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Ron Nehring

Challenging Gavin Newsom on drugs and economic competitiveness

Despite all of the happytalk coming from Sacramento, Californians today are facing serious challenges.  The highest poverty rate in the nation.  Sky high unemployment.  Many schools failing, particularly those serving our African-American and immigrant communities.

In the midst of all of this, our Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has found a new parade to run to the front of: drug legalization.

It’s difficult to see how legalizing pot, and in the course of doing so throwing open the doors to addiction and dependency in the largest state in the union, helps to solve our problems.  Rather, it’s easier to see how it will make them worse.  And that’s an observation made by none other than Newsom’s fellow Democrat, Jerry Brown, on Meet the Press earlier this year.

“All of a sudden if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?  The world’s pretty dangerous.  Very competitive…”

Yesterday our campaign released an ad challenging Newsom on his stance on drug legalization, in particular as a women’s issue as the number of children born addicted to drugs has skyrocketed.  You can view the ad here.

The state’s most pressing challenges relate to its lagging economic “recovery” as many of our counties have yet to emerge from recession.  The Lt. Governor should be spending his time persuading the members of his own party to fill out the state’s now-defunct Economic Development Commission, rather than pushing plans to open the doors to more Californians finding their way into drug addiction and dependency.

Elections are about ideas and issues, and we should be able to discuss more than one issue at a time.  For as long as George Soros and his millions continue to back efforts to legitimize drug use and pursue policies that lead more people into addiction, then those of us who disagree have an obligation to engage in that debate and offer better solutions.

That’s why back in March I challenged Gavin Newsom to a debate on drug policy.  The response?  Nothing.  Just like his response to current media invitations to host a debate.  At least he’s consistent.

A statewide debate on drug policy is coming.  And the implications for our state will be enormous, just as they have been in Colorado.  Anyone who thinks that hundreds of thousands more Californians regularly getting high, with a sixth of them becoming addicted and others moving on to harder drugs, will not have an impact on our state’s economy, competitiveness, health insurance, auto insurance rates, schools, and society is, well, smoking something.

In Colorado, the growing marijuana industry understands that nobody starts smoking pot when they’re 50.  Just like Big Tobacco, Big Marijuana knows that their target market is younger people, of college age or less.  They also know, and ignore, the fact that our brains don’t finish developing until age 25, that the use of marijuana and other drugs negatively impact how the brain develops, and the consequences can be permanent.

California’s economic competitiveness remains a top issue of concern.  Does anyone believe that growing the number of Californians who are regularly getting high or segway into other drugs will improve our competitiveness?  California has a large medical device industry.  Would you rely on a medical device manufactured by someone who got stoned last night?   United Airlines operates a large maintenance facility in San Francisco.  Would you fly on a plane repaired at SFO yesterday by technicians who regularly get high?

Economic competitiveness isn’t just about tax rates.  The decisions employers make — such as where to put an aircraft maintenance facility and its associated jobs, or where to manufacture medical devices — are as much about a workforce.  And one that’s out getting stoned isn’t as competitive as one that’s on the ball.

As a Republican, I’m pretty sure that just about everything government does today can be done better, and that includes policies toward drugs.  So often we’re forced into a false choice, and on marijuana it’s the false choice of either incarceration or legalization.  But there’s a better way, and that’s why I’ve endorsed in broad terms the approach advocated by a new group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) which focuses on treatment over incarceration.  Project SAM is co-chaired by conservative David Frum and former Democrat Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and their work is worth looking at because it points the right way forward for California.