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Marijuana In The Governor’s Mansion: Record Number Of Candidates Say Legalize It

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As polls continue to show that a growing majority of voters support legalizing marijuana, more and more politicians are beginning to embrace the issue, and this year’s midterm elections provide the latest datapoint in the ongoing evolution of cannabis into a mainstream political issue.

At least 21 major party gubernatorial nominees on U.S. ballots this year support legalizing cannabis, a new Marijuana Moment analysis finds. That’s far more than have embraced marijuana law reform than in any previous election cycle.

Some of the candidates listed below support legalization more forcefully than others. While some have made cannabis reform a centerpiece of their campaigns, others seemed to embrace ending prohibition only reluctantly or when pressed on the issue.

Beyond those would-be governors who are calling for a complete end to marijuana prohibition, a large number of additional contenders support reforms like decriminalization or medical marijuana, and others say they are open to legalization at some point.

While the two sitting governors listed below who have actually signed marijuana legalization bills into law are Republicans, this review found that Democratic contenders are much more likely to support cannabis reform than are GOP candidates, perhaps a reflection of the fact that while a bare majority of Republican voters now support ending prohibition, registered Democrats have been more strongly in favor for a longer period of time, according to polls.

This analysis focuses on major party candidates who have made their positions on marijuana clear over the course of their primary and general election campaigns, and doesn’t include a comprehensive look at the records of every single contender in each of the 39 gubernatorial races in states and U.S. territories this year.

Gubernatorial Candidates Who Support Legalizing Marijuana

California – Gavin Newsom (D)

As the state’s lieutenant governor, Newsom became one of the first prominent mainstream Democrats to endorse legalization when he told the New York Times in 2012 that “these laws just don’t make sense anymore” and “it’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”

He later empaneled a blue ribbon commission on cannabis whose report informed the drafting of the state’s successful 2016 legalization ballot measure, for which Newsom actively campaigned.

He has since taken a forceful stance in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission of Obama-era protections for state marijuana laws, signaling that he would vigorously fight any federal move to interfere with California’s legalization policies.


Colorado – Jared Polis (D)

As a congressman since 2009, Polis has consistently been one of the most active cannabis reform supporters on Capitol Hill, sponsoring or cosponsoring dozens of marijuana-related bills and amendments concerning issues like banking access, fair taxation, hemp and military veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

While he did not publicly campaign for the state’s marijuana legalization measure prior to its passage in 2012, he has since embraced it wholeheartedly.

During the course of his gubernatorial campaign, he has toured several marijuana and hemp businesses.


Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – Ralph Torres (R)

Torres, the incumbent governor, signed a marijuana legalization bill into law in September.

“Today, our people made history,” he said at the time. “We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use.”


Connecticut – Ned Lamont (D)

A businessman and previous U.S. Senate candidate, Lamont says legalizing marijuana is “an idea whose time has come.”

He also said that cannabis is “not a gateway drug compared to opioids” and that he’d use tax revenue from legal sales to fund drug treatment programs.


Florida – Andrew Gillum (D)

The Tallahassee mayor said during his successful primary campaign that he was “proud to be the first candidate in this race to support legalizing marijuana.”

Gillum sent a blast to his email list proposing to fund teacher salary raises with legal marijuana tax revenue.

“We could raise anywhere from $900 million to $1 billion in new annual revenue — and that doesn’t include new economic activity from people no longer incarcerated for simple possession crimes, or low-level marijuana offenses,” he wrote in a separate blog post.

One of his campaign ads flashed the words “legalize marijuana” on screen along with other policy proposals.


Georgia – Stacey Abrams (D)

The former minority leader of the state House of Representatives confirmed in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session that she’s a “yes” on legalizing marijuana, adding that “this includes building a statewide network of mental health and substance abuse treatment centers.”

Abrams also backs decriminalizing marijuana possession.

And she wants to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.


Idaho – Paulette Jordan (D)

While Jordan, a former state legislator and tribal council member, has focused more on decriminalization and medical cannabis during her campaign, she does support full marijuana legalization.

During a Democratic primary debate, she said there’s “nothing wrong” with legalization

Addressing legalization in a Facebook Live interview with the Idaho Statesman (roughly 10 minutes into the video below), she said, “the numbers that have been very beneficial to other states when it comes down to resources for education.”


