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.”
On November 8, you have the opportunity to vote for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in CA (regulate and tax marijuana) – Vote YES on Prop 64
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 6, 2016
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.
"States rights" is nothing more than a catch phrase to Jeff Sessions. CA overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana. Sick and tired of elected officials who lack the courage to stand up for those that are unjustly targeted by the failed war on drugs. The time to speak out is now. pic.twitter.com/Pnj4rsKYF9
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) January 7, 2018
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.
Excited about strong statement from CO and WA voters that the drug war has failed & it's time to b reasonable & regulate marijuana
— Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) November 7, 2012
During the course of his gubernatorial campaign, he has toured several marijuana and hemp businesses.
Thank you Craft Concentrates for the tour of your facility! Colorado has proven that allowing responsible adults to legally purchase #cannabis gives money to classrooms, not cartels; creates jobs, not addicts; and boosts our economy, not our prison population. pic.twitter.com/k626qciaFS
— Jared Polis (@PolisForCO) October 12, 2018
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.”
The time has come for Connecticut to responsibly legalize marijuana. pic.twitter.com/lE50Xb8yAl
— Ned Lamont (@NedLamont) August 28, 2018
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.”
I’m proud to be the first candidate in this race to support legalizing marijuana. I did so because it is the right thing to do – I didn’t need a poll to tell me how to lead on such an important criminal justice issue. pic.twitter.com/3MdLBNlTfB
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) June 8, 2018
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.
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) January 24, 2018
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.
I support decriminalization of marijuana, legalization of medical marijuana and local cultivation of medical marijuana. Once we have established a strong substance abuse network, I am open to legalization for recreational use.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) February 21, 2018
And she wants to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.
Legalizing medical cannabis will help combat prescription drug abuse, and give Georgians suffering from many conditions access to the prescribed treatment they need.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) August 15, 2018
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.
I believe that we need to move toward full legalization in Idaho as well. It will generate much-needed revenue for our state and it will make our criminal justice system more ethical. (3/4)
— Paulette Jordan (@PauletteEJordan) April 19, 2018
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.
In the name of criminal justice reform, consumer safety, and increased state revenue, Illinois needs a governor who is ready to legalize marijuana in our state.
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) January 12, 2018
“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.”
As governor, I will stand up to Donald Trump’s attacks on Illinois communities, legalize marijuana, and modernize sentencing guidelines to create a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential.
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) January 4, 2018
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.
(5/8) I agree with Diane Russell that Augusta needs to respect the will of the voters, from Ranked Choice Voting to legalizing marijuana.#mepolitics
— Janet Mills (@JanetMillsforME) June 11, 2018
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 time we ensured all of our kids get the education they deserve.
It's time we provide universal pre-k and pay for it by legalizing marijuana for adult use. https://t.co/SenGvYWiuU
— Ben Jealous (@BenJealous) August 21, 2018
“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.
More people died from overdoses in the 1st half of 2018 than in the 1st half of 2017. Let that sink in. We've got to do more to tackle this crisis. I will. I'll invest in more treatment, support SIFs & require coverage for medical marijuana to treat pain. https://t.co/W7j0NUGhvj
— Jay Gonzalez (@jay4ma) August 25, 2018
Michigan – Gretchen Whitmer (D)
The former state lawmaker says she will vote “yes” on the marijuana legalization measure on Michigan’s November ballot.
I will be a 'Yes' vote on legalizing recreational marijuana. We have an opportunity to do this right. When we legalize marijuana, we need a governor who will tax it and regulate it so that we can #fixthedamnroads #midemdebate
— Gretchen Whitmer (@gretchenwhitmer) July 20, 2018
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.
Today seems to be a good time to reinforce that I support creating a tax-and-regulate system for adult use marijuana in Minnesota.
— Tim Walz (@Tim_Walz) April 20, 2018
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.
