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Jerry Brown Thinks Weed Threatens Our Ability to Stay Alert

Scott Lucas | March 3, 2014 | Story Politics

What's the threat of marijuana legalization exactly? Is it that the masses will be lulled into becoming a bunch of chilled-out potheads?

That’s part of Governor Jerry Brown’s skepticism anyway. This Sunday, he argued against legalization on NBC's Meet the Press, saying, "The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

But is his view on weed out of in need of an update? After all, this is a man who ran for President in 1980 on the platform of "Protect the Earth, serve the people, and explore the universe," produced a KPFA radio talk show out of an all-but commune in Oakland, and as attorney general won a $8.4 billion settlement against Countrywide Financial for shady mortgages. How is it possible, especially now—for the first time ever—that a majority of Californians support legalization, that this ultra-leftist has a less-marijuana friendly stance than our last governor?

Well, not so fast. Jerry is vast. Jerry contains multitudes. So what's behind Governor Moonbeam's reluctance to support legalization?

The Colorado Experiment: Brown told Meet the Press that he was looking closely at the experiences of Washington and Colorado, which allow regulated and taxed marijuana sales to the public. The early reaction from Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has been less than ringing. In February, Hickenlooper, an opponent of legalization, told other states considering the move to think twice. "I urge caution," he said at a meeting of the National Governor's Association. He went on to say that marijuana, "doesn't make people smarter, doesn't make people healthier," and that state governments, "don't know what the unintended consequences are going to be" of legalization. It's possible that Brown is heeding that advice.

The Age Gap: When Gallup found a majority of Americans nationwide in support of legalization last October, there were two demographic exceptions: Republicans and those over 65 years of age. Though Brown certainly isn't in the first group, at 75 years old, he's comfortably in the second.

The Tough on Crime Mentality: The major exceptions to Brown's more liberal-than-Ralph-Nader image have always been fiscal issues and criminal justice ones. His most recent term as governor has been marked by an ongoing battle with federal courts over prison overcrowding, and Brown recently vetoed a bill by San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno that would have allowed local prosecutors to charge possession of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin as misdemeanors, instead of mandatory felonies. So despite his concerns about the War on Drugs and his record on pardons, it's not surprising that Brown would take the line he has. As Attorney General, for instance, he ordered a crackdown on medical pot clubs.

The Influence of Aristotle: Stay with us on this one for a minute. The master key to unlocking the mind of Jerry Brown has always been to treat him as a philosopher first—and a politician second. The former seminarian has always seemed like he'd rather be counting the number of angels who can dance on a head of a pin than the number of votes he can command in the legislature. (It's why we love him.) So when Brown said of marijuana that, "the problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes," he wasn't just musing about a political policy position. He was riffing on the Nicomachean Ethics.

But whatever the source of his anti-legalization position, Brown may soon find himself facing a test of its strength. Legalization could hit the ballot in the Golden State as soon as 2016.

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