Illinois – J.B. Pritzker (D)

A billionaire venture capitalist, Pritzker made supporting marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his gubernatorial primary campaign and has since continued to focus on the issue amidst his general election battle with incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

“We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system,” he said during his primary night victory speech. “Let’s legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.”

Earlier this year he held a press conference outside of a medical cannabis dispensary to push back on anti-marijuana signals coming from the Trump administration.

“I also support legalizing and taxing recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to generate as much as $700 million a year for the state,” he wrote in a candidate questionnaire. “No more studies are needed to show it’s time for Illinois to safely move forward and legalize marijuana. As governor, I will modernize drug laws and move Illinois towards a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential.”

Pritzker has also highlighted racial disparities in cannabis enforcement.

“Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer, but has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities,” he said. “The criminalization of cannabis never has been and never will be enforced fairly, and it’s time to bring that to an end. To right past wrongs, we also have to commute sentences of people in prison who are there for marijuana offenses.”


Maine – Janet Mills (D)

Currently the state attorney general, Mills said that “properly implemented, marijuana legalization has the potential to create thousands of jobs, grow the Maine economy, and end an outdated war on drugs.”

In light of the fact that Maine voters already approved legal cannabis in 2016, she has joined officials from other states in “calling on Congress to allow banks and credit unions to serve state-licensed marijuana businesses without penalty, ending the cash-based shadow economy that still haunts states who have legalized marijuana,” she said.


Maryland – Ben Jealous (D)

The former NAACP president and CEO says comedian Dave Chappelle, a childhood friend, first convinced him to support ending marijuana prohibition.

If elected, Jealous plans to use legal cannabis tax revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten.

“It’s a great win-win,” he said in an interview with Marijuana Moment. “And it’s rare in politics, but it’s also urgently needed. We know that we have to end mass incarceration—and yet go further. We have to really get back to opening up the gates of opportunity for all of our children. And by legalizing cannabis, we get to make progress on both fronts.”


Massachusetts – Jay Gonzalez (D)

The former state secretary of administration and finance says that the “people have spoken and we have an obligation as a state to implement the [legal marijuana] law as passed by the voters,” adding that it should be done “quickly” but in a way that keeps “public safety at the forefront.”

Calling federal interference with state marijuana policies “a problem,” he said that “our governor should be standing up vociferously and advocating against” any intervention with the commonwealth’s cannabis laws.

He also supports requiring insurance programs to cover medical cannabis.


Michigan – Gretchen Whitmer (D)

The former state lawmaker says she will vote “yes” on the marijuana legalization measure on Michigan’s November ballot.

Whitmer says that she also supported the state’s medical cannabis ballot measure in 2008 and that it can be used an an “exit drug” away from opioids.


Minnesota – Tim Walz (D)

The sitting congressman wants to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”

He even tweeted his support for legalization on April 20, the unofficial cannabis holiday.

A Walz proposal to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the benefits of medical cannabis for  military veterans became the first-ever standalone marijuana bill to be approved by a congressional committee earlier this year.

He has also pushed back against potential federal intervention in state marijuana laws.


Nevada – Steve Sisolak (D)

The Clark County commissioner has pledged to continue implementing the state’s voter-approved legal marijuana law, with a special emphasis on steering tax revenues toward education.

“It’s done a lot for our economy, both in terms of jobs and in tax revenue,” he said in a podcast appearance.

“The reality is, this is the future,” he said in another interview. “Let’s not be ashamed of it.”

Sisolak has also spoken at a number of cannabis events and even appeared at the grand opening of a marijuana dispensary.


New Hampshire – Molly Kelly (D)

“It’s also time for New Hampshire to join other New England states in legalizing, regulating and generating revenue from marijuana,” the former state senator says on her campaign website.

During a debate with incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who signed marijuana decriminalization into law but opposes broader legalization, Kelly argued that cannabis is not a gateway drug.

“I do support legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana,” she said. “It is not a gateway to other drugs. In fact, I believe that legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring it out of the dark and away from drug dealers.”


New Mexico – Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)

The current congresswoman has spoken in support of legalization during debates and elsewhere on the campaign trial, arguing that cannabis is “not a gateway drug.”

Arguing during one debate that legalization would bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy,” Lujan Grisham said she would be “inclined to sign” a bill as long as it effectively regulates edibles, fosters workplace safety, limits underage consumption and protects the current medical cannabis program.

“The states that have gone to recreational marijuana have been very clear that it’s an economic boost for their states,” she said.

She has also focused on medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.

