Chem Tales: A Guide to Cannabis on the Ballot

Here’s a quick primer on where marijuana fits into the midterm elections.

After what seems like centuries, the 2018 midterm elections are finally upon us. From a heated Texas senate race between incumbent troll-monster Ted Cruz and challenger Beto O’Rourke to the spectacle of tech moguls battling it out over San Francisco’s Proposition C, there has been no shortage of headlines herding us toward the finish line. While cannabis may not be a marquee issue on this year’s ballot, several candidates and propositions are being closely watched within the industry.

To help clear the smoke, here’s a look at the races and issues that may have the biggest effect on the legalized cannabis market in California.

Proposition D

Here’s the big one. Should it pass, Prop. D will make San Francisco the last major city in California to adopt a local cannabis tax. As currently structured, the measure would exempt the first $500,000 of gross receipts from sales of recreational cannabis, but levy a tax of one-to-five percent on gross receipts exceeding that amount, with collection beginning in 2021.

Those in favor of Prop. D argue it’s an inevitable step toward regulating cannabis like any other business. They might also note that the proposed rate falls short of the gross-receipts tax currently in place in Oakland and other major California cities. Opponents lament the lack of specification with regards to how the funds amassed from the tax will be used. They further question whether another tax at this juncture — thus far, collected state excise taxes for cannabis have fallen well short of expectations — will only force retail prices to increase further, continuing a cycle in which users return to the unregulated market. It’s safe to say that if Prop. D fails to win voter approval, a similar measure will crop up sooner or later.   

Board of Supervisors

In total, 23 candidates are vying for five seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

In the District 2 race, none of the four candidates — including incumbent Sup. Catherine Stefani — has made cannabis a core tenet of their platform. Stefani, however, supported the idea of supervised injection sites in San Francisco.

Eight individuals are vying for the District 4 seat, which covers the Parkside and portions of the Sunset District. D-4 residents have vocally opposed proposals for new dispensaries, and it appears that each of the eligible candidates has pledged to honor their wishes should they be elected.

In District 6, school board member Matt Haney weighed in on cannabis, telling the Bay Area Reporter that he does not support further bans on dispensaries. In September, candidates Christine Johnson and Sonja Trauss both confirmed to SF Weekly that they oppose Prop. D.

Six candidates are vying for Cohen’s seat. Native son Shamann Walton has stated his desire to ensure there’s equity in San Francisco’s cannabis industry for minorities. In a questionnaire for the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Theodore Ellington noted that the city’s current legislative framework “works for the retail portion of the cannabis industry but must be expanded to ensure we see the same impact cover the entire sector.”

House of Representatives

At this moment, it is hard to say whether the Democrats will succeed in their efforts to flip the House, but if they do, voters can expect 15-term incumbent Rep. Nancy Pelosi to reclaim her position as Speaker. A consistent advocate for cannabis reform, Pelosi would be a key element in passing a number of bills the current Republican majority has blocked. Meanwhile, in California’s 14th district, Rep. Jackie Speier (D) is the recipient of a “B” grade from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

U.S. Senator

Kevin de Leon (D) is the challenger to longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein (D). Feinstein’s history as an opponent of legal marijuana stretches back decades (she opposed both Prop. 215 and Prop. 64). In fact, it was only earlier this year that she finally changed her position — an action no doubt inspired by the success of de Leon’s campaign on her left flank.


Many people in the cannabis industry are counting the days until former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) officially becomes the 40th governor of California. As Drug Sense notes in its endorsement of Newsom, “no state official has done more to champion legal marijuana.” Given outgoing Governor Jerry Brown finished his term by vetoing several bills championed by cannabis advocates, one can expect revised versions to quickly find their way to Newsom’s desk following his presumptive victory.

Attorney General

Cannabis advocates have been thrilled with Xavier Becerra (D) since Gov. Brown tapped him to fill the office vacated by Kamala Harris. His efforts to “protect California’s interests from federal interference” (Drug Policy Forum) bodes well for any potential future showdown between the state and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (provided the latter manages to keep his job).

Lieutenant Governor

State Senator Ed Hernandez (D) has a solid voting record in favor of cannabis issues, and should also be lauded for his work to outlaw “Spice” — a truly heinous synthetic alternative to cannabis. Opponent Eleni Kounalakis (D) has the endorsement of President Obama, but has largely sidestepped marijuana politics in her career.

State Controller

Incumbent Betty Yee (D) has long championed the need for taxed and regulated legal cannabis in California. After being involved in a car crash in which the guilty party was suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, Yee has demanded the state find a solution to pot-related traffic accidents. Challenger Konstantinos Roditis (R) did not vote in favor of Prop. 64, but he supports the idea of keeping the federal government out of California’s affairs.

State Treasurer

California Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma has taken an active interest in the cannabis market, with much of her focus dedicated to banking issues and a desire to end the need for dispensaries to remain “cash-only” and instead be treated like any other legitimate state industry.

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