Our vets deserve access to every form of safe, effective relief there is — and I hear from vets more and more every day that they find relief in #cannabis.
— Rep. Tim Walz (@RepTimWalz) April 20, 2018
He has also pushed back against potential federal intervention in state marijuana laws.
While the VA moves (slowly) in the right direction, AG Jeff Sessions is dead set on overruling states that have legalized recreational or medical cannabis, including MN. I'll keep fighting alongside the 83% of vets & caregivers who support legalizing medical cannabis nationally. https://t.co/b6LkoPvxYP
— Rep. Tim Walz (@RepTimWalz) January 4, 2018
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.”
Fantastic discussion here at our Cannabis Town Hall. We need to reward ingenuity and tell the story of medical marijuana — it's changing our economy, our health care system, & our state for the better. #NVGov pic.twitter.com/unHKcLm1BZ
— Steve Sisolak (@SteveSisolak) October 23, 2018
Sisolak has also spoken at a number of cannabis events and even appeared at the grand opening of a marijuana dispensary.
If you can dream it, they can build it in Vegas! So great to speak to this incredible crowd gathered here for the grand opening of @Planet13. What a great example of what our cannabis industry can bring to this state! pic.twitter.com/MBByGMCEoT
— Steve Sisolak (@SteveSisolak) October 31, 2018
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.
As governor, I will work to legalize recreational cannabis in a way that protects medical cannabis patients’ access, prioritizes public safety, and generates state revenues. https://t.co/OFDTxs3y1w #nmpol #NMGovDebate pic.twitter.com/eVL2Sa3zFH
— MichelleLujanGrisham (@Michelle4NM) September 20, 2018
She has also focused on medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.
Opioid addiction is an epidemic that is tearing New Mexico families apart. As my third Leadership in Action Initiative, I will immediately direct the Department of Health to add opioid addiction as a condition to qualify for medical cannabis treatment. #nmpol pic.twitter.com/v4fTSO5Bp5
— MichelleLujanGrisham (@Michelle4NM) October 9, 2018
And she proudly touted an endorsement from the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.
Thank you, @DrugPolicyAct, for your endorsement! When it comes to drug policy, we must take a holistic approach. As Sec of Health, I worked to make medical cannabis legal & accessible in NM & as gov, I have a plan to fight the opioids. My plan here: https://t.co/rsB4ZuX4mv #nmpol pic.twitter.com/SHcw8RAmcn
— MichelleLujanGrisham (@Michelle4NM) August 6, 2018
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.
Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning & disruptive to Oregon's economy. Oregon voters were clear when they chose to legalize the sale of marijuana & the fed govt shouldn't stand in the way https://t.co/3ax9EvdGGE
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) January 4, 2018
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.”
— Vermont Democrats (@VTdems) August 2, 2018
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.
Tuscaloosa seeks citation, not jail, for minor marijuana offenders https://t.co/07qm60SQNZ
— Walt Maddox (@WaltMaddox) December 16, 2017
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.
I do support the legalization of medical marijuana – I know from my work in the legislature what it can do for children with epilepsy. What we do need to do is address our sentencing guidelines #ksleg #ksgov
— Laura Kelly (@SenatorKelly) September 8, 2018
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.
Let me be clear: I voted yes on 788 because the science is in and I believe it can help cancer patients, veterans and chronic pain sufferers. I don't believe we're ready for full legalization, but I will always respect the will of the voters.
— Drew Edmondson (@DrewForOklahoma) August 27, 2018
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.
.@freedomisgreen I do support decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana in PA. We will continue to study states like CO.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) February 10, 2017
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.
— James Smith for Governor (@JamesSmithforSC) October 25, 2018
Karl Dean, the Democratic candidate in Tennessee, said he would sign medical marijuana into law.
