The governor of one of the first states to legalize marijuana announced that he’s seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Friday.
Although he was not on board with ending cannabis prohibition prior to voters having their say, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has become a champion of his state’s legal marijuana market and came to its defense after the federal government seemed to be considering a crackdown. For that, he has earned top marks—an “A” grade—from NORML.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 16, 2019
Shortly after announcing his 2020 bid, Inslee said Washington state legalized cannabis “and it’s about time we do it nationwide.”
Legislation And Policy Actions
While Inslee initially opposed the state’s push to legalize marijuana when he was running for governor in 2012, he has a solid track record of supporting some cannabis reforms and has since become a vocal proponent of legalization.
During his stint in the U.S. House, Inslee voted in favor of floor amendments to shield states that legalized medical cannabis from federal intervention on multiple occasions—in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
He didn’t introduce any cannabis legislation, but he did sign on as a cosponsor of a bill that would have directed the Justice Department to reschedule marijuana and shield state-legal medical cannabis programs from federal enforcement.
Inslee has signed various pieces of cannabis legislation into law as governor, including a bill that allows medical cannabis patients to purchase immature plants and seeds, one that amends state law to exempt hemp from the list of controlled substances and another that allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Another bill that he signed in 2018 changed labeling requirements for marijuana products.
He declined to include funding for the state’s hemp program in his 2018 budget, however.
Most recently, the governor launched a program designed to expedite the expungements of misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions going back to 1998.
Friday we launched our Marijuana Justice Initiative, and today I signed the first set of pardons. This effort will help relieve the burden of misdemeanors for marijuana possession and allow people to move on with their lives. #marijuanajustice https://t.co/5eRNbUm1X3 pic.twitter.com/ksgENCnmqX
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 10, 2019
“It is time to end marijuana injustice in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “It is the right thing to do because a simple possession conviction 20 years ago should not be a life sentence for a Washingtonian.”
Quotes And Social Media Posts
Over the years, Inslee has become increasingly vocal about his support for marijuana reform, sharing his views in speeches, interviews and on social media.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When Washington’s cannabis legalization initiative made it on the state ballot in 2012 alongside his own bid for governor, he said “I’m in favor of making sure people have access to medical marijuana,” but “I’m not comfortable with voting for that initiative.” He expressed concerns that legalizing would send the wrong message to children.
“All of us want to see our kids make smart decisions and not allow any drug to become injurious in our life,” he told The New York Times.
In fact, he’s repeatedly bragged on the national stage that Washington state has “the best weed in the United States of America” and “the best regulated legal medical marijuana market in the United States.”
Inslee now touts that his state has "the best regulated legal medical marijuana market in the United States." This is not a line I've heard in past stump speeches
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) June 24, 2018
When the Drug Enforcement Administration announced in 2016 that it wouldn’t be rescheduling cannabis under federal law in response to a petition from his predecessor as Washington’s governor, Inslee said in a press release that he was “disappointed that we don’t have a national standard for at least medical marijuana.”
“As states continue to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, there is more that the federal government must to do to provide states with legal certainty and empower the operation of safe systems across the country,” he said.
After Washington voters approved marijuana legalization, Inslee implemented new rules designed to raise public awareness about cannabis and curb youth consumption.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure we keep kids safe,” Inslee said. “We want every retailer to know that kids are off limits and every parent to know how to talk to kids about why marijuana isn’t safe.”
In 2017, Inslee and the governors of three other states with legal cannabis submitted several letters to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting a meeting to discuss federal marijuana enforcement policy and urging him to keep the Obama-era Cole memo, which outlined federal enforcement priorities, in place.
“We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana. We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws,” the governors wrote. “As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.”
After Sessions responded in a letter that challenged the notion that Washington state’s marijuana program was being effectively regulated, Inslee followed up and said the attorney general was basing his argument on “incomplete and unreliable data that does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our efforts since the marketplace opened in 2014.”
Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement. https://t.co/R3jJrncN9X pic.twitter.com/uM48hVH26q
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 4, 2018
“We are learning important lessons as we go and continually looking for ways to improve our work on all fronts,” he wrote. “It is important for our state to know the Trump Administration is willing to work with us to ensure our success on these efforts, rather than undermining our efforts and diminishing our ability to work constructively with growers and distributors.”
Inslee also complained about Sessions’s unwillingness to directly engage with his office on marijuana policy.
