Roll ‘Em and Tax ‘Em: What Gov Contenders Say About Legal Pot


One day after Gov. Schwarzenegger said it was high time for a debate about legalizing and taxing marijuana, Calbuzz rolled up our sleeves and set out to score the views of the candidates who want to succeed him.

The governor’s comment came as a new Field Poll showed that 56% of Californians support the notion of taxation with legalization for pot, an idea that Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco has proposed in AB390.

According to a February estimate by the Board of Equalization, legalizing pot could raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, although there might be a concomitant decline in tax income from cigarettes and booze.

Arnold may not be in favor of legalized pot today, but he was filmed smoking a doobie in the 1977 film, “Pumping Iron.” “That is not a drug. It’s a leaf,” he told a British magazine in 2007.

Since the wannabe governors surely won’t have a joint press conference on the issue, we decided to hash out the differences among and between them by posing a simple question, without getting into the policy weeds of Ammiano’s 26-page bill:

Given the state’s fiscal challenges, would you as governor support increasing revenues by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use? Why or why not?

The answers ranged from Tom Campbell’s openness to the idea through Jerry Brown’s magisterial avoidance and Meg Whitman’s unadulterated “No Way, Mary J!” Here’s what they said:


Tom Campbell: “I’m entirely open to getting a good, qualified and balanced report on this question. I’m not for legalizing on the basis of what I know now. However, I am for devoting scarce enforcement dollars to drugs like meth; and I have long favored allowing medical marijuana use. I have been critical of the use of federal resources to close down medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal in California.”

Meg Whitman: “I am absolutely, 100% not in favor of legalizing marijuana for any reason.” (What about to increase tax revenues?) “That is the last reason that one should think about legalizing marijuana.” (BTW: It was good to see Whitman answer the question at a brief press avail in San Francisco after our Calbuzz Rant yesterday. Our follow-up to Meg is this: By “any reason” do you mean you oppose the medicinal use of marijuana?)

Steve Poizner: “Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, the idea of legalizing drugs is one more bad idea from a bygone era. Nor can California smoke its way out of the structural budget deficit. The best way to increase state revenues is to grow the whole economy. Only those who are smoking something think tax increases will lead to economic growth.”


Jerry Brown: “I’m not prepared to comment on it at this point. I’m not a gubernatorial candidate, No. 1, and as attorney general, I’m not prepared to comment.” As for a discussion of the fiscal merits, Brown added: “I wouldn’t limit myself to that topic. We need a wide ranging exploration of revenues, cuts, changes and reforms in government over the next decade.” [Doesn’t sound like the state’s top cop will be joining these guys anytime soon.]

Gavin Newsom: “I will always be a strong advocate for legalized medicinal uses of this substance, it’s something that I have fought for — and will continue to fight for as governor. But I do not believe that blanket legalization and taxation is a responsible way to balance the state’s budget.”

Antonio Villaraigosa: No response. Must be those damn emergency budget crisis meetings again. We did get this from one of Tony V’s consultants: “As you are well aware, Antonio is not currently a candidate for governor.” Okey doke, then.

BTW: A shout-out to our friend Carla Marinucci at the SF Chronicle, who managed to get a few questions in at Meg’s press avail yesterday.

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There are 17 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    ACTUALLY I think most can agree that in order to have a proper, public debate on this subject — taxpayers should form a circle, begin a Buddhist rite of “omphthalokepsis” [contemplation of one’s navel – which is a good thing, this close to Mothers’ Day], then pass some more tequila for a second round of discussions. 😉 Over to you, Jerry …!

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Mayor V has been rapped up in grueling budget meetings for weeks now. I can't believe you eScribes would take such a cheap shot at such a hard-working Mayor. While you were lounging around hack&flack drinking your martinis, his nose was flat against the grindstone. You want to know his position on pot? He's filling every pothole he can find. He can't take your calls while running America's second largest city. No disrespect intended to the press — it's just, well, look at what happened the LAST time he got close to a reporter. Show a little respect please!

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    6:53 AM is right.

    Antonio is very shy. I’m proud of him for focusing on what he does best: the 11% of the time he spends on government work, really digging in there round-the-clock to save the city from his past 3 budgets.

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    Wow, the most coherent answer was from Tom Campbell. When can we look forward to that level of competency and straight-forwardness from the Democratic candidates?

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    Whatever anon. He has been the least hard-working mayor in the US. He doesn’t run anything except his mouth at press photo-ops. Any angeleno will tell you that, he did really bad in his recent re-election (it should have been a breeze with those candidates).
    And as for filling pot holes, if he can’t pave santa monica blvd on hollywood, one of our most traveled streets, then he isn’t solving any real problems, other than sitting in meetings to cut essential services.
    Makes me glad I live in a well managed city-west hollywood.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    When – pray tell – was the last time Tony V showed reporters respect. Listen to Aretha Franklin's lyrics, dear brothers and sisters! R-E-S-O-E-C-T! That's what it's all about! Good will begets good will! Stiffing a news reporter — even 'off-the-record' — is a slap in the face of a readership, a publisher and an entire staff of those still left in the journalistic profession — did I forget to mention those left in community colleges, undergraduate classrooms or espcially in graduate schools? As for what Tony V has been doing with his time — in CITY HALL & ELSEWHERE — that's why reporters are called on to just report the news, so the public can see how well their tax dollars are being spent! CAPISH??????
    "Nose to the [budget deliberations] public grind stone? Maybe! Or maybe not! There is NO record!

