The U.S.’s 50 state governors just got their annual report cards from a leading national marijuana legalization organization, and—for the first time—over half of them got passing grades.
The new scorecard, released on Wednesday by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), comes at a time when a growing number of governors are focusing on ending cannabis prohibition in their states.
Over the past week, for example, at least eight governors have devoted portions of their inaugural or State of the State speeches to highlighting their support for marijuana law reform.
According to NORML, 27 governors deserve at least a C grade or higher, with nine of those getting an A. The scores denote an increase in the number of state chief executives that are embracing cannabis reform; last year the organization awarded only two A grades.
“This shift in political support among governors bodes well for the prospects of the passage of successful legislative reforms in various states in 2019 and beyond,” the organization said, adding that it anticipates lawmakers in as many as five states may send legalization bills to supportive governors’ desks this or next year.
But while NORML notes that polling shows support for ending marijuana prohibition is becoming less partisan among voters—with a majority of Republicans now on board—that shift hasn’t yet carried over to elected officials.
Of the governors who received passing grades in the new scorecard, 22 are Democrats and only five are Republicans. Meanwhile, 100 percent of those who got A grades are Democrats. On the other end of the scale, the 15 who got D grades and the four who received an F are all GOP governors. No Democrat got less than a C.
“There exists now for the first-time significant political support among a majority of U.S. governors for marijuana policy reform,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in an email. “But this support is also more partisan than ever before—with Democratic governors in growing numbers advocating for change while Republican governors are either remaining silent on the issue or campaigning in opposition to such reforms.”
“Just as Republican voters have evolved on the issue of marijuana policy reform over the past decades, Republican elected officials must do likewise in order to remain in step with the views of the electorate,” he said.
Meanwhile, it appears that marijuana reform is especially popular among newly elected governors, with nearly a third of those taking the gubernatorial oath of office for the first time this year getting an A.
Several recently sworn-in governors specifically campaigned on legalizing cannabis, such as Connecticut’s Ned Lamont (D), Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker (D), Minnesota’s Tim Walz (D) and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D).
Pritzker reiterated his legalization pledge in an inaugural address this week, while Lamont recently said that ending cannabis prohibition would be among his “priorities” for the new legislative session.
Even among those governors who don’t yet personally support full legalization, several are calling for more modest cannabis reforms. In Kansas, new Gov. Laura Kelly (D) said during the campaign that she supports medical marijuana, for example, while Gov. Tony Evers (D) of Wisconsin wants to decriminalize cannabis and let voters decide on broader legalization through a referendum.
“The results of the 2018 midterm elections also show that advocating for marijuana legalization is a successful state-level campaign issue,” Armentano said.
At the same time, seven incumbents received an increase in their grades from last year.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), for example, got a bump from a B- to a B after he recently shifted from saying that the state wasn’t ready to legalize marijuana to now arguing that lawmakers should take a serious look at the issue in light of moves to end prohibition in neighboring states.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved from a C- to B+ after ceasing to call marijuana a “gateway drug” and instead including legalization provisions in his budget request to lawmakers.
The one Republican to get a grade increase was Texas’s Gov. Greg Abbott who during a reelection debate last year indicated that he is open to supporting legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession. He now has a C- compared to his prior D- grade.
Overall, the new grades for governors reflect the fact that marijuana—once an issue laughed off or avoided by elected officials—is now squarely at the center of mainstream American politics.
And, because governors have historically tended to be among the strongest candidates for president, the enthusiasm with which many of them are now embracing cannabis reform says a lot about the future of federal marijuana prohibition.
“Some of these governors at the state level that are advocating most publicly and the loudest in favor of reform do have higher political aspirations after they leave office,” NORML’s Armentano said.
“We’ve already seen among the Democratic party that there is a sense among the would-be presidential candidates that their position on marijuana is somewhat of a litmus test,” he added. “Of the major candidates that have emerged thus far, they are all fairly strong in their advocacy for marijuana law reform.”
Indeed, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who have both launched presidential campaign exploratory committees, support legalization and have sponsored cannabis legislation in Congress, as has fellow candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julián Castro, who recently announced he is running, has said states should be able to implement voter-approved cannabis legalization.
And Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is also considering a presidential run, announced this month that he will grant pardons to people with certain past marijuana convictions. He got an A grade in the new NORML scorecard.
All told, far more ambitious politicians at the state and federal levels are now proudly endorsing popular marijuana reforms than ever before in American history.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
Senators Cite Marijuana Arrests Of U.S. Citizens In Border Patrol Oversight Request
Three senators requested a review of Border Patrol immigration checkpoint actions on Tuesday, citing a past report that found a significant number of searches and seizures were executed against U.S. citizens for low-level marijuana possession.
The request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines a number of data points concerning checkpoint enforcement that the senators say are necessary to collect in order to assess compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That includes information on rationale for checkpoint stops, data collection and protocol for searches.
