The governor of one of the first states to legalize marijuana announced that he was seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on March 1, 2019 and ended his campaign on August 21.
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.”
This piece was last updated on August 22, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
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.”
Inslee applauded legislation providing for marijuana expungements in the Washington Senate.
The marijuana bill that passed the Senate this evening is the next big step to bring fairness and justice to those with marijuana convictions on their records. Thank you to Sen. Nguyen and Rep. @JoeFitzgibbon for helping lead this important effort. #waleghttps://t.co/KLgA2Ddc1D
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) March 12, 2019
He signed that bill in May 2019, describing it as “a matter of fairness and justice” and stating that we “should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in this state.”
Inslee was one of 20 governors to sign a letter in June 2019 urging Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that would provide state-legal marijuana businesses with access to banking services.
In April 2019, he signed legislation that allows children who are medical cannabis patients to take their medicine to school.
Children can now take medical marijuana at school, thanks to new law just signed by @GovInslee. The man in the green behind the Gov., John Barclay, fought for law bc of his daughter, River. She was too ill to attend the bill signing. #waleg pic.twitter.com/vgz1RrXt68
— Drew Mikkelsen (@drewmikkelsenk5) April 30, 2019
On The Campaign Trail
Inslee said he was open to decriminalizing psychedelics during an interview with CBS News Radio.
“I would consider it,” he said. “I do believe that our war on drugs has had all kinds of untoward effects and it’s one of the reasons that, for instance, not only have we legalized marijuana in Washington but I’ve offered pardons—I’m the first governor to offer pardons to several thousands of people who have misdemeanor convictions on their records.”
The governor participated in a Netroots Nation panel where he and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) discussed cannabis issues.
He also told CNN that his state’s decision to legalize marijuana has been an “unalloyed success.”
“It has been an unalloyed success in the state of Washington and it is my belief it is time for the United States to decriminalize and legalize marijuana," Jay Inslee says, noting his home state of Washington previously legalized marijuana. #InsleeTownHall https://t.co/D7sd64Ohb9 pic.twitter.com/nRKNhRP0Nb
— CNN (@CNN) April 11, 2019
Inslee defended a member of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis (LCB) Board who faced criticism over allegations that he contributed to a “toxic culture” within the panel. He wrote a letter to state lawmakers that the member “provides a valuable perspective.”
Previous 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 said that on “two occasions in the 1970s” he consumed marijuana that was “reasonably good.”
Does Washington state really have America's best marijuana? @JayInslee has thoughts
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) April 16, 2019
Inslee denied that he currently smokes cannabis, but in an 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.
Bernie Sanders Talks Marijuana With Killer Mike, Danny Glover And Ben & Jerry’s Founder
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led a panel during a presidential campaign stop in North Carolina on Friday where he and surrogates—rapper Killer Mike, actor Danny Glover and Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen—discussed marijuana reform.
At one point, Cohen said that he was arrested after being caught smoking cannabis while he was in school but the police only charged him for littering—a discretionary decision that he said he likely wouldn’t have been afforded if he was black. He speculated that without that privilege, the incident could have cost him loans that allowed him to build his ice cream empire.
Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, opened the conversation by asking Killer Mike to weigh in on the impact of the drug war, particularly on communities of color.
The artist said the “war on drugs, we now know from history, has been a tremendous failure” and that it “was never a war on drugs, it was a war on progressive white kids and black people.”
He discussed the racist origins of prohibition, the role cannabis criminalization has played in mass incarceration and emphasized the need to include restorative justice in a legal marijuana system.
“But we have a greater opportunity, and the greater opportunity is this: marijuana is going to be legal in our lifetime,” he said. “Beyond getting a little stoned in the morning, which I didn’t do this morning because I knew I had to come see you guys, marijuana provides through hemp paper, alternative to plastics, it provides jobs, resources, dispensaries.”
Watch the conversation about cannabis, starting at about 11:20 into the video below:
“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said.
“As for me and my stoner friends, we’ll be buying Ben & Jerry’s and voting for Bernard Sanders.”
Glover joked that Mike’s plan is the “real green new deal that we need right here,” riffing off the name of climate change agenda backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
“What we’re talking about now is repairing the wrongs that were done on our communities, and we have a senator who’s going to be the president, who’s saying that we’re not only going to repair the wrongs of the war on drugs but we are going to bring back an era that we are organizing in our communities,” the actor said.
Cohen highlighted racial inequities in marijuana enforcement and broader societal structures, starting by noting that his parents were only able to enter the middle class with the help of a government program providing low-interest mortgages that black people were not entitled to. That program allowed him to go to a good school, he said, where he got busted for cannabis at one point.
“In the midst of getting my higher education, one summer I was smoking some pot with some friends on a beach and the cops caught us,” he said. “We were handcuffed and they took us to the station and they ended up giving us a ticket for littering a lighted cigarette butt on the ground.”
