Earlier today California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state’s current secretary of state, Alex Padilla, will fill the vacancy left by Sen. Kamala Harris, who will be sworn in as Vice President Harris on Jan. 20, 2021.

The appointment bodes well for cannabis law reform on both the national and state level. Sen. Padilla is expected to offer at least equal support for legalization as Harris—if not more. As senator, Harris sponsored the broadest bill yet to end marijuana prohibition, the MORE Act. That bill would delete the type of marijuana crimes she once prosecuted as San Francisco District Attorney, and later as California State Attorney General.

“I’m happy with his selection by Governor Newsom.”

David Goldman, San Francisco chapter president of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club

The 2021 Congress will consider more such calls to deschedule cannabis, and reformers should benefit from a savvy new Sen. Padilla.

David Goldman, San Francisco chapter president of the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, said, “I’m happy with his selection by Governor Newsom.”

Why is Alex Padilla cool?

State positions play an outsize role shaping legalization’s reality.

Where past California leaders had stymied cannabis reform, Padilla embraced it. As secretary of state during and after California’s 2016 vote to legalize recreational marijuana, Padilla helped implement legalization by promptly licensing cannabis businesses. By the end of 2020, California reached an annual total of $3.8 billion in legal taxable cannabis sales.

Specifically, in 2017, Padilla’s office created an online portal, Cannabizfile Online, which helped migrate the state’s many legacy medical cannabis companies into the new legal and regulated era.

To promote that service, Padilla appeared in a public service announcement (PSA) with iconic pot comedian Cheech Marin. Cheech played a civil servant helping onboard a prospective licensee. Padilla thanks Cheech. It’s tame. Dare we say, normal.

Padilla & Cheech team up

(Screengrab Youtube: CaliforniaSOS)

“I think it’s great,” said Nate Bradley, Prop 64 legalization campaign veteran, and Cannabis Consumer Policy Council president. “Alex has a long history of working for the people.”

“He had a great working relationship with California Cannabis Industry Association,” said Bradley of Padilla’s efforts as secretary of state. “He gave us great access to him and his office whenever we needed help.”

Cannabis trademarks available

The Secretary of State also did cannabis product and brand creators a solid by allowing marijuana trademarking.

Every state makes different trademarking rules, and California’s protections led the pack, compared to the US Patent and Trademark Office, said cannabis policy expert Max Mikalonis at Sacramento’s K Street Consulting.

“I am optimistic that he will be pro-cannabis as California’s newest US senator.”


The MORE Act Calls for Sweeping Changes in Federal Cannabis Law

Pre-legalization moves

Unlike some other secretaries of state, Padilla didn’t meddle with legalization’s run-up, either.

He certified the initiative to appear on the ballot in June 2016, preceding the successful Nov. 2016 vote.

And he cast votes on the right side of history throughout his career. As a legislator in Sacramento, Padilla voted:

  • to support employment protections for medical cannabis patients
  • in favor of hemp legalization
  • to oppose DEA raids on cannabis companies

The votes broke ground at the time.

“Another fun fact” about Padilla, said Bradley, is that “he started public service at a young age. He was president of the LA city Council by [age] 28.”

Padilla earned an MS in mechanical engineering from MIT, and from 1999 to 2006 helped run Los Angeles as a city council member. He was council president from 2001 to 2006. A stint as state senator followed. He took the secretary of state job in 2015 and won re-election in 2019. His current term was scheduled to run through 2023.

Three key appointments, actually

With Padilla, three key appointments likely bode well for weed under Gov. Newsom—whose outspoken support helped put legalization over the top in 2016.

As Padilla shifts to Congress, Newsom must now fill California’s secretary of state position, and likely the California attorney general position. All three seats made past marks on cannabis history, and stand to do so again.

David Downs's Bio Image

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for Leafly.com. He’s written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including ‘Marijuana Harvest’ by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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