Last week, MassRoots published a piece examining how candidates in this year’s two gubernatorial races — in New Jersey and Virginia — are making marijuana law reform centerpieces of their campaigns.
This week we’re taking a look ahead to the many 2018 races for governors’ mansions, in which a huge number of declared candidates and possible contenders are already speaking up about their plans to change cannabis policies in their states.
Note: There are gubernatorial elections in 36 states and three U.S. territories next year, with far too many candidates to cover in full. What follows is a sampling of some of the contenders who have been most vocal about marijuana law reform.
In the Golden State, several candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination support marijuana law reform.
Chief among them is current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was one of the earliest statewide politicians in the U.S to come out for legalization. He empaneled a blue ribbon commission whose report greatly informed the drafting of Prop. 64, the legalization measure that voters enacted in November.
He has since pressed the Trump administration to respect the state’s new law.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) February 25, 2017
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also endorsed the legalization measure, albeit just days before Election Day last year when polls showed the measure poised to pass.
Legalizing recreational marijuana & regulating usage will benefit CA’s economy, generating approx. $1 billion annually. Vote #YesOn64
— Antonio Villaraigosa (@antonio4ca) October 31, 2016
And following the passage of the measure, state Treasurer John Chiang formed a Cannabis Banking Working Group that has been holding a series of meetings throughout California to consider solutions to the industry’s lack of access to financial services. He has called upon the Trump administration to address the issue.
Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat, is one of the nation’s leading champions of marijuana law reform in federal elected office.
He has sponsored numerous standalone bills and amendments to modernize cannabis policy. Polis has regularly taken to the floor of the House to point out the harms of prohibition, including in one infamous speech during which he invited a prohibitionist Louisiana congressman to visit Colorado to see how its marijuana law is working, teasing the opposing member about his own state’s predilection for “smoking crayfish.”
The state’s cannabis industry held a huge fundraising event for Polis this month.
Democrats in the state legislature included cannabis legalization in their budget proposal this year, but the idea faced opposition from Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. However, Malloy is term-limited and can’t run again in 2018.
Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, on the other hand, called for legalization during his gubernatorial campaign announcement speech last month.
We shouldn't balance budget through state employees. We should raise taxes on the wealthy, have tolls, and legalize marijuana. Thank you.
— Mayor Dan Drew (@MayorDanDrew) July 14, 2017
John Morgan, the Florida attorney who largely funded the campaign that led to the passage of the state’s medical cannabis measure last year, as well as a previous effort that fell just short of passage, is now weighing a run for governor. And legalization is part of his platform.
I'm in support of the legalization of marijuana in Florida and America. Not just the decriminalization…
— John Morgan (@JohnMorganESQ) February 28, 2017
He has also suggested broader decriminalization of other drugs beyond cannabis.
People should not be put in prison for buying drugs.
Addiction is an illness not a crime.
Selling drugs is a whole different matter.
— John Morgan (@JohnMorganESQ) January 22, 2017
Morgan also pledged to use commutation powers to free drug war prisoners if elected to the governor’s office.
“If I were king of Florida, I would walk through the prisons and release everyone in there for possession alone,” he said.
IT HELPS! Pro #Marijuana Gov = Full legalization & Decriminalization
I'd free every person in prison for possession within powers of office https://t.co/LVBgyVKozg
— John Morgan (@JohnMorganESQ) May 23, 2017
Several candidates vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination have endorsed legalization.
The most vocal and consistent of which seems to be Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar.
When I’m governor, we’ll legalize marijuana, end the racist war on drugs and use tax revenue to help with treatment. https://t.co/Tl05ROxONZ
— Ameya Pawar (@Ameya_Pawar_IL) July 31, 2017
In addition to backing cannabis legalization, he has called for broader criminal justice and drug policy reform, promising to commute sentences for many nonviolent offenders.
“The basis for commutation is, if we can today provide services for the same issues that ravaged black and brown communities 35-40 years ago, then there’s no reason why people should be in prison if we’re willing to provide treatment today,” he said.
Democratic rivals J.B. Pritzker, Daniel Biss and Bob Daiber also support legalization, though Chris Kennedy said he’s skeptical that marijuana revenue can help to solve budget problems.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a marijuana decriminalization bill into law (after vetoing a previous version and convincing lawmakers to make some tweaks) and has allowed for the extension of the state’s existing medical cannabis program, but isn’t on board with full legalization, saying he’s “hearing some pretty bad stories” about Colorado and other states that have ended prohibition.
Former state Rep. Diane Russell, who announced last week that she’s running for governor, sponsored marijuana legalization bills in the legislature years before voters took matters into their own hands and ended prohibition with a ballot measure last November.
— Diane Russell (@MissWrite) April 20, 2017
Former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous is running for Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and he supports marijuana law reform.
Following Donald Trump’s election as president in 2o16, Jealous tried to help progressives feel better by pointing out the fact that several states legalized cannabis on the same day.
We passed marijuana legalization laws from coast to coast.
— Ben Jealous (@BenJealous) November 11, 2016
During an appearance at the Democratic National Convention last summer, he touted Maryland’s successful enactment of marijuana decriminalization under former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. In the speech he also decried the “failed war on drugs.”
Now, Jealous is talking about broader drug policy reform on the campaign trail.
Getting ready for fireworks in Columbia: Talking about ending the failed war on drugs and stopping the killings. pic.twitter.com/ZYmBO30Tx9
— Ben Jealous (@BenJealous) July 4, 2017
Incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan doesn’t support legalization but he did sign a bill to lower some drug sentences. He also ordered a study of the lack of racial diversity among the state’s medical cannabis business licensees. But while he vetoed a bill to expand the state’s existing cannabis decriminalization law to cover paraphernalia, lawmakers overrode him to enact it.
Democratic Congressman Tim Walz is running for governor. He has voted in favor of several amendments to protect local marijuana laws from federal interference, and has expressed openness to considering legalization on the state level.
In response to question, Walz said he is open to allowing recreational marijuana.
— Heather J. Carlson (@PBhcarlson) May 11, 2017
The Granite State’s only declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, supports legalization.
— Steve Marchand (@marchandsteve) July 29, 2017
Incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a marijuana decriminalization bill into law this year, but hasn’t gone so far as to offer support for broader legalization.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed a medical cannabis bill into law last year. Looking ahead, he supports decriminalizing marijuana but isn’t yet sold on broader legalization but is open to considering it.
I support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Shouldn’t focus on incarcerating people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. https://t.co/YeqO8Ir3z5
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 1, 2017
I want to learn from the experience of other states that have full legalization and I welcome discussion on this issue with the legislature.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 1, 2017
In the meantime, Wolf has forcefully pushed the Trump administration not to interfere with the state’s medical cannabis law.
“Given the bipartisan and medical consensus for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania and many other states, I am disturbed to know that you are actively pursuing a change in federal law to go after medical marijuana suppliers,” he wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “We do not need the federal government getting in the way of Pennsylvania’s right to deliver them relief through our new medical marijuana program.”
Republican state House Speaker Beth Harwell is running for governor. She said in a speech this month that after seeing her sister benefit from medical cannabis, she is open to allowing it in the state, particularly as pain management alternative to opioids.
Why Does This Matter?
Gubernatorial support for cannabis reform is important whether or not a given state has already enacted legalization. In places that still maintain prohibition, leadership from the governor’s office can go a long way toward encouraging lawmakers to introduce and move legislation. And in states that have already ended prohibition, strong gubernatorial support of local laws may be needed to ward off or respond to possible federal interference from the Trump administration.