Tuesday’s primary elections brought in a wave of Democratic gubernatorial candidates who’ve endorsed marijuana legalization—from Maryland to Colorado.
Here’s a breakdown of where the gubernatorial primary winners stand on cannabis.
Democratic winner: Ben Jealous, former NAACP president
Jealous campaigned as a progressive, pro-legalization candidate for governor, earning him the endorsements of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), among others. He spoke to Marijuana Moment earlier this month about how comedian Dave Chappelle first put the idea of legalization in his head—and how his stance on cannabis reform further evolved after studying racial disparities in marijuana enforcement as well as the economic potential of full legalization. Jealous told Marijuana Moment that, if elected governor, he would use tax revenue from a legal cannabis retail system to fund universal pre-k education throughout Maryland.
To end the era of mass incarceration, we need to finally legalize marijuana for adult use.
It’s time that we confront the racial and economic injustices that result from disproportionate enforcement and make our communities safer at the same time.https://t.co/wH52pNcmj9
— Ben Jealous for Governor (MD) (@BenJealous) June 12, 2018
“We know that we have to end mass incarceration—and yet go further,” he said. “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.”
Every single Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland backed legalization during the primary, The Baltimore Sun reported, but Jealous seemed to focus on it more than most other major contenders.
Republican winner: Larry Hogan, incumbent governor
Hogan hasn’t taken an official stance on full marijuana legalization and, notably, declined to respond to a question about whether he felt voters should be entrusted to make that decision as part of a state referendum last year.
Just ahead of the primary election this week, however, Hogan said that “[a]t this point, I think it’s worth taking a look at” in reference to full legalization.
“I was for medical cannabis. I want to make sure we’re off to the right start and we look at every aspect of the issue.”
The governor signed a bill last month that expanded Maryland’s medical marijuana program. The legislation called for increased licenses for cannabis processors and growers; it was also designed to resolve the lack of diversity among individuals and businesses that receive these licenses.
Democratic winner: Jared Polis, U.S. representative
The sitting congressman has made a concerted effort to distinguish his support for marijuana reform from his competitors as well as the state’s incumbent Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper. He emphasized the need to protect the state’s recreational cannabis program from federal interference in an interview with Marijuana Moment, saying that, as governor, he “would make sure that we would not cooperate from the state-level and that state law enforcement resources were not used and information was not shared with any federal agent going after a legal, constitutionally protected Colorado activity.”
Polis, who has consistently championed cannabis bills and amendments in Congress, also vowed to approve legislation that would facilitate investments in the state’s marijuana program and expand the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical cannabis to include those on the autism spectrum—measures that Hickenlooper recently vetoed, much to the chagrin of legalization advocates.
The nominee has argued that the state’s regulated marijuana program provides valuable economic resources and that cannabis may serve as a viable alternative to dangerous and addictive opioids for pain patients.
Alternative pain management such as medical marijuana can be a bigger part of combating the opioid epidemic. A recent study found that states with medical marijuana have a 23% lower opioid dependency and abuse rate.https://t.co/C23BCJRFBO
— Polis for Colorado (@PolisForCO) April 29, 2018
Pro-legalization advocacy group, NORML endorsed Polis in May.
“The results from the Democratic Gubernatorial Primary are not just a victory for Jared Polis and supporters of sensible marijuana policy, they are a victory for anyone who believes that our prohibition on marijuana was a failure and that states should be free to set their own policies when it comes to cannabis, free from federal incursion,” NORML PAC executive director Erik Altieri said in a press release on Tuesday.
“Jared Polis has been the preeminent champion for ending our nation’s failed federal prohibition on marijuana while in Congress and an unrelenting force in standing up for Colorado’s legalization and medical marijuana laws. Just as he has always stood and fought by our side against federal prohibition, we will continue to fight for Jared Polis until he takes his rightful place in the governor’s mansion.”
Republican winner: Walker Stapleton, Colorado treasurer
Stapleton hasn’t gone on the record fully embracing the state’s recreational marijuana program, but he stood out among his Republican gubernatorial competition by disagreeing with the notion of advancing an agenda to repeal Colorado’s legal marijuana law, Amendment 64. He’s also acknowledged marijuana’s medical benefits.
“There have been a lot of unintended consequences that have come with legalization of marijuana,” Stapleton told Westword. “I don’t think a repeal is a realistic option, so as governor, I will work with the industry and stakeholder groups to make this work.”