“In 2017, the GAO published a report that looked at, among other things, the Border Patrol strategy of placing and utilizing immigration checkpoints generally between 25 and 100 miles from the border,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “As a result of this review, the GAO found that 40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from U.S. citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.”
Though the letter—which was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Gary Peters (D-MI)—didn’t specifically request information on marijuana seizures, it did inquire about the number of U.S. citizens apprehended and the reason for their arrests. It also asks, “How frequently does the agency analyze trends in drug seizures and apprehensions to evaluate its priorities at each checkpoint?”
“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the letter states.
Leahy and Murray also called for the collection of data on “the quantities of drugs detected” during canine checkpoint searches in legislation the pair reintroduced last month.
“Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you—a reasonable suspicion or probable cause—Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a press release. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”
It’s not clear if cannabis seizures for U.S. citizens remain prominent at immigration checkpoints since the 2017 report was released, but one thing that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear is that it doesn’t matter if a stop takes place in a state that’s legalized marijuana—it enforces federal law.
That applies to instances of illicit drug trafficking across the border, too. But as more states like California have legalized cannabis, border agents have seized less and less marijuana.
Congressman Tells Joe Rogan He Backs States’ Marijuana Rights But Actually Voted Against Them
Joe Rogan debated the merits of marijuana legalization on Tuesday with a Republican congressman who ultimately conceded that medical cannabis should be federally legal and states should be empowered to set their own legalization policies.
But neither Rogan nor Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) mentioned the fact that he recently voted against a House amendment to shield state marijuana laws from federal interference and has not added his name as a cosponsor of several pending medical cannabis bills.
The congressman, a former Navy SEAL, didn’t rule out the possibility of coming around to endorsing adult-use legalization but voiced several concerns about the prospect, including underage usage, the lack of technology to detect impaired driving and reduced productivity.
“I can be convinced, but I’m not there yet,” he said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m definitely more open to just the federal legalization of medical marijuana and all the benefits that come with that. On the recreational side, I’m happy to leave that up to the states.”
“My issue with recreational marijuana still—and this is not a strong opinion I have, this is not a hill I’m dying on by any means—but if we’re going to change it, I want to understand what the point is, what the benefits are of it recreationally,” he said. “I understand the benefits medically very well, but I want to understand the recreational benefits and I want to see how this data plays out in places like California and Colorado.”
Rogan emphasized that alcohol is federally legal despite risks to young people, but Crenshaw, an avowed scotch fan, said his “counter is simply this: the alcohol issue is out of the bag” and that we’re “never going to put that back in.”
“My point is this: there’s a normalization that occurs when you legalize something,” the congressman said. “What you’ve done though is you normalized it for teenagers. There’s a lot of people who can just live their lives extremely productively and smoke pot a lot. And there’s a lot of people who can’t and there’s a lot of people who don’t.”
“Those people are lazy bitches,” Rogan said.
“Don’t you have to drink way more scotch to get even close to the basic cognitive incoherence that you’d be with just one bite of a brownie?” Crenshaw asked.
“You would, but not me,” Rogan said. “I smoke pot all the time. I could have smoked pot before this podcast and had the exact same podcast. I could have had several hits. If I gave you several hits, you’d be obliterated.”
“On a personal level, I’m just not opposed to what you’re saying at all,” Crenshaw said. “From a policy level though I just look at things different.”
That stance is reflected in the freshman congressman’s record. Despite voicing support for medical cannabis and leaving recreational legalization up to the states, he’s declined to cosponsor any legislation on the former issue and proactively voted against an amendment to protect states that legalize marijuana for adult use from federal intervention.
(On another drug policy issue near and dear to Rogan that didn’t arise during the interview, Crenshaw also voted against an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed barriers to research on the benefits like psilocybin and MDMA.)
Crenshaw said his perspective wasn’t formed out of naivety and that he tried marijuana and didn’t like it. He also argued that cannabis “does reduce productivity I think more than alcohol does.”
“As a policymaker, I have to look at the whole situations. I see people like you and you’re like you’d be fine, why not?” he said. “But I do have to take into account the entirety of the situation and ask myself, ‘well, what is the benefit to society doing this?'”
Rogan said that marijuana facilitates community bonding and makes people happier—to which Crenshaw responded “I don’t know, I think alcohol is much more of a social lubricant—it definitely makes you meaner too—but I mean as far as getting along with people and interacting with human beings.”
“I’m not dying on this hill. I have questions, and those questions are unanswered,” he said, adding that the “bottom line is that’s a state decision” to legalize recreationally.
“As far as the battles that we should fight at the federal level, we’ve got to start with the medical side. I think the science is clear there,” he said.
“Another reason I’m a Republican is because I believe in somewhat slower policymaking too. These conversations have to play out in society and we don’t always need to solve the problem right away. I think the medical conversation is the one we should be fighting for. I think the recreational side is a few steps beyond that. We’ll get to know and we’ll know more.”
Later in the podcast, Crenshaw defended the broader war on drugs and argued that “you might feel like you’re losing all the time, but you’re mitigating” drug use through prohibition enforcement.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Joe Rogan Experience.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.