Tue, Jun

California: You Can Stone Me but Please Don’t Kill Me


DEEGAN ON CALIFORNIA-Positioned at the intersection of two dreams – the legalization of marijuana that came true, and the abolition of the death penalty, that did not -- Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has a lot to help him if he wants to run for Governor in 2018. 

Dreams of getting stoned, but not killed, became only halfway true for Californians on Election Day, when statewide voters approved the voluntary inhalation of dope for pleasure seekers, but reaffirmed the mandatory lethal injection of drugs for certain criminals. You can have the freedom to fill your lungs with the marijuana smoke and enjoy the buzz, but still cannot escape having your veins filled with poison if you are sentenced to death. 

Newsom emphatically supported the legalization of marijuana (Prop 64) and advocated for the abolition of the death penalty (Prop 62). His roles are significant because he was the chair of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana; he maintained a continued stance against the death penalty (prop 62). This duality places him at the forefront of two huge social issues in the state: marijuana and the death penalty. 

Whoever sits in the governor’s chair the next time around will have to deal with the ramifications of legalizing marijuana and the creation of what may turn into a multi-billion dollar industry and a huge new state tax base.  The new governor will also have to face the decades-old struggle to eliminate the death penalty. 

Marijuana use and possession used to be a fast-track to jail. With the approval of Proposition 64, anyone over 21 years old can use and grow marijuana for personal use. But suddenly the posture of federal law enforcement and the beliefs of judges yet-to-be-appointed to federal courts may turn into challenges to the freedom of marijuana possession, cultivation and consumption, since it is still a federal offense. 

Being a blue state in a red universe could help blunt what may be a coming storm for our next wave of political leaders, which means someone like Newsom could have an advantage in the gubernatorial race with his positions on decriminalization of marijuana and abolishing the current mandatory death penalty. He’s clearly a leader on the left. 

Proposition 62, the death penalty proposition, if it had passed, would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It was defeated by an almost eight point margin, so this could be called a solid defeat, indicating that voters, at least for now, want the death penalty to stay. That’s bad news for the 750 people facing execution in California and their friends and families, especially since Prop 66 appears to be passing, which will mean speeding up the appeals process for those on death row with the objective of hastening decisions about executions. That measure is ahead by a slim margin -- currently 261,000 votes, with nearly four million vote-by-mail ballots still to be counted. The final certification by the Secretary of State on December 16 may be affected. 

So with weed, what was once bad became good, and with the choice of life imprisonment or death row, what was bad stayed bad. 

Thousands of people are still jailed because they got caught smoking pot years ago. Newsom has been outspoken in wanting to remedy this, saying, What we cannot do is continue sweeping the problem under the rug by sending non-violent offenders to prison. Too many men and women are in jail because of drug addiction. We should focus on rebuilding families by keeping people out of the criminal justice system and instead getting them the help they need so they can return to a productive life. Drug policy in California and across the country has missed the mark. Now’s the time to rethink our approach and get it right.” 

The freedom to live the lifestyle we want, within legal limits, and to be free of execution for very serious crimes when alternatives like life imprisonment exist, are issues everyone should be concerned with in this “through the looking glass” political environment that now rules. Finding the right leaders is always important; being sure that our potential leaders are on the right side of the issues is critically important. 

The races for 2018 (Congressional, Governor and possibly Senator) have already begun for anyone that wants California to remain a golden state. Is Newsom the future? He’s someone that’s in the running.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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