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The Return of Governor Moonbeam...


Brown has said he won’t raise taxes, unless the voters agree to it. Earlier this year, he was quoted saying he had a plan, but he couldn’t reveal it until after the election. Whitman pounced on it as a sign of Brown’s lack of a plan, or just a secret plan to raise taxes. His overall message: a tough love Californians can rely on, even if the majority of the electorate is too young to remember the days when he entertained the idea of making California a launchpad for a mass migration to space.

Brown’s campaign strategy appears to be, let Whitman spend all her money while Brown leans back and declares her a spendthrift and a dilettante.

Kevin Starr, the USC historian, who went to high school with Brown, calls Brown’s non-efforts a “Zen campaign,” which seems to acknowledge that politics itself, the function and purpose of it, has “been erased in California.” Or, put another way, why have a plan if plans aren’t going to work?

“It’s an empty blackboard,” Starr says.

Everyone thinks Brown is running to crown the family legacy in California. In recent months, he’s been talking more about his father, Pat Brown Sr., and his nieces are producing a documentary about their grandfather, how he built up the higher-education and highway systems before he was defeated by Reagan in 1966. Brown is said to have disliked his father, openly contrasting himself to the senior Brown during his first campaign for governor in 1974. But he regrets that, says one associate, and sees more clearly what his father did right.

At one point Brown grabs a framed black-and-white picture of his great-grandfather, a bearded sheepherder on the family ranch outside Sacramento. “My great-grandfather drove the stagecoach from Placerville to Sacramento,” he says. “Came in 1852 by covered wagon.”

Meg Whitman from Long Island: Does she get California?

“I don’t know what she gets,” Brown says, going quiet. “She’s a marketer. She wants to rebrand California. She wants a New California. I see the California of my forebears.”

One could not have scripted this, but there it is: California is going down in a haze of pot smoke.

“We’ve just been waiting patiently,” says Richard Lee, a pale man in black clothes and dark shades, rolling his wheelchair through the streets of downtown Oakland. “I sound like the Grinch, you know, waiting for the economy to go bad and rooting for it to. But on the one hand, that’s what it’s going to take to wake people up.”

Lee is the guy who put up $1.5 million of his own money to get Proposition 19 on the ballot in California. It proposes to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, thereby simultaneously easing the budget crisis and achieving the lifelong dream of stoners everywhere.

In 1990, Lee was working as a lighting technician at an Aerosmith concert when he fell and broke his back, an accident confining him to a wheelchair for life. His discovery of marijuana as therapy transformed him into an avid pot activist and entrepreneur. After twenty years, Lee says, the recession is the squeeze play he’d imagined could finally push the state to legalize. As it stands, polls show the electorate in favor of the proposal, but not a single major politician running for office—not Senator Barbara Boxer, not Brown, Whitman, or Fiorina—supports Prop 19.

“It should be a Republican issue,” says Lee, whose parents are Goldwater Republicans in Houston. “It is less government and more responsibility. Palin said it’s not a big deal.” The amount of tax revenue that legalized pot would create is a matter of debate, with estimates ranging from $300 million annually to a fantastic $1.4 billion. The Rand Corporation conducted a study that predicted that the price of an ounce of pot could drop precipitously and produce less tax revenue than believed. But nobody really knows.

Lee appears to partake of the product. He showed up an hour and a half late to our interview and forgot the keys to the offices and classrooms and indoor pot farms that are part of his sprawling marijuana education, marketing, and distribution mecca, called Oaksterdam. It’s a sleepy downtown area that Lee is trying to develop into a legalized-pot haven akin to Amsterdam, complete with cafés and shops and even a college, Oaksterdam University, where you can learn to cultivate indica or study marijuana laws (“Featuring the very best instructors the cannabis industry has to offer,” declares an advertisement).

To the Easterner, all this state-sponsored weed is exotic stuff. When I meet Lee at Coffeeshop Blue Sky, his dispensary, the Grateful Dead is playing over the stereo and a steady stream of customers are filing in, white guys in baseball caps and black church ladies just out of Sunday service, flashing medical cards and strolling to the back room where a young woman at a teller window sells five varieties of weed for about $40 for an eighth of an ounce. I’m shown a tray of pot-infused food items: peanut butter, German chocolate-truffle cake, ten flavors of freeze-dried drinks, peanut brittle, hard candy, olive oil, honey. There are pre-rolled joints in packaging reminiscent of a CVS thermometer. There’s a color catalogue detailing every variety of pot plant you can buy, from “LA Confidential” to “Black Kush” to “Odyssey,” which promises a “long-lasting head high.”


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