“We need to have better guardrails in place to keep it out of the hands of children and to address some of the unintended consequences we have seen develop,” he said.
Democratic winner: Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma attorney general
The former state attorney general said that he supported earlier legislation that reduced criminal penalties for marijuana possession and said he would also support State Question 788—an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma that passed on Tuesday.
I’m voting yes on 788. We can see how rec plays out in other states.
— Drew Edmondson (@DrewForOklahoma) May 3, 2018
However, Edmondson stopped short of embracing full legalization. He told Tulsa World that he believes “it is too early for full legalization in Oklahoma, but we do have the benefit of observing the long-term effects in Colorado and other states.”
Republican winner: Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City mayor
Cornett hasn’t said much about his personal views about marijuana reform on the record, but a spokesperson for the mayor told The Associated Press that “[o]ne of the strengths of Oklahomans is their willingness to help people,” in reference to a bill to legalize medical cannabis in the state, which passed on Tuesday.
“If this ballot measure can help Oklahomans, it is likely to pass.”
Cornett’s Republican competitor, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, was decidedly opposed to the legalization initiative, arguing that it was “poorly written and will create a host of societal problems.”
Republican winner: Henry McMaster, incumbent governor
Last year, McMaster, who won a runoff election on Tuesday night, said flatly that he believed it was “a bad idea to legalize marijuana” and that he doesn’t “think it’s healthy.”
— ABC Columbia (@abc_columbia) February 17, 2017
It was unclear whether the governor was describing his stance on full, adult-use legalization or if he considered medical cannabis reform an exception, however.
South Carolina Rep. James Smith (D), who became the Democratic gubernatorial primary nominee earlier this month, said he supported medical cannabis and co-sponsored a piece of legislation to legalize a medical program.
I am for medical cannabis and a co-sponsor along with @MPowersNorrell for the Compassionate Care Act.
— James Smith (@JamesSmithSC) June 5, 2018
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Congressional Bill Requires Legal Marijuana States To Consider Impaired Driving Policies
Democratic leadership in a House committee introduced a bill on Wednesday that includes a provision requiring legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider ways to promote education about the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving while curbing such behavior.
The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee filed the legislation, which is also being cosponsored by several chairs of subcommittees under the panel. While the main thrust of the INVEST in America Act is aimed at promoting the completion of various long-term infrastructure projects, it also features language concerning cannabis policy.
Under the bill, a section of current law requiring that states establish highway safety programs would be amended to add a section stipulating that states “which have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana shall consider programs in addition to the programs…to educate drivers on the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving and to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”
Reform advocates support measures to reduce impaired driving, but there may be some who take issue with the provision given the implication that legalizing marijuana increases the risk of people driving while impaired. Research isn’t settled on that subject.
A congressional research body said in a report last year that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.
Beside that contention, the legislation seems to neglect to take into account that cannabis-impaired driving isn’t exclusive to legal states and that public education could be beneficial across all states regardless of their individual marijuana policies.
“It is somewhat absurd to draw a differentiation between states when it comes to the current legal status, because it is entirely feasible that every state will be legalized by the end of this decade,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “And regardless, I have heard rumors that some Texans consume cannabis despite its prohibited status.”
Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in a press release that the overall bill “is our opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure that fits the economy of the future, creates millions of jobs, supports American manufacturing, and restores U.S. competitiveness.”
Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) are also sponsoring the legislation, which is scheduled for a full committee vote on June 17.
U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Touts Legal Marijuana’s Economic Potential At Revenue Meeting
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) on Tuesday again stressed the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who unveiled a revised legalization bill last month and pushed legislators to promptly take it up, discussed the projected economic impact of the policy change at a revenue conference.
During the virtual meeting, he pulled up a spreadsheet that breaks down estimates for annual cannabis sales from residents and tourists, as well as potential revenue from taxes and fees.
Cruise passengers and non-resident hotel guests will make approximately $43 million in annual marijuana purchases, the estimate from an independent firm states. Residents, meanwhile, are projected to spend about $38 million on cannabis each year.
“This doesn’t include what we would call the second and third turns in the economy in term of products being bought like lamps and fertilizer, jobs being created, dispensary jobs. None of that,” the governor said.
