Earlier this summer, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom faced uncertainty in serving out the remainder of his four-year term, which meant the future of the state’s cannabis industry also faced uncertainty.
While California rides heavily blue during elections, a late-July poll revealed the race for the Sept. 14 gubernatorial recall election was tightening and voters in support of removing Newsom from public office more energized. At that time, 50% of likely recall voters wanted to keep Newsom and 47% wanted him gone.
But Newsom picked up steam in the weeks after and kept his seat by a landslide Tuesday night, delivering a 28-point victory with 70% of precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning to stymie a Republican-backed effort that was sponsored by those who are “no friends of cannabis or criminal justice reform,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release last week.
With roughly 64% of voters casting “no” ballots to the recall (with 70% of precincts reporting), Newsom claimed a victory that was more convincing than the 2018 gubernatorial election, when he sailed to office by 24 points over Republican opponent John Cox.
Less than an hour after the polls closed Tuesday night, Newsom gave a victory speech to his supporters and said:
“It appears we’re enjoying an overwhelmingly no vote tonight here in the state of California. But ‘no’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state. We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body. We said yes to diversity. We said yes to inclusion. We said yes to pluralism. We said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians and I would argue as Americans—economic justice, social justices, racial justice, environmental justice, our values where California’s made so much progress. All of those things were on the ballot this evening.
“And so, I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote and express themselves so overwhelming by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism, by rejecting so much of the negativity that’s defined our politics in this country over the course of so many years.”
While Newsom defeated the recall attempt driven by GOP criticism of his COVID-19 policies—sparked by stay-at-home orders and other restrictions—those tied to the cannabis industry had a vested interest in him keeping power.
Since assuming office Jan. 7, 2019, Newsom has advanced measures to expand on-site consumption and licensed cannabis events; promote equity applicants; afford business tax deductions; allow billboard advertising; and improve and streamline the state’s burdensome regulatory system, according to California NORML.
Earlier this year, Newsom approved legislation to simplify California’s regulatory scheme by consolidating three agencies into one. He helped provide relief extensions on provisional cultivation licenses awaiting California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. And he supported a $100-million grant to, in part, aid local businesses in passing that review.
Newsom also deserves credit for declaring cannabis to be an essential service during the onset of COVID-19 government shutdowns, “a move mocked by critics and recall proponents,” Gieringer said.
Newsom carried California’s most populated counties Tuesday, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino—all in the southern part of the state. Most of the counties he did not win were in Central and Northern California.
In the Emerald Triangle, where cannabis cultivation has a long, storied history known to the world, Newsom carried Humboldt and Mendocino counties by rout, while less-populated Trinity County voted in favor of removing him by an 8-point margin with 82% of precincts reported as of Wednesday morning.
Many California cannabis businesses, especially small farms in that region, are currently going through hard times and Newsom has been blamed for many of the struggles, said Jared Schwass, who practices law in the cannabis space as the founder of Schwass Law Firm. Schwass was born and raised in Mendocino County.
“However, he was elected governor in 2019 and it was Jerry Brown, not Gavin Newsom, who implemented the voter initiative Prop. 64 and passed the current cannabis law,” Schwass said. “As such, Gov. Newsom has received criticism for Gov. Brown’s decisions and policymaking.”
Among the 46 replacement candidates who ran a separate race if Newsom was recalled, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder was the frontrunner with roughly 47% of votes cast in his favor as of Wednesday morning.
Elder hinted at a 2022 run for governor following Tuesday’s early results.
“Let’s be gracious in defeat,” he said to his supporters. “And, by the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”