“California has been a leader in fighting Big Tobacco… now we’re seeing the rise of Big Marijuana,” Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from El Cajon, said in a news conference Saturday morning at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame.
Newsom last October became chairman of a committee convened by the American Civil Liberties Union to explore legalization and taxation, as voters in Colorado and Washington already have voted to embrace. He also gave a speech supporting legalization at the California Democratic Party’s convention last week in Los Angeles.
But Nehring said Saturday that legalization would bring down marijuana’s price and lead to a dramatic expansion in use of a drug that affects reaction time, memory and other brain functions for weeks, and is particularly harmful to still-developing adolescent brains. The medical community opposes legalization, he said, while the public costs would far exceed the tax revenues and job creation.
And, Nehring noted, Latinos oppose legalization by about a two-to-one margin, so this is an issue on which the GOP can connect with those voters.
Nehring said he supports the mission of Project SAM, an anti-legalization group that favors changing laws to favor treatment over punishment for those who use marijuana.
Nehring stood next to a poster displaying a photo of Gov. Jerry Brown and his recent quote that, “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?”
“We should have a debate about this issue,” Nehring said. “If Gavin Newsom is not willing to debate me, perhaps he’d be willing to debate Gov. Brown, and they could also debate high-speed rail while they’re at it.”
Nehring acknowledged this will be a tough campaign.
“We completely understand that we are the underdog in this race,” Nehring said, given Democratic incumbents in all statewide offices, a big Democratic voter registration advantage, and robust Democratic fundraising. “Every financial report that comes out will show that Gavin Newsom has raised more money than Ron Nehring.”
As a down-ticket race, “this campaign needs to be about big ideas,” he said – a good prescription for all GOP candidates.
“Republicans need to be the party of bold reform” in order to inspire voters, Nehring said, not just “the party of tweaks and cuts.”
Meanwhile, he said, “Gavin Newsom is treating the office like a taxpayer funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018.”