“It’s a shame that he has a closed mind, and he’s much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts,” he told Rolling Stone. “The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on.”
When Sessions did eventually rescind the Cole memo in 2018, raising concerns about a potential federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis operations, the Inslee said the state would not be making any changes to its program.
Upending our legal, voter-approved marijuana market doesn't promote stability. And there's nothing genius about turning our shores into oil fields.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 6, 2018
He even suggested that Washington might pursue legal action against the Justice Department over the policy change, saying “we’re considering all our options.”
“Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement,” he said in a press release.
“The current attorney general has had this in his bonnet for decades and he can’t get it out of his bonnet. The fears of Jeff Sessions have not been realized.”
The next month, Inslee talked about the possibility of vacating the criminal records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions in an interview with The Stranger. He said it was important to keep in mind “what’s in the realm of possible,” but said his office was “taking a look at if there is a way to have some kind of expedited pardon capability.”
“[I]f it’s simple—a person has a recreational marijuana conviction ten years ago, then I don’t see a reason to maintain those. But, as I’ve said, we need to have some process to figure out how to do it. We haven’t figured out the right approach to this yet. That’s the bottom line.”
But he did eventually figure out a way to help people with prior marijuana records. Last month, he announced that his office would be expediting expungements for misdemeanor cannabis possession convictions through a program that an estimated 3,500 Washington residents could qualify for.
“Although our voters legalized the use privately of marijuana, we still have an injustice today that thousands of people have on their records a criminal conviction for something that is legal today,” he said at a press conference. “This is impairing their ability to reach their dreams and live their lives and raise their children.”
Our #MarijuanaJustice Initiative aims to pardon those who have a single conviction for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession. While there are over 200K marijuana convictions in WA, this effort allows us to take the first steps to address some of those now. Let’s keep going.
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 5, 2019
“We are going to write an even brighter chapter of our Washington story,” Insee said of the initiative during his State of the State address last month.
The process has been slow-moving, however, with just 13 people being pardoned as of February 10, 2019.
Throughout his career, Inslee has advocated for federal marijuana reform. He joined the governors of 11 other states in a letter expressing support for a bill that would exempt states that have legalized cannabis from enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act, for example.
Thank you @elizabethforma. Our federal marijuana laws are broken — and we need to ensure this Justice department does not interfere with Washington state's thriving, well-regulated marijuana market https://t.co/o10fxqbxJ8
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) June 8, 2018
“Our states have acted with deliberation and care to implement programs through thoughtful and comprehensive legislation and regulations,” they wrote. “Our citizens have spoken, we are responding. We ask that Congress recognize and respect our states’ efforts by supporting and passing the STATES Act.”
Last week on @MeetThePress, I called on Congress to legalize marijuana. With an administration too focused on ideology, and not the facts on the ground, like that legalization is working in states like Washington and Colorado, we need Congress to act. https://t.co/5xPUnZCutK
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 8, 2018
Inslee said that the Washington’s marijuana law has “largely has been a success” and the “fears of those who were not supportive of our efforts really have not been realized.”
Washington State @GovInslee: “The decriminalization of marijuana, by all ways of judging it, I believe largely has been a success. The fears of those who were not supportive of our efforts really have not been realized.”
Washington State legalized recreational cannabis in 2012. pic.twitter.com/IrI4wkmAPX
— Andrea Woo | 鄔瑞楓 (@AndreaWoo) October 10, 2018
He’s also called for federal banking reform to allow financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses without facing penalties. Inslee and then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) sent a letter about the issue to Congress in 2013.
“Access to the banking system by these state-licensed businesses is a necessary component in ensuring a highly regulated marijuana system that will accurately track funds, prevent criminal involvement, and promote public safety,” the governors wrote. “In order to achieve the mutual federal and state goal of establishing tightly-controlled marijuana regulatory systems, we urge you to issue inter-agency guidance that will allow legal, licensed marijuana businesses access to the banking system.”
During an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the governor said “wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first time Donald Trump said something that was actually true, if he said he’d leave us alone on our marijuana decriminalization?”
When Canada legalized cannabis nationwide last year, Inslee wrote a congratulatory tweet and said it’s “time for Congress to acknowledge that marijuana legalization is working in states like Washington, Colorado, and others and legalize marijuana as well.”