Karl knows we need to listen to the medical profession when it comes to medical marijuana. If they're saying it will alleviate pain and suffering for certain patients, then the government shouldn't stand in the way of that. -Team Dean pic.twitter.com/4aGnnvs0pQ
— Karl Dean (@KarlFDean) October 28, 2018
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.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Did Kamala Harris Flip-Flop On Marijuana Again To Adopt Biden’s Anti-Legalization Position?
Does Vice President Kamala Harris still support legalizing marijuana? According to a short passage buried in a new Bloomberg report about efforts to appoint a new top White House drug policy official, the answer seems to be no.
Harris, who sponsored a comprehensive Senate bill to end federal cannabis prohibition in 2019, has now reportedly adopted the same position as President Joe Biden, who opposes legalization, the outlet reported on Monday.
There have been signs that might be the case, as Harris has stepped back her calls for broad reform in recent months, opting instead to push for cannabis decriminalization and expungements in line with the president’s agenda. She spent significant time during her own presidential campaign making the case for federally legalizing marijuana, but that specific narrative has been largely abandoned since she joined Biden’s presidential ticket in August.
Decriminalization and expungements is the favored policy of Biden, who also backs medical cannabis legalization, modestly rescheduling the plant under federal law and letting states set their own policies on the issue.
Bloomberg reported that an aide Harris’s team said her “positions are now the same as Biden’s,” though the source asked not to be named because the vice president hasn’t announced the policy shift. Marijuana Moment reached out to three press staffers in the vice president’s office for clarification, but they did not respond by the time of publication.
The lack of specificity leaves rooms for the possibility that the staffer was referring to Biden changing his position and embracing legalization as Harris has. But considering that the vice president’s rhetoric on the issue has shifted—with her reaffirming an administration commitment to simply “decriminalizing marijuana” and expunging records, rather than legalize the plant—it appears more likely that it’s Harris whose views have changed.
In September, for example, she simply said that “we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Harris has flip-flopped on cannabis. She was staunchly opposed to legalization and actively campaigned against a California reform initiative on the 2010 ballot during her time as the state’s attorney general, co-authoring an official voter guide argument stating that the measure “seriously compromises the safety of our communities, roadways, and workplaces.”
In 2014, Harris was asked about marijuana legalization in light of her Republican opponent for attorney general supporting it, and she dismissively laughed off the question.
But in 2018, she adopted a pro-legalization stance and signed onto descheduling legislation, saying “we need to start regulating marijuana.”
What this latest reported shift means practically for marijuana reform in 2021 is unclear. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are moving forward with plans to introduce a legalization bill this session, and they’ve already met with advocates and stakeholders to gain input on what that legislation should include.
If they were willing to push the issue despite Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization, it stands to reason they will stay the course if reports about the vice president’s stance are true. That said, with the Senate split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, her position on the issue could come to the fore in the event that she’s needed as the tie-breaking vote on a legalization bill on the floor.
Coincidentally, it’s likely that parts of Harris’s Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act will be incorporated into their proposal, as the House version passed in that chamber last year and advocates favor its strong social equity provisions.
The news about Harris’s apparent change of heart on cannabis policy came as part of a Bloomberg report on the White House search for a “drug czar” to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), a cofounder of the nation’s leading marijuana prohibitionist group, has been publicly lobbying the administration for an appointment to the position—much to the chagrin of reform advocates.
Meanwhile, an arguably more consequential nominee when it comes to federal drug policy is going through the confirmation process and said last week that he doesn’t think Justice Department resources should be wasted going after individuals acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.
“It does not seem to me useful the use of limited resources that we have to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise,” Judge Merrick Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Separately, the Biden administration is instituting a new policy of granting waivers to some White House staff who’ve used cannabis. The Office of Personnel Management has also distributed a memo last week to federal agencies stipulating that admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.
New Mexico Lawmakers Will Work To Unify Conflicting Marijuana Proposals This Week Following House Passage
One day after New Mexico’s House of Representatives passed legislation to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, a Senate panel held a Saturday hearing to take initial testimony on three competing legalization bills introduced in that chamber.
