What Did Cannabis Ever Do to Jerry Brown?
California’s former governor may dislike pot, but his public commentary about the plant is a detriment to all.
Published on March 11, 2019

At the end of January, former California Governor Jerry Brown sat down with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd for a wide-ranging discussion. Eventually, the subject turned to cannabis.

“Legalizing pot is about getting stoned,” Brown opined. “Nothing else, nothing more.”

Given the seemingly endless array of topics a four-term governor (of the world’s fifth-largest economy) and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (for one of the world’s most prestigious papers) could’ve tackled, it was more than a little disheartening to see such tired — and patently false — rhetoric surface once more in the public sphere.

In Brown’s case, it was but the latest example in a long history of dismissive comments towards cannabis. 

While much has been written about Dowd’s own infamous 2014 column detailing her negative experience with a cannabis-infused edible, it is Brown who has done more harm to the movement overall. 

In 2018, he told a different New York Times reporter that when it comes to stopping oil drilling in California, “We either do nothing and smoke marijuana because it’s legalized, or we put our shoulder to the plow and do everything we can.” Beyond the borderline irrational logic on display in these quotes, the latter of the two points is perhaps the most baffling aspect of Brown’s anti-pot crusade. 

With his time as governor now in the rearview, Brown could feasibly erase any memories of his anti-drug reform legacy and enhance his reputation in the fight against climate change by simply choosing not to offer fresh commentary on cannabis. Why has he instead decided to double down on his prohibition-friendly rhetoric now that he’s out of office?

As one of the first U.S. public figures to take a strong stance on climate change — Brown supported air quality regulations as early as the 1970s, and was an early adopter on the benefits of solar power — why is he not content to simply focus on the single most pressing issue of our times?

It would be one thing if Brown had served as the governor of a state with a neutral or negative stance on regulating cannabis, but instead, he was at the helm when California essentially changed the game by legalizing recreational pot when voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016. Naturally, Brown was against the bill. 

Zack Ruskin
Zack Ruskin is a cannabis and culture journalist living in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter: @zackruskin.
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