Welcome @Canada to marijuana legalization. It's time for Congress to acknowledge that marijuana legalization is working in states like Washington, Colorado, and others and legalize marijuana as well. https://t.co/p1sKJ50BFu
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) October 17, 2018
He also predicted that there would soon come a day when marijuana could be transported across the border from Canada to Washington.
“I believe this problem will get resolved over time,” he said. “I would anticipate there are going to be significant changes in federal policy in this realm, relatively rapidly, and when that happens, this issue ought to be able to be resolved in one way or another.”
Before he announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, he also predicted that marijuana would be legal in all states in the near future.
The issue has reached a “tipping point,” he said during a speech at a Washington college in January.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Inslee denied that he smokes cannabis, but in a recent interview with BuzzFeed, he said “but I do grow it legally and we’ve got the best weed in America from the state of Washington.” Home cultivation is prohibited in Washington, so Marijuana Moment reached out for clarification and a spokesperson for the governor denied that he actually grows cannabis.
Marijuana Under An Inslee Presidency
Inslee has predicted that federal marijuana legalization in inevitable, and if he’s elected, he’d be in a position to help fulfill that prophecy. Given both his track record on implementing reform and statements calling for legalization on the day of his campaign announcement, it seems likely that Inslee would strongly advocate for an end to federal prohibition as president.
Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote
A Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday that would make simple possession punishable by a fine, with no jail time, and without having to go on an individual’s criminal record.
The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and now heads to a separate panel responsible for placing bills on the calendar for floor debates.
Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis would be punished with a $250 fine for the first two offenses. After that, possession would be considered a class C misdemeanor, which is still a lesser penalty compared to current law. As it stands, possession of two ounces or less is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail as well as a permanent criminal record, which carries steep collateral consequences.
Earlier this month, the committee held a hearing on the legislation and heard testimony about the long-term impacts of having a low-level cannabis conviction on a person’s record and how removing criminal penalties for possession can free up law enforcement resources so that officers can tackle more serious crimes.
Advocates are hopeful that the full House will embrace the modest reform measure, even as the legislature contemplates other cannabis policies such as expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program.
— Texas NORML (@TexasNORML) March 25, 2019
“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”
While medical cannabis expansion, to say nothing of adult-use legalization, remains a dubious prospect in the conservative stronghold, removing the threat of jail time for possession has gained popularity among Texas Republicans. Delegates for the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank last year that endorses marijuana decriminalization, for example.
“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.
What’s more, the policy has even received a tentative green light from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has said he is open to legislation that would reduce penalties for simple possession.
During a gubernatorial debate last year, Abbot said he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and floated the idea of reducing the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.
According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, the legislation currently has 32 authors or co-authors.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee
A key committee in the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to legalize marijuana on Monday.
The General Law Committee, which is one of two panels that heard testimony about legalization legislation last week, voted 10 to 8 to advance the bill.
Beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, the legislation also includes a number of social equity provisions aimed at encouraging participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. A governor-appointed commission would be charged with giving such individuals advance time to apply for a marijuana business license and promote diversity in hiring.
“At the end of the day, if we’re moving, it’s not about revenue. It’s about equity,” Rep. Juan Candelaria (D) said at the meeting. “It’s about ensuring that these communities that have been impacted, that we say we’re not going to stay idle anymore.”
The commission would also be required to study the potential impacts of allowing cannabis microbusinesses and a home cultivation option, which are not currently included in the bill. Delivery would be permitted, however.
While advocates generally support the bill, there are some outstanding concerns about the lack of a home grow option. The lack of specific licenses for delivery services and on-site consumption facilities is another sticking point.
“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said at last week’s hearing.
It’s not yet clear whether the legislature will ultimately pass this proposal or a separate bill in the Senate, but if either does end up on the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont (D), he’s expected to sign. The governor called legalization one of his “priorities” last year and also discussed the issue during a budget speech last month.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on legalization legislation on Thursday.
A separate bill to revise the state’s medical cannabis program by adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions and eliminating a registration certification fee for patients and caregivers was also approved by the General Law Committee on Monday.
This story was updated to note the committee’s vote tally.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Marijuana Legalization Vote Cancelled Due To Lack of Support In New Jersey Senate
Marijuana reform advocates experienced a setback on Monday after bill to legalize cannabis in New Jersey was pulled from the agenda due to a lack of votes to pass the legislation in the Senate.
