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Sonoma County Voting Guide

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California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom might seem an unlikely choice to be campaigning for marijuana legalization, given that he doesn’t like pot and says he’s never tried it.

“I’m not pro-marijuana. I’m just vehemently anti-prohibition,” Newsom said Tuesday.

Newsom, a prime proponent for Proposition 64, the November state ballot initiative that would legalize adult recreational uses of marijuana, said it’s fundamentally about social justice.

“To me this is about black and brown folks. This is about poor folks being targeted,” he said of the disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests among minorities.

He cited statistics showing more than 8,800 arrests for non-violent marijuana felonies last year in California, saying, “We are still arresting and incarcerating folks that don’t look like me.”

Newsom’s comments came during a meeting with the Press Democrat editorial board in which he spent more than an hour discussing cannabis legalization. Polls show the measure has a strong likelihood of approval next month.

Watch a video of Gavin Newsom's meeting with the Press Democrat Editorial Board below, or watch it on Facebook here.

Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and a candidate for governor in 2018, has been on the forefront of social issues like gay marriage, which he authorized in San Francisco years before the Supreme Court affirmed it for gay couples.

After approving medical marijuana use 20 years ago, California voters in 2010 turned down full legalization of recreational pot. But adult use of marijuana is now allowed in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska and four other states — Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — have the issue on the ballot next month.

Newsom was part of a blue-ribbon committee in 2013 formed to study the issue of marijuana legalization in California at a time when there were numerous initiatives proposing it be legal for adults to use.

“We began our work by saying ‘we don’t believe this should be California’s next Gold Rush,’” he said Tuesday, explaining that legalization should not be about generating revenue for revenue’s sake.

“This is not what we should be doing with a drug that is of concern, particularly for our children and youth and as it relates to public safety. We shouldn’t be promoting it as a government entity and revenue generation,” he said.

Asked about the possibility of taxes on marijuana becoming too high as cities and counties layer on taxes and try to plug budget gaps, Newsom said, “We don’t want pot for pot holes.”

Prop 64 would funnel tax revenue on marijuana to law enforcement agencies and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs as well as environmental programs to deal with cultivation impacts.

Newsom said Prop 64 will pay for programs aimed at keeping young people from using marijuana, which he said can cause serious issues for a still developing adolescent brain.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for Prop 64, who accompanied Newsom, said it is modeled after the regulatory structure the Legislature created last year for medical marijuana.

There have been a number of concerns raised about legalization, including whether youth use will increase, the impact on small growers and even the wine industry.

Asked about the impact legislation will have on the Emerald Triangle — the counties of Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino, where much of the high quality marijuana comes from — Newsom said Prop 64 aims to protect and preserve that culture and not result in “the cannibalization and monopolization, large multi-national folks coming and destroying that.”

He said there will be the opportunity to create appellations similar to those in the wine industry.

Newsom, a co-owner of wineries, restaurants and hotels, said in some instances people may substitute pot use for alcohol, but he doesn’t see that as an issue in the high-end premium wine market.

“My sense is there will be an increase in (marijuana) use. I think its 50-, 60-, 70-, 80-year-olds. I don’t know that that’s devastating.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas

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