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    Did you guys asked any of them if they ever inhaled? Clearly Poizner and Whitman are smoking something.

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    Reporter: What about legalizing pot?
    Poizner: Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, the idea of legalizing drugs is one more bad idea from a bygone era.

    Reporter: What about raising taxes, increasing spending, and using government to solve problems?
    Poizner: Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, the idea of government is one more bad idea from a bygone era.

    Reporter: Um, Steve, what’s on your IPod, how’s the weather, where’s your next vacation?
    Poizner: Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, Linda Ronstadt, the Weather Underground, and Calcutta are bad ideas from a bygone era.

    Reporter: Holy camole, is there any question you can answer without referring to the bygone Jerry Brown?
    Poizner: Like electing Jerry Brown as governor, the idea of answering your question directly is one more bad idea from a bygone era.

    (Memo to Steve: if you keep this up you’re going to start a new drinking game…)

  9. avatar Evan Goldin says:

    Ha, love that last comment.

  10. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    The Republicans may not know what they are doing as candidates, but they know who one of them is likely to run against.

    The sense I get from Republicans is largely one of existential dread.

  11. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    Incidentally, the number of anonymous posts here is now officially ridiculous.

    At least get a handle, so one can judge the POV.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    As you have been notified before, sir: “These are lean times” and not all can afford a URL down-payment nor monthly installments via automatic withdrawals from a bank debit without adequate over-draft protection — during evolution of a ‘cash economy’s recovery’, absent bail-outs for citizens! 😉 Capish? Or is the Real Issue, Bill – a personal inadequacy in dealing with those having rather superior wits, yet wishing to remain faceless in the crowd? 😉 Sort of like “Letters to the Editor” in print newspapers!

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    Bill, we like being anonymous! It is your belief that ideas don’t stand on the merit of their meaning that is ridiculous. If you want sourced dialogue, go back to News Western Notepad or whatever that obscure textdump screen you produce is called. Leave us alone, please. Please. Just go.

  14. avatar Cliff Schaffer says:

    You will want to listen to the Alan Autry show on KYNO Radio, 1300 AM on your dial, from Fresno, this coming Monday at 10 AM. You can listen on the net at http://radiotime.com/program/p_165269/Alan_Autry.aspx We have already been informed that the Stockton Record, the Bakersfield Californian, and the Associated Press will be tuned in and they are all preparing articles on this subject right now.

    Judge James P. Gray and I will be appearing, and we will be discussing the legalization of marijuana. Afterwards, we will be appearing before the Fresno Rotary, the editorial board of the Fresno Bee, and the staff of Fresno Pacific University.

    We will have a simple message – one that you have not considered before.

    The Central Valley of California has unemployment rates that have not been seen since the Great Depression – 20 percent in some communities, and rising fast. Merced has been named in the media as the “epicenter” of the national foreclosure crisis.

    At the same time, the Campaign Against Marijuana planting seized illegal marijuana plants worth almost $12 billion last year. That is compared to a total legal agricultural production for California of $36 billion. If all they did was to take that seized marijuana and sell it through licensed and regulated distributors, it would boost California’s total farm revenues by about one-third.

    In one simple move, it would put the Mexican drug lords out of business and end the economic problems of the Central Valley. By some estimates, the drug lords now get $30 billion per year from the US sales of marijuana. They have so much money that they do not count it. They weigh it. If California legalized marijuana, and required licenses and background checks for growers, the farmers of the Central Valley would own that market overnight. The farmers would put the drug lords out of business, just like they once put Al Capone out of business. It would be the biggest economic bonanza the Central Valley has ever seen – even by the lowest estimates of the value of the marijuana crop.

    We will be appearing with Sheriff Mike Pazin of Merced County. Sheriff Pazin recently paid $400,000 for a new helicopter to look for marijuana plants. Last year in Fresno County, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting seized enough marijuana in Fresno alone to buy Sheriff Pazin 1,300 helicopters, with more than $30 million left over to buy some nice steak dinners at the Harris Ranch.

    For the State Board of Equalization, legalization means about $1.3 billion in new tax revenue. That is chump change compared to what the Central Valley farmers would earn.

    We now face the same problem that we faced in 1933 with the end of alcohol prohibition. We know the business is huge. We know it is not going to go away. Whom do you trust to run it with the best controls? Do you trust people like Ernest and Julio Gallo? Or do you trust people like Al Capone?

    I urge your editors to think this over and to read the research on marijuana. I have collected the full text of every major government commission report on the marijuana laws from around the world over the last 100 years at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer under Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy. They all said the same thing. They all said that the marijuana laws were based on ignorance and nonsense and do more harm than good – no matter what you assume about the harms of marijuana.

    It is now time to legalize marijuana for the benefit of Bakersfield, Fresno, and all the communities of the Central Valley. Please do your own economic research and look up the comparative figures. Then join us by calling for legalization of marijuana as the means to restore the good economy of the Central Valley. In this particular battle, the Central Valley is now the national lynchpin, and the Central Valley has by far the most to gain from a more sensible marijuana policy.

  15. avatar Anonymous says:

    JEEZ! Sure – that’ll help CA’s economic recovery. And what’s left? A state filled with pot heads!

  16. avatar Anonymous says:

    curious…when it’s so easily grown, how r u going to regulate and tax the item? It would be very difficult, I do believe to control in that regard, just as it is now….? yes???

  17. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    details on taxation, etc in body of ammiano’s bill to which there’s a link in 2nd graf of the post.

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