The committee did not vote on any of the measures, instead using the hearing to compare the various Senate proposals to one another as well as to the House-passed legislation, HB 12. “I think we’re just trying to get a feel for these four bills,” said Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chairman Benny Shendo Jr. (D), who led the hearing.
The bills’ sponsors will now work to combine elements of the various Senate proposals before returning to the committee for a possible vote next Saturday. Despite overlap on some issues, major disagreements remain over the structure of the commercial cannabis market, how tax revenue will be allocated and the makeup of a state oversight board that would regulate the new industry.
“In the next week, basically, the sponsors of these four bills need to see if we can get to one bill,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) said at the hearing, “and make a decision in this committee so that we don’t end up in a situation where there’s just multiple moving pieces.”
If backers can’t do that, Wirth added, “there’s a good chance we end up with nothing” by the time the legislative session ends on March 20.
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) February 27, 2021
Sen. Jacob Candelaria’s (D) SB 363 is the most closely aligned with the House measure, although Republican members of the Senate panel said they prefer SB 288, introduced by GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, who said he brought the measure “because I felt like something as important as legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis really needed to have a bipartisan approach.”
Sen. Craig Brandt (R), a member of the Senate panel, indicated he’s open to legalization depending on how it’s done.
“I think I can support this issue with the right pieces,” he said at the end of Saturday’s hearing, adding that SB 288 is “very close” to what he’d like to see in marijuana legislation. “There are certain things that I cannot and will not support in the House bill.”
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) February 27, 2021
The third bill in the Senate, SB 13, is a pared-down version of the other legalization proposals and is seen as a comparative outlier. The industry-backed bill’s House companion, HB 17, sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan (D), was defeated in a House committee earlier this month as lawmakers proceeded with HB 12.
Lujan spoke in favor of SB 13 at the Senate hearing on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), warning the panel against adopting an overly complex bill.
“There is a lot of stuff going on here,” Lujan said, “and I’ve seen cannabis legislation fail because it’s too complicated.”
But Rep. Javier Martínez (D), lead sponsor for HB 12, seemed to dismiss that criticism later in the hearing, stressing that it’s important the new law be comprehensive.
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“This is a big deal,” he said. “This is a big industry that we’re about to create, and we get a chance to design what the industry will look like ahead of time. That hasn’t happened with the other big industries in New Mexico.”
Martínez’s bill, passed Friday by House lawmakers in a 39–21 vote, would set up an extensive system of licensing and regulation for the cannabis industry. Rules for the new market would need to be implemented by January 2022. Small businesses and existing medical marijuana companies could begin selling products that same month, with other businesses set to open in September 2022.
The bill would allow adults to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis (regulators could set limits beyond that) and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use.
Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee now taking public comment on the four cannabis measures being presented today. This meeting will provide an opportunity for public comment and committee discussion only. #nmleg #nmpol
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) February 27, 2021
Martínez said SB 363 was the most similar to the House bill of all the Senate measures, calling it “very, very aligned to what we’re doing.”
Much of Saturday’s committee hearing focused on proposed limits on business licenses and how many plants licensed producers could grow. Not only will those rules determine how easily people can enter the new market, but they’ll also likely affect available supply—a big determinant of product prices.
Both HB 12 and SB 363 would allow businesses with cultivation licenses to grow an unlimited number of plants and create a separate category of small, so-called microbusinesses that could grow a small number of plants and then process and sell marijuana products directly. Those businesses would have a lower barrier to entry in terms of licensing and fees, aimed at ensuring wider access to the industry.
SB 288, meanwhile, wouldn’t create separate license categories but would set a per-plant fee on licensing in an effort to allow a lower point of entry for small growers.
One important difference between HB 12 and SB 363, Candelaria pointed out to the panel, is that his Senate bill would allow standalone businesses to establish cannabis consumption areas, designated zones where marijuana could be used openly. The areas would be regulated by the same board that would oversee the commercial industry.