In Congress, Lujan Grisham voted several times for amendments to shield state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, as well as a broader proposal to protect recreational laws.

And she proudly touted an endorsement from the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.


New York – Andrew Cuomo (D)

The incumbent governor, who was calling marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as last year, changed his mind about legalization in a big way over the course of 2018.

Facing a vigorous primary election challenge from the pro-legalization actor Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo revised his approach—whether as a result of political necessity or genuine personal evolution on the topic.

Early in the year, noting that neighboring states are moving to end prohibition, the governor directed the New York Health Department to undergo a study of legalization, the result of which was a report that concluded the “positive effects” of ending cannabis prohibition “outweigh the potential negative impacts.”

More recently, Cuomo’s administration held a series of listening sessions on marijuana throughout the state to receive feedback from the public. And more consequentially, the governor appointed a working group to draft cannabis legalization legislation for lawmakers to consider in 2019

It’s true that Cuomo hasn’t yet explicitly stated, “I support legalizing marijuana,” but his evolution on the issue is clear, and his moves as governor this year—in particular his directive for a panel to actually write a legalization bill to be voted in the next legislative session—have carved a path for the state to be among the next to end prohibition.


Ohio – Richard Cordray (D)

While the former state attorney general and head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been reluctant to embrace marijuana reform for most of the campaign, he did finally say he’d personally vote for a legalization measure when pressed during a debate.

“When it goes to the ballot, I will cast my vote yes to legalize it,” he said.

Cordray previously had spoken about improving implementation of the state’s medical cannabis law and said that he would implement the will of voters if they approved legalization on the ballot. But he also distanced himself from a failed 2015 measure that was opposed even by many legalization advocates who were concerned with its provisions granting control of cultivation to the same investors who paid to put it on the ballot.

“As Governor, Rich Cordray will fix the botched implementation of Ohio’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have access to the medicine they need in a safe and affordable manner,” a campaign spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an interview earlier this year. “He also thinks that the last marijuana ballot referendum failed partly because it was a flawed proposal. He supports voters’ right to propose a new referendum and will follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.”

Cordray has also talked about medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.


Oregon – Kate Brown (D)

The incumbent governor has pushed back against federal threats to interfere with the legalization law that her state’s voters approved in 2014, saying that it has created a “thriving economy.”

“We are implementing the will of the voters here in a way that is successful for the economy,” she said in a press conference earlier this year. “The priority of the policy is to keep our children safe and to make sure that we keep marijuana off the black markets. It’s been successful here. We want to continue that path.”

“This is a job creator for Oregon,” she added.


Vermont – Christine Hallquist (D)

The former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative wants to expand the state’s existing noncommercial legalization of marijuana to allow for regulated and taxed sales.

“We don’t know where our marijuana is coming from, what it’s been grown with, or what it’s been sprayed with,” she said during a debate with incumbent Gov. Phil Scott (R), who signed the limited legalization bill into law but is wary of adding commercial cannabis sales. “Worse yet, you could see situations like New York, where it’s cut with other things of addictive and dangerous properties.”

In an interview with Heady Vermont, Hallquist pledged to “work with the legislature to ensure that a tax and regulate system was passed into law in my first term.”

Hallquist said she wants to use legal cannabis tax revenue to pay for water quality programs.


Vermont – Phil Scott (R)

The incumbent governor isn’t exactly a marijuana policy reform enthusiast, but he did sign a bill into law earlier this year that allows Vermonters to legally grow, possess and use small amounts of cannabis.

For now, Scott opposes going further by adding legal sales, and seemed to only reluctantly sign the noncommercial legalization bill after previously vetoing an earlier version.

Still, he gets pro-legalization credit for being the first governor in the nation’s history to put his name on a bill to end cannabis prohibition; all other states that have legalized so far have done so via ballot measures that didn’t require gubernatorial action.


Other Candidates Who Don’t Support Full Legalization Still Back Some Cannabis Reforms

A number of other major-party nominees who aren’t ready to endorse legalization have said that they have an open mind on the issue or are already in support of simple marijuana decriminalization or allowing medical cannabis.

In Alabama, Democrat Walt Maddox is in favor of medical cannabis and wants to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states. “There’s going to be a lot of data over the next years that’s going to be collected so that if and we can potentially move forward with this, we do so in a thoughtful, strategic way,” he said.

Maddox also backs decriminalizing marijuana.

