Antonio Villaraigosa is familiar with the difficulties facing the cannabis industry. He recently visited Orange County to discuss California’s cannabis legalization and its potential impact on the state’s education and employment offerings, the criminal justice system and minority communities.
As mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa played a role in deciding how many medical marijuana collectives the city could effectively monitor — 70, officials decided in 2010. And in 2012, he signed a law to ban cannabis clinics in the city in favor of patients and caregivers growing their own.
Opponents to the move presented a referendum and 49,000 signatures to the City Council at its meeting Oct. 2, 2012, according to KNBC-TV, which covered the meeting at the time. The request would have added a ballot question asking voters to overturn the ban. Instead, the City Council repealed the decision.
After leaving office in 2013, Villaraigosa immersed himself in local communities, became actively engaged in education efforts and encouraged civic engagement. He served as an adviser on public policy and on June 26, 2013 formed the consulting business Antonio R. VIllaraigosa, LLC.
The industry advancements that took place between 2012, when he told the Huffington Post he was not yet ready to embrace legal marijuana, to his examination and his 2016 endorsement of Proposition 64 convinced him of the potential benefits.
His office released a statement that expressed his careful consideration of the bill to ensure protections for children and public safety, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in October 2016.
The following month, he announced his 2018 campaign for California governor. A portion of this interview took place in Spanish.
Marijuana.com Interviews Antonio Villaraigosa: Full Interview
How will funds from cannabis legislation contribute to or expand these efforts?
Well, we haven’t, I haven’t focused exactly on where. I think in the beginning they will just go to the general fund, and then we’ll identify the most important areas. But I think if I were to identify one right now, I think education. Early child education is critical to the development of a young child’s mind.
This issue of education is the economic issue of our time because as you know our economy is driven by knowledge and innovation. It’s also the democracy issue of our time, we need an enlightened citizen to participate. And most importantly, it’s the civil rights issue of our time. It’s the biggest reason why we have an economy that’s not working for many people. Not enough people are getting the education they need for good middle-class jobs.
In the months following legalization, communities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles have announced plans to expunge or vacate cannabis convictions, and each community has approached this problem differently. How will minority communities benefit from this decision?
First of all, I think we need to do that statewide. The war on drugs didn’t work, it didn’t stop people from taking drugs. It incarcerated more people than anywhere in the world, on a per capita and absolute basis. It’s the biggest reason why the criminal justice system has been broken. I think that where people had cannabis for personal use and the like, those records should be expunged. Many of them have already paid their price, if you will. We’ll look at, into it, as far as the state doing something to address the situation. I don’t want to wait on every city.
When it comes to progress in the cannabis industry, what are the biggest hurdles that California still has left to overcome?
Well, I think the biggest hurdle is that there are a number of hurdles.
One, there are too many cities taking their time, if you will, to implement the will of the people. I think there are cases of over-regulation on the part of cities. Over taxation, they want to tax on top of what the state is already doing. The problem with that is they’ll just drive it, cannabis use and sales, underground. And I think the whole purpose, or one of the purposes of legalization, was to bring it from the black market to the open market.
So those are some issues. Also, zoning issues. What I don’t think we want, or I certainly don’t want, is to have all of the dispensaries in poor communities. Affluent communities then go to those communities [to purchase cannabis but]they aren’t sharing in the location of cannabis dispensaries, and the like. So there are a number of issues. Obviously, we also need to look at a standard for driving vehicles. What’s key is protecting children of course. And those are some of the biggest issues facing us.
Do you feel the regulations currently being established for recreational cannabis are providing adequate access for the medical patients in California?
No, I don’t. Again I think too many cities are reluctant to, frankly, understand the people have spoken on this issue, and that they’ve spoken fairly loudly. It’s now legal to use cannabis recreationally and it’s been legal for a long time for people to use it medically. I think the issue of access is certainly an issue we want to encourage cities to address, you know, as quickly as possible.
A report released in 2015, a year after Colorado legalized cannabis, showed that that state generated 18,000 full-time jobs. What opportunities do you anticipate California’s legalization to create?
Well, I think you just hit on, for me, an important reason why I support and supported the legalization of marijuana. One, it was already being used on a wide-scale basis in the state. We’ve just acknowledged it, finally. Two, there are some economic opportunities that come, and particularly for California. As the largest state in the nation, there’s no question that with legalization, there are real economic opportunities in this state and we should take advantage of them, and ensure that we are maximizing and leveraging this new law for economic development. Economic development in impacted communities and economic development for the state overall.
On that note, less than six months into legalization here, legislators are considering a $14 million cannabis enforcement budget request from the governor’s office. Some social justice groups are concerned this will result in more minorities being targeted in the continuation of the war on drugs. In this early stage of the industry, how would you approach regulation and enforcement?
First of all … I think you have to credit [California Gov. Jerry Brown] with addressing our broken criminal justice system. I know that he didn’t take a position in support of legalization, but I think he’s taken a lead role on the issue of criminal justice reform. So I certainly understand why people would be concerned, but I don’t believe the governor asked for this pot of money for purposes of targeting minority communities or communities that have been particularly victimized by the war on drugs.
I will say that when I’m governor, those dollars, should we decide they are appropriate, will be used to make sure that, you know, as an example that we’re protecting kids. I don’t think anyone that supported legalization or medical cannabis use believes that kids should be subjected to it. We have to protect kids.
Developing a standard, as an example, is another issue for driving and the like. I think those are legitimate, good-government objectives we should get behind. I don’t know a whole lot of what the intended use is but, those are two ideas from my vantage point.
¿Cuál es su posición sobre el legalization de cannabis?
Estoy en favor de la iniciativa que legalizó el uso de cannabis y estoy en favor porque la verdad es que la guerra en contra las drogas en Estados Unidos no ha trabajado. La verdad es que enfoco demasiadamente en las comunidades de color, Latino, el Afroamericano, y comunidades pobres. La drogadicción es una cuestión de salud público, no de seguridad público. Y la verdad es los estudios indican que no se puede tener una adicción de cannabis. Si se puede tener un hábito, pero no una adicción. Y en ese sentido, y no me preguntaron en inglés, yo creo que deberían de sacarlo del la ley federal que trata de incluir a cannabis como una droga peligrosa. En ese sentido como la gente de California ha planteado que están a favor de la legalización deberíamos usarlo como una oportunidad económica. Hay una industria de licor, por ejemplo.
Y la verdad es que podemos beneficiar económicamente del uso de cannabis. Entendemos también, al mismo tiempo que la guerra en contra las drogas puso mucha gente en las posiciones en los cárceles. Y muchos de ellos gente de color y pobre. Entonces por mi parte yo creo que deberíamos usar esta oportunidad como una oportunidad de que asegurar que no hay tanta gente en las prisiones, especialmente gente nuestra, a gente de color, gente pobre. Yo creo las ciudades tienen que aplicar la ley, que es una nueva ley de la legalización, en una manera que protege los niños con toda certitud que dice que tenemos que tener un estándar para manejar un vehículo, para manejar un vehículo en el trabajo o en las calles, y más de todo educar a la gente de que esta legalización es algo donde el estado va a beneficiar no enfocar tanto en la seguridad pública y más en la educación.
You touched on the federal designation in your answer in Spanish, would you mind elaborating on that in English?
Ya, I was saying in Spanish, and now I’ll say in English, I wasn’t asked in the first place but, I think taking it, we need to take cannabis off the Schedule I drug. We know that studies have proven it’s not addictive and it’s not dangerous in the way that those other drugs are. You know, could be habit-forming, but that’s different, and I don’t think it serves the criminal justice system and it certainly doesn’t serve society overall.