Three Drug Policy Reform Advocates Looking for Higher Political Office
Sen. John Vasconcellos, a veteran state legislator (D-Santa Clara), is exploring his chances to become the Democratic nominee for governor after serving in the legislature for three decades (Mary Anne Ostrom and Philip J. Trounstine, "Vasconcellos eyes governorship," San Jose Mercury, September 14, 1997).
Vasconcellos successfully passed two medical marijuana measures through the California Assembly, but both bills were vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. California's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, placed on the California ballot in 1996 in response to the Wilson vetoes, was modeled on language in the Vasconcellos medical marijuana measures. This year, Vasconcellos sponsored a bill for a $3 million medical marijuana research program at the University of California. The bill was endorsed by California Attorney General Dan Lungren (R), a vocal opponent of Proposition 215, and likely GOP candidate for Governor (see article in this issue of NewsBriefs).
Vasconcellos said that he began contemplating running for governor after winning the Pat Brown Legacy Award from the Pat Brown Institute in March. "It struck me that I'd grown into that (Brown) model in a way that I'm almost surprised by. But I really have built ties with the homeless and the high-tech and blacks and browns and gays and women," he said. Vasconcellos says he will spend the next 45 days evaluating "whether or not I can ignite or spark enough enthusiasm in all people." Vasconcellos has not run for statewide office before.
California State Sen. John Vasconcellos - State Capitol, Room 4061, Sacramento, California 95814, Tel: (916) 445-9740, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judge James P. Gray (R), the Orange County (CA) judge who said in 1992 -- and repeatedly since then -- that America has lost the war on drugs and needs a new battle plan, has taken a leave of absence to campaign for the congressional seat for the 49th District. The seat is now held by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who in 1996 narrowly defeated long-time incumbent Robert Dornan (R), who is still contesting the election. The primary election is scheduled for June 2, 1998 (Teri Sforza, "The jurist suggests he may enter the hotly contested 46th District," Orange County Register, October 5, 1997, metro section, p. 2; Jean P. Pasco, "Orange County Judge to Run for Rep. Sanchez's Post," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), October 9, 1997, p. B3).
Gray, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney in the U.S. Navy, was appointed to the Municipal Court bench by California Governor George Deukmejian in 1983, and then to the Superior Court in 1989. He served in the Peace Corps for two years in Costa Rica. Gray said, "I think I have a background and experience level that can help move our country forward."
Gray has openly questioned America's drug policy, and in a recent "open letter" to the Federal "drug czar" Barry McCaffrey, Gray wrote, "Our great country is reeling from wounds which we have been inflicting upon ourselves because of our current failed drug policy." He said he wants the nation to get over its current fear of discussing alternatives to the problem. "The government has an obligation, and an ability, to make available true and accurate information, and let people make their own choices and let them be responsible for those choices."
Gray for Congress Committee - P.O. Box 325, Santa Ana, CA 92702, Tel: (714) 241-0751.
Michael Maynard, a former substitute teacher who was fired because of a 22-year-old conviction of marijuana possession, is planning to run for state representative (Philip Franchine, "Teacher fired over pot case eyes House," Chicago Sun-Times, September 6, 1997).
Maynard, 43, of the Crete Township and an education coordinator at Aunt Martha's Youth Service in Park Forest, IL, pleaded guilty in 1974 to possession of half an ounce of marijuana that police discovered in his car. After paying a $100 fine, he assumed that would be the end of the incident. Instead, he was fired from his teaching job in 1996 after a routine background check turned up the conviction. He immediately sued the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Teacher Certification Board and Bloom County District 206, but the courts upheld the law and he was not reinstated into his former position (See "Teacher's Firing for 1974 Marijuana Misdemeanor Upheld," NewsBriefs, May-June 1997).
Maynard is challenging incumbent George Scully (D-Flossmoor) in the March 1998 primary for the 80th House District seat. Stressing education funding issues and reformation of drug laws, Maynard said he hoped to steer the debate toward statewide issues as well as reform of the 1985 law that resulted in his being fired. Maynard said, "Obviously I'd want to reform the law that affected me. Maybe we need a time limit or put in place a review board. I believe we are the only state in the union with that kind of law."