Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned a conference of cannabis industry members Tuesday that they need to get involved in passing a pot legalization measure on the November ballot or the cause will be set back nationally.
Newsom also chided fellow Democratic elected officials for not doing more to change the law even though he said the war on drugs has been an "abject failure."
"I kind of got frustrated by some of our colleagues because they weren't leading," Newsom told some 2,000 industry activists and entrepreneurs at a conference in Oakland sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Assn.
Newsom said current drug policies constitute "a war on the poor, on folks of color and it's got to end." Newsom, a candidate for governor in 2018, addressed the crowd during an annual business summit.
He said California will be helped by Colorado, where cannabis has been legalized.
"You are seeing that the sky is not falling," he said.
California's initiative is expected to qualify any day, but Newsom warned the supportive crowd not to take it for granted that it will pass.
"Its not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "We need your help on the campaign."
Newsom added that while former Facebook President
"If it is defeated, it will set back this movement in California … and nationally for years and years."
Newsom said his wife needs convincing because she is "scared to death about the message this sends to our kids."
He also warned that if the measure passes and it is not implemented well, it could also set back efforts to legalize cannabis elsewhere.
"Bad actors can screw this thing up for everybody and there is a lot at stake," he said, adding California should lead by good example.
He noted the last legalization initiative was narrowly defeated and polls show support lagging other parts of the country.
Newsom received a standing ovation after his keynote address and was swarmed by industry people wanting to take a picture with him afterward.
The three-day summit features panels including a discussion of the initiative's chance of passing.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act proposed for the Nov. 8 ballot was drafted largely based on recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy created by Newsom.
The measure would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.
The conference Tuesday was attended by representatives of groups that support the initiative, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the California Cannabis Industry Assn.
Opposition is lead by law enforcement and health groups including the California Police Chiefs Assn., the California Hospital Assn. and the California State Sheriffs' Assn.