The House-passed bill would allow social consumption, too, but would limit consumption licenses to businesses engaged in other elements of the industry, such as retail marijuana stores.
Pirtle, the sponsor of SB 288, said his bill approaches legalization with the aim of ending underground sales, not necessarily raising revenue. “The first goal when legalizing cannabis,” he said at the beginning of his testimony, “is to put the illicit market out of business.”
While there’s some disagreement over how to model tax projections, estimates of how much revenue the market could raise range between $13 million and $25 million for the first year of legal sales and as much as $150 million by year five.
SB 288 would raise less money due to its comparatively lower taxes, which Pirtle said would help make legal sales more competitive with the illicit market. His measure would route virtually all of the money back to municipal governments where the cannabis transactions take place. “Those are the communities that are going to be impacted,” Pirtle said, “so they can add more police officers or cop cars.”
Candelaria, for his part, said taxes rates aren’t the way to ensure legal businesses are competitive with the illicit market. Ensuring adequate supply, such as through allowing unlimited cultivation under SB 363 and HB 12, would do far more to ensure legal products can compete on price.
“As the result of New Mexico’s plant cap” on existing medical marijuana businesses, he said, “one gram of medical cannabis costs approximately on average $10 in New Mexico. It costs $8.15 a gram in Arizona and $5.96 in Colorado.”
Those prices in Arizona and Colorado, he added, include tax.
The three Senate bills also differ on how they would address social equity and racial justice. While those issues were raised only in passing at Friday’s hearing, drug reform advocates have said they prefer HB 12’s equity provisions over any of the Senate bills.
“HB 12 legalizes cannabis in an equitable way that begins to repair the harms that have disproportionately impacted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous people in New Mexico,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment after Friday’s vote in the House. “New Mexicans are absolutely ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”
The House measure would establish a fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, especially Black and brown communities, and includes provisions to automatically expunge prior convictions.
SB 363 includes expungement and release provisions that “mimic” those in HB 12, Candelaria told the committee, noting that his bill would also criminal reduce penalties for possession all controlled substances, not just marijuana. Simple possession of a controlled substance would become a misdemeanor under SB 363 rather than a fourth-degree felony.
Candelaria proposed that his bill, SB 363, be the main vehicle to reconcile with the House measure. “What I think makes the most sense,” he told the committee chairman, “is because the House bill has already gone through the process, is that…my bill is basically merged into House Bill 12. I think they are the most similar, both in values and their approach.”
He added that he and Pirtle “already have plans to have lunch on Monday,” to discuss how to incorporate SB 288.
If all goes well, lawmakers will have whittled down the number of bills by the committee’s scheduled meeting on the measures this coming Saturday.
“I think the message was pretty loud and clear to the sponsors,” Shendo, the panel’s chairman, said at the end of this weekend’s hearing. “They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and I hope I get invited to one of those lunches.”
Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly described legalization as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”
The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.
Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched in January. New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.
Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border, in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.
Last year in New Mexico, a Senate panel passed a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one New Mexico Senate committee —a measure promptly rejected in another committee before the end of the 30-day legislative session.
In 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Gov. Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.
Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.
Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson
Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress
The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.
In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.
Today, we introduced the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021 to create an equitable adult-use cannabis program, advance a safer and more just DC, and empower and uplift residents who have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) February 26, 2021
“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”
Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.
The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.
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The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.
With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”
The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.
You know the "cannabis that has been cut from the cannabis plant" weighs MORE immediately after it is cut from the plant due to water weight.
One *BRANCH* from the cannabis plant, with leaves, buds, and stem can weigh well over 10ozs after it's been cut. pic.twitter.com/i5foTTkCsE
— DC Marijuana Justice💨🏛💨🏛💨🏛💨 (@DCMJ2014) February 27, 2021
Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.
Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.
In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.
Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.
Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.
Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.