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization’s economic impact, starting around 3:10:35 into the video below:
In terms of revenue, the territory can expect to take in about $11 million annually from tourists, who will be taxed at 25 percent for marijuana products. Residents, who will be taxed at a much lower rate, will contribute about $3 million in taxes. All told, the territory is estimated to generate nearly $18 million in cannabis sales tax revenue per year.
Additionally, the analysis projects that USVI will receive $12.1 million from licensing fees and a cultivation tax. Point of sale permits for cruises and hotels will bring in another $3.6 million.
It all adds up to “a $33 million deposit in our treasury due to cannabis sales,” Bryan said, characterizing the projections as conservative estimates.
The governor said he wanted to highlight these figures to conference attendees “to show you quickly what this could mean to the territory should we have this enacted and we go to work.”
“Of course, it’s going to take some work to get this done,” he said. “But we need to get this measure done as quickly as possible in order to start impacting our economy in a very positive way.”
Bryan has previously said that beyond helping to offset some of the financial damage that COVID-19 outbreak has created, establishing a legal cannabis market would provide funding for the territory’s retirement system for government employees.
After he first proposed the policy change and directed the legislature to take up the issue in a special session late last year, several legislators voiced opposition to specifics of the proposal.
Some questioned the notion that tax revenue from cannabis sales could make up for the significant deficits running within the retirement program, while others argued that the legislation as drafted did not adequately address social equity. Another issue that arose concerned licensing, with lawmakers worried that small businesses on the island would be left out.
The governor’s revised marijuana legalization bill, which has been transmitted to the Senate for action, would ban home cultivation for recreational consumers, allow cultivation for medical cannabis patients, increase the number of members of the government’s Cannabis Advisory Board and limit non-residents to purchasing up to seven grams of flower per day while residents could buy up to an ounce.
There would be no tax on cannabis sales for medical patients, a 7.5 percent tax for residents and a 25 percent tax for non-residents.
In order to own a marijuana business, an individual must have been a resident of USVI for at least 10 years. For micro-cultivator business, the threshold is five years of residency.
A special “cannabis fund” would be established under the proposed legislation, with 20 percent of marijuana tax revenue being allocated to fund the Office of Cannabis Regulations, a cannabis testing program, job training, substance misuse treatment and grant programs for business incubation and micro-lending.
The bill also provides for automatic expungements for prior marijuana possession convictions, encourages research into the benefits of cannabis and recognizes the rights of individuals who wish to use or grow the plant for religious purposes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved USVI’s hemp plan last month.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Virginia Governor Says Marijuana Decriminalization Partly Addresses Racial Inequity Inspiring Mass Protests
The governor of Virginia said on Tuesday that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.
In a speech, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said that while he cannot personally attest to the pain that the black community is grappling with, there are steps lawmakers can take to reform policies that disproportionately harm minorities. That includes removing the threat of jail time for cannabis possession—an offense more likely to be enforced against black people despite comparable rates of use among white people.
“Through 400 years of American history—starting with the enslavement of Africans, through Jim Crow, massive resistance and now mass incarceration—black oppression has always existed in this country, just in different forms,” he said. “I cannot know how it feels to be an African American person right now or what you are going through. I cannot know the depth of your pain. But what I can do is stand with you and I can support you, and together we’re going to turn this pain into action.”
That action has meant “reforming criminal justice,” he said. “It meant decriminalizing marijuana.”
The governor, who faced severe scrutiny last year after he admitted he was in a yearbook photo showing people wearing blackface and dressed as KKK members, also cited expanding access to Medicaid and increasing the threshold for felony larceny as examples of ways the state has addressed racial inequality during his administration.
Northam signed a marijuana decriminalization bill last month and it goes into effect on July 1. Under the legislation, possessing up to one ounce of cannabis will be punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record. Current Virginia law makes simple possession punishable by a maximum $500 fine, up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record.
Later in the Tuesday press conference, Shirley Ginwright, a member of the Virginia African American Advisory Board that Northam established, thanked him specifically for approving the cannabis decriminalization bill.
“So many of our students and our young black men and women were getting caught up in the criminal justice system because of marijuana, something that wasn’t killing them,” she said.
The governor isn’t alone in connecting the outrage over police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to cannabis prohibition enforcement. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs.
The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
Berner, a rapper who owns a marijuana dispensary that was looted in Los Angeles over the weekend, also seemed to echo Booker’s sentiment, stating that the damage to his shop to looting pales in comparison to the underlying racial injustices that prompted the protests.