Georgia Republican candidate Brian Kemp opposes legalization but is “open and supportive” of expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

In Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly supports medical cannabis.

Nebraska Democratic candidate Bob Krist said that legalizing medical cannabis is “is right on top of my list.”

Drew Edmondson, the Democratic candidate in Oklahoma, says he voted for the state’s successful medical cannabis ballot measure but that he doesn’t believe the state is ready for full legalization.

In Pennsylvania, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf (D) says the state isn’t quite ready to legalize, but he signed medical cannabis into law and supports decriminalizing marijuana possession.

In Rhode Island, incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and Republican challenger Allan Fung say they are both open to legalization, even if they don’t currently endorse it. Fung said he would put the question on the ballot for voters to decide.

South Carolina Democratic contender James Smith supports legalizing medical cannabis and has sponsored legislation to do so as a state representative.

Karl Dean, the Democratic candidate in Tennessee, said he would sign medical marijuana into law.

In Texas, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) expressed support for some form of marijuana decriminalization during a recent debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, who backs medical cannabis expansion as well as putting a referendum on full marijuana legalization before voters.

Wisconsin Democratic nominee Tony Evers says he’s “not opposed to” legalization. “I’d support it,” he said, “but I do believe there has to be a more thoughtful, rigorous conversation around it as a state. So I would love to have a statewide referendum on this.”

During a debate with incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R), who opposes cannabis reform, Evers noted the fact that nearly half the state’s residents will vote on nonbinding marijuana advisory questions this year and said he is “willing to take a look at that, the results of those referenda and possibly support legalization.” In the meantime, he supports decriminalization and his website says he “would support and sign medical marijuana legalization legislation.”

Wyoming Democratic candidate Mary Throne voted for marijuana decriminalization as a state lawmaker and also supports medical cannabis.


What Does It Mean? Marijuana Is Mainstream

It is a near certainty that America will have more pro-legalization governors when new state legislative sessions convene next year. That means that legislators will be more likely to invest time into drafting, hearing and voting on marijuana bills to send to governors’ desks.

While a growing number of Republican voters—and as a consequence, GOP politicians—are beginning to embrace cannabis reform, it is now clear that supporting full marijuana legalization is a mainstream consensus position in the Democratic Party. And that will have implications as the 2020 presidential race heats up in earnest immediately following the midterms.

In the meantime, several states will consider far-reaching cannabis ballot measures on Election Day, the political effects of which are likely to spill over into neighboring states and embolden once-skittish lawmakers to tackle marijuana legislation.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Alabama House Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Already Passed The Senate

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

After previously clearing two House committees last month, it passed the full chamber by a vote of 68-34.

The win came after opponents staged a lengthy filibuster on the floor earlier this week, drawing out the process by making a series of speeches and asking questions until the end of the day’s session at midnight approached. Those stalling tactics did not continue on Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the legislation in March.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers in future sessions.

Prior to the vote on final passage, the House considered several floor amendments.

The body rejected proposals to place a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per dose for medical cannabis products, to remove depression as a qualifying condition and to enact a zero tolerance policy for drivers with THC in their systems. Another amendment that would have repealed the state program if marijuana is federally rescheduled, so that people would get medical cannabis from pharmacies instead of dispensaries, was also defeated.

Lawmakers did accept an amendment changing local control provisions from opt out to make it so that cities and counties would have to opt in to allowing medical cannabis businesses. They also made a change to name the bill after the deceased son of a lawmaker who previously sponsored medical marijuana legislation.

Because the Senate-passed measure has been revised in the House, it will have to go back to the the other chamber for additional consideration before being sent to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal, SB 46, would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during a hearing last month. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Later, in the Health Committee, members approved a change that would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.

That panel further accepted an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also attached.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved earlier in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction had been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There has been additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill in March to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time. But the measure later failed a procedural motion on the Senate floor.

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

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Texas House Approves Psychedelics Research Bill As Marijuana Reform Measures Also Advance

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The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday approved to a bill that would require the state to conduct a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. This comes as numerous marijuana reform measures move through the legislature.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D), passed by a vote of 134-12. It had advanced on second reading via a voice vote a day earlier. It now heads to the Senate.

The House Public Health Committee passed the bill with amendments last week. Members revised the measure to limit the scope of the state-funded study to focus on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rather than a broader list of conditions attached to the initial bill.

