Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom releases report on guidelines for marijuana legalization

A panel chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to guide the debate on the legalization of marijuana in California with an emphasis on limiting children’s access to cannabis, reducing illegal activity and tightly regulating the drug's growth and sales. 

In a report released Wednesday, the group lays out 58 recommendations and goals for implementing general legalization -- an issue expected to go before voters next year.

The document offers broad principles --“protecting California’s youth” -- as well as nitty-gritty suggestions for collecting data and limiting advertising.

Newsom said in an interview that he hopes the report offers guidance to proponents of a legalization initiative aimed at the November 2016 ballot, as well as to help lawmakers and officials who would have to implement it if it passed.

The report does not explicity endorse or oppose legalization of recreational marijuana, although Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, has been outspoken in support of legalization and is the highest-ranking California official to take that position.

However, Newsom said, the drafting of the report “tempered…significantly” his enthusiasm for unfettered legalization.

“I’m more cautious as a parent, more cautious as a policymaker," Newsom said. "…We don’t want this to be the next Gold Rush.”

The report calls for strong regulation of the marijuana market from the outset. It suggests establishing licensing and training standards, and designating a central entity to oversee legalization.

“We’re not arguing for a free market. We’re arguing for a very regulated market that has real oversight, that is flexible,” Newsom said.

That regulation should extend to retail stores, the report says, including requiring identification and age limits to enter stores and limitations on what types of products, such as edible forms of marijuana, could be sold.

Taxes on legal marijuana should be used for education, public health programs and public safety, according to the commission. But the report cautions that maximizing revenue—“which would depend on higher levels of consumption,” it notes—should not be the goal of cannabis taxes.

Six different ballot measures to legalize marijuana have been submitted to the California secretary of state. A survey by the Public Policy Institute in California found last month that 54% of residents favor legalization, with 44% against it.

Law enforcement groups oppose legalization, arguing that it would not stamp out illegal sales and would increase risks to public safety.

“If, in fact, we legalize a psychoactive drug, that’s certainly going to increase the number of impaired drivers on the road,” said Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano, the president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.

Joining Newsom in crafting the report, called “Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California,” were Abdi Soltani, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and Keith Humphreys, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. 

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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