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.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.