The proposal would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. It included a number of social equity provisions meant to encourage participation in the industry by individuals from communities most harmed by the war on drugs, and it also would’ve created a pathway for expedited expungements for prior cannabis convictions.
Two committees—the Assembly Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee—approved companion cannabis legalization bills last week.
But while Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and leading lawmakers reached a compromise on certain details on how to carry out legalization earlier this month, the legislation faced resistance and was taken off the table hours before scheduled votes in the Senate and Assembly.
“History is rarely made on the first try,” Murphy said in a press conference. “Certainly I’m disappointed but we are not defeated… We all remain committed to passing this bill and making our state a national model for justice and opportunity because ultimately this is the right thing to do for New Jersey, and we know the people of New Jersey are on our side.”
History is rarely made on the very first try. But, eventually, barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down.
Join me live in Trenton as we recommit to passing adult-use marijuana legalization and expungement legislation. https://t.co/Ebts137XJ6
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) March 25, 2019
“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) said in a statement. “This fight is not over. We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward. While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.”
I proudly stand with @GovMurphy, @SpeakerCoughlin, @SandraBCunningh & @SenatorScutari. We didn’t have the votes today, but we will continue to work together in order to bring adult use marijuana and criminal justice reform to New Jersey pic.twitter.com/BWxDchfiQ4
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) March 25, 2019
“The legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey, one way or another,” he added at a press conference. “Anybody who thinks this is dead, they’re wrong.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) echoed those sentiments.
"We all remain committed to enacting fair and responsible legislation that will be groundbreaking and a national model," says @SpeakerCoughlin on cannabis legalization, medical Marijuana, & expungement bill package pic.twitter.com/CwT6C5WlsX
— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) March 25, 2019
“Today we may not be able to get a bill over the finish line but I’m proud of the effort we made and the discussions we had. It’s a big and complicated issue,” he said in a press conference. “We all remain committed to enacting fair and responsible legislation that will be groundbreaking and a national model.”
— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) March 25, 2019
According to a whip count tracking tool for the legislation that was created by NJ.com, a majority of senators (23) planned to vote “no” as of Monday morning, compared to just eight who said they’d vote in favor of the bill, with nine others undetermined. Other sources indicated that 18 senators planned to vote “yes.”
In the days leading up to the Monday session, the legislation received a number of high-profile endorsements, including from 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rev. Al Sharpton and CNN host Van Jones. The governor’s office also released a list of quotes supporting the bill from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders.
“With this bill, New Jersey legislators can send a strong message to the country that marijuana legalization and social justice must be inextricably linked,” Booker said last week. “I’m hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”
Those endorsements were ultimately not enough to convince a sufficient number of on-the-fence state senators, some of whom raised concerns about the potential public health and safety impacts of legalization.
“This is a tragedy for social and racial justice in New Jersey. This legislation was supported by a broad coalition of civil rights, advocacy and faith organizations across the state and the majority of New Jersey voters,” Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “But, we will not give up. We will continue to fight for marijuana legalization legislation centered on racial and social justice. It is only a matter of time before this legislation is enacted and all New Jerseyans can share in the benefits it will create.”
Our commitment to adult-use marijuana legalization and expungement has not wavered. We know the people of New Jersey are on our side.
Change is never easy, but we will keep fighting. pic.twitter.com/xMeay0MlTx
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) March 25, 2019
Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana described the news as a “huge victory for us.”
“They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong, Kevin Sabet, the group’s president, said in a press release.
With the cancellation of the vote, it may be months before lawmakers take up the idea again.
“Voters and lawmakers both agree that the practice of treating marijuana consumers as second-class citizens must end. Unfortunately, legislative intransigence regarding how best to create a regulatory framework has resulted in, at least for now, a continuation of the failed policy of marijuana criminalization in the Garden State,” NORML Political Associate Tyler McFadden said in a press release.
“[I]t should be acknowledged that, to date, no state has taken legislative action to regulate the adult use marijuana market,” she said. “In every jurisdiction where regulations exist, they were enacted by a direct vote of the citizenry. Based on current polling in New Jersey, we have little doubt that, if provided the opportunity, Garden State voters would take similar action.”
A poll last month found that New Jersey adults support legalizing marijuana, 62 percent to 32 percent.
This story was updated to add comment from Sweeney, DPA, NORML and SAM.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.