“But I am well aware that if I was black, I would’ve ended up with a criminal record that would have prevented me from getting the loans that we needed to start Ben & Jerry’s,” he said. “It’s really clear to me that if I was black, there wouldn’t have been a Ben & Jerry’s. I’m conscious of that, I think about that, and that’s one of the big reasons I’m supporting Bernie because he’s going to put an end to that system.”
The criminalization of marijuana has been a disaster for communities of color.
We will legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions and invest revenue from legal marijuana back into those communities. pic.twitter.com/x7xrzw1Eu4
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 21, 2019
Sanders closed the panel discussion by asking audience members to raise their hands if they knew someone arrested for marijuana, or were themselves arrested. He did a similar exercise at a campaign rally in South Carolina earlier this week.
After hands shot up, the senator said “this is what the war on drugs has done in this country.”
“It has criminalized so many people in this room. This is amazing,” he said. “The war on drugs has been incredibly destructive for millions and millions of people in this country and we’re going to end that war on drugs and we’re going to make marijuana legal.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.
Former Federal Prosecutor’s Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances In South Dakota
A measure to legalize marijuana in South Dakota—introduced by a former federal prosecutor and backed by a leading national cannabis advocacy group—was recently cleared for signature gathering.
Brendan Johnson, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and whose father represented the state in the U.S. Senate until 2015, filed the initiative in June. It received an official explanatory statement from the attorney general last month and its backers were given the green light to start collecting signatures last week.
“We are excited to move forward with these ballot initiative campaigns,” Johnson told Marijuana Moment. “South Dakota voters are ready to approve both medical marijuana and legalization at the ballot box next year.”
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, as well as a separate statutory initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state that was approved for signature collection last month.
The former federal prosecutor’s measure, which is being steered by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.
Sales would be taxed at 15 percent under the initiative, and revenue would be used to fund the program’s implementation, with additional monies going toward public education and the state general fund.
Beside legalizing marijuana, the amendment would also instruct the legislature to enact legislation to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. If the separate statutory medical marijuana legalization initiative, being coordinated by the group New Approach South Dakota, qualifies and passes as well, that latter requirement wouldn’t be necessary.
“The Marijuana Policy Project strongly supports the South Dakota campaign,” MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, who led the organization’s efforts in support of previous legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, told Marijuana Moment. “Across the country, and even in conservative states, voters are demanding marijuana policy reform. Our goal is simple: to effectuate the will of the people when elected officials choose to ignore it.”
Petitioners for the proposed constitutional amendment must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters to qualify for the 2020 ballot. For statutory initiatives, 16,961 signatures are required. MPP’s involvement will likely bolster the campaign’s prospects of meeting that goal.
It’s already clear that marijuana reform measures are going to face resistance from certain quarters, with Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoing a hemp legalization bill in March and the state’s Republican party urging residents not to sign ballot petitions.
“Our campaign, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, will be working from now until Election Day 2020 to earn the support of South Dakotans from every corner of the state,” Johnson said.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Cory Booker Pledges To Back Only Marijuana Bills With Justice Focus As Banking Vote Approaches
With a vote on marijuana banking issues imminent in the House, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) emphasized on Friday that he will not support cannabis legislation that doesn’t include restorative justice components.
In a tweet that linked to an earlier Marijuana Moment article on his cannabis stance, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wrote that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”
As I said earlier this year, any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.https://t.co/Y1dOwgHbm2
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) September 20, 2019
The statement comes at a critical moment in the marijuana reform movement. House leadership announced on Friday that the first full floor vote on a standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation—a bill to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—will be held next week. But that development has also created controversy, with several advocacy groups arguing that a vote should be postponed until more wide-ranging reform legislation is passed.
Although Booker didn’t directly reference the banking bill his his tweet, its timing seemed to suggest that he sides with those groups—which include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance—and that he wouldn’t support the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act as written.
Booker’s Senate press secretary confirmed to Marijuana Moment in an email that his boss’s Twitter post was sent directly in reaction to the House banking news.
While some have made the case that the bill would help promote social equity by improving access to banking services for minority business owners, for example, others view the legislation as primarily benefiting large cannabis firms.
Throughout his campaign, the senator has emphasized the need for inclusive and comprehensive marijuana reform. He determined that a bill to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention that he formerly cosponsored didn’t meet that standard and did not attach his name to the latest version.
“At this point it’s too obvious and urgent and unfair that we’re moving something on marijuana on the federal level and it doesn’t do something on restorative justice,” he told VICE in April. “I want that bill to have some acknowledgement of the savage injustices that the marijuana prohibition has done to communities.”
“I get very angry when people talk about legalizing marijuana and then give no light to how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways that fed upon poor communities—black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately poor people and disproportionately black and brown people.”
Booker also said that he wants to couple conversations about legalization with talk of expunging prior cannabis convictions “in the same breath.”
The senator’s potential future opposition to a House-passed cannabis banking bill could prove problematic as its supporters work to shepherd the legislation through a chamber where it already faces an uphill path under anti-marijuana Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and skepticism from other GOP lawmakers.
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.