As the most powerful man in the room milled aimlessly about the bar of the United Irish Cultural Center on Friday, looking for someone who recognized him as United States Congressman, all the attention was focused where it always is whenever Gavin Newsom is in the room: right on the lieutenant governor himself.
Newsom was at the Instituto Laboral de la Raza award dinner hawking copies of his new book, Citizenville, and doing what he does best -- looking good. In addition to the labor leaders and elected officials stepping forward for a moment of his time, Gavin's ear was repeatedly bent by one of the labor movement's fastest-growing segments: the medical marijuana industry.
Ed Rosenthal talked to Newsom about widespread hydroponic farming (as in carrots and tomatoes); Newsom also heard from Harborside Health Center CEO Stephen DeAngelo, who is dueling to the death with the federal Justice Department. And the former San Francisco Mayor, a recent convert to the marijuana legalization movement, also predicted when Californians can expect to finally follower in the footsteps of voters in Colorado and Washington. The right year for marijuana legalization, Newsom said, is 2016.
Newsom, you may recall, has been called to opine on ending the cannabis portion of the Drug War before. In 2010 when Newsom was mayor a and lieutenant governor candidate, he was asked for his thoughts on Proposition 19, the Oaksterdam-backed legalization measure that failed by 5 percentage points. Back then, Newsom was against it -- but now, as he told The New York Times and a nationwide audience on Real Time with Bill Maher, he's all for it.
So what changed? "Candidly, I was close on 19 -- I was really close, I can't even tell you," Newsom told us during a quick interview. "Then I had people come in and say, prescriptively, the language [of the bill was problematic], 'You can't support it.' So I said, 'Okay, I'm not going to touch it.'"
Apparently, the problem isn't with the notion but the execution. "I know we need to tax and regulate and focus on adult use -- I don't have the prescription on how to do it right," Newsom said. "That's where I fall short."
As for "Why 2016," there are ample reasons, he said. For starters, it's a presidential election year, which means greater turnout. It will also give Sacramento policymakers time to reform California's medical marijuana industry -- and "it's incumbent upon us to get that house in order before we can get to the ultimate goal, which is tax and regulate," Newsom added.
The lite gov's proclamation that he'd realized marijuana must be legalized, and the revelation that that notion was shared by "hundreds" of other politicians still "in the closet" on the issue made the front page of The New York Times -- and shucks, was he surprised! "I kept saying, 'Why is no one asking me the question?'" he told us. "And then a New York Times reporter called me and asked me the question -- and then my position ended up being on the front page of The New York Times.'"
Funny how that happens.