democrats tend to be systematically more sympathetic than Republicans on drug reform issues. One noteworthy Republican exception is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Huntington Beach), who has been a leading proponent of marijuana reform legislation. Although several good cannabis reform bills were introduced this session (see list below), none reached the stage of actual hearings. If Republicans win the Congress, there is no chance of any doing so for another two years.

Two Congressmen deserve credit for endorsing Prop. 19: Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) and Pete Stark (D-Fremont). Rohrabacher almost endorsed, but objected to the clause limiting employers’ right to drug test workers.

As Speaker, Nancy Pelosi did not vote on any bills. Her opponent, John Dennis, a libertarian Republican businessman from San Francisco, is making a strong pitch to marijuana supporters, saying she has not done enough to end the war on drugs.


The following California Congress members co-sponsored one or more cannabis reform bills this year. The measures included:

(1) The “Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act by Rep. Barney Frank, allowing possession and non-profit transfer of 100 grams or less under federal law;
(2) The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act by Rep. Barney Frank, allowing states to legally regulate medical marijuana as they please;
(3) The Truth In Trials Act by Rep. Sam Farr, allowing federal defendants to present evdence in court that they were following state medical marijuana laws;
(4) The Industrial Hemp Farming Act by Rep. Ron Paul, which would legalize hemp production.



Bills Co-sponsored

Campbell, John

R – Newport Beach


Capps, Lois

D- SLO/Santa Barbara


Davis, Susan

D- San Diego


Eshoo, Anna

D – Silicon Valley


Farr, Sam

D – Monterey/Santa Cruz


Filner, Robert

D - San Diego


Honda, Mike

D – Campbell


Lee, Barbara

D – Oakland


McClintock, Tom

R – So. Lake Tahoe


Miller, George

D – Martinez


Rohrabacher, Dana

R – Huntington Beach


Sanchez, Linda

D – OC/Cerritos


Sherman, Brad

D – Sherman Oaks


Stark, Pete

D – Fremont


Thompson, Mike

D – North Coast


Waxman, Henry

D – Hollywood


Woolsey, Lynn

D – Marin



Cal NORML on State and Local Ballot Propositions