“We lose about 6,000 veterans every year—and since 2001, we have lost 114,000 of our veterans to PTSD and suicide,” Dominguez said on the floor before the second reading vote.

The legislation will do something that’s “sorely needed, and that’s taking a fresh look at what we can do to save the lives of our servicemen and women that have given their lives to this country,” he said. “We can make a difference, and we can send a message to Washington that they need to be doing more.”

The bill would require the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center. It was also amended to mandate a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Health and Human Services Commission would have to submit quarterly reports on their progress, with a full report on the panel’s findings be due by December 2024.

Former Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also served as U.S. energy secretary, has called on lawmakers to approve the psychedelics legislation.

This is the latest drug policy reform bill to move through the legislature this session.

Last week, the House approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, sending it to the Senate. It would make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a class C misdemeanor that does not come with the threat of jail time.

Texas lawmakers have also recently passed proposals to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

Lawmakers last week also sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a bill to clarify that a positive marijuana test alone is not sufficient criteria for removing a child from their home.

On Tuesday, the House approved legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.

But most of these proposals face an uphill battle in the Senate, where it remains to be seen whether legislators will have the same appetite for reform or what kind of changes they might push for in any particular bill. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact cannabis reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

For example, shortly after the House approved a decriminalization bill in 2019, Patrick declared the measure “dead in the Texas Senate,” stating that he sides with lawmakers “who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”

That same year, a spokesperson for the lieutenant governor was asked about a medical cannabis expansion bill and reiterated that he is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

That’s all to say that, unless Patrick has a change of heart on the issue, there’s still a risk that he could singlehandedly quash the reform measures. But other legislative leaders do seem to be warming on the policy.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event in March that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

And while Patrick’s record on the issue is a source of concern for advocates, he and other legislative leaders have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Patrick said flatly, “sure, that will be looked at this session” when asked about the prospect of expanding access to medical marijuana in January.

“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California,” he said, “where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use.”

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

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Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

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Universities that engage in cannabis research should not have to fear losing their federal funds just for doing science, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers recently said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The letter, led by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), requests that language be included in the base bill of forthcoming appropriations legislation stipulating that funds from the Department of Education cannot be withheld solely because a given institution is “conducting or is preparing to conduct research” into marijuana.

“The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) should be a basis for federal agencies to withhold funds from higher education institutions that seek to provide a base for cannabis-specific research,” the letter, which was signed by 15 other lawmakers joining Neguse and Armstrong, states. “This risk is particularly worrying for institutions in those states and in the District of Columbia that have taken steps to legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, and the majority of U.S. states that presently authorize and regulate the issue of medical cannabis by statute.”

“Currently, there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting,” it continues. “Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana. We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and certification to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health.”

“Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged. Although many schools and universities have expressed an interest in conducting scientific and observational research on the cannabis plant, they remain hesitant to do so because of a fear of potentially losing eligibility to receive federal grants from the Department of Education… Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including cannabis. As a result, that same framework should be extended to the protection of research of cannabis at higher education institutions.”

The lawmakers want leaders in the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee to insert language into an upcoming spending bill that specifically protects colleges that allow marijuana to be researched at their institutions.

The proposed rider reads:

“None of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education shall be withheld from an institute of higher education solely because that institute is conducting or is preparing to conduct research on marihuana as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802 (16).”

The subcommittee included a similar rider in an appropriations bill that was introduced last year and passed by the House, so it’s not unlikely that it will do so again. That said, the Senate under Republican control did not follow suit last time and the language did not make it into final appropriations legislation that was signed into law. It remains to be seen if the new Democratic Senate will advance the cannabis provision this time.

Beside Neguse and Armstrong, signatories on the new letter are: Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA).

Neguse, Armstrong and and 25 colleagues wrote a similar letter to House leadership in 2019, stating that “there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis-related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting.”

This is the second cannabis-related letter to be sent by congressional lawmakers to appropriators this session—and there’s increased optimism among advocates that the requests will be honored given that Democrats now control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Last month, a bipartisan group of legislators joined a sign-on letter urging leaders of a key committee to include provisions protecting all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference in upcoming annual spending legislation when it is introduced.

That sign-on letter—led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)—notes the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes and argues that the Department of Justice should be barred from enforcing prohibition against citizens who comply with those local policies.

Read the letter on university protections for marijuana research below: 

Cannabis Research Letter by Marijuana Moment

Colorado Governor Signs Bill To Expand Medical Marijuana Access For Students In Schools

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