Most state legislative sessions just began this month, and hundreds of marijuana bills have already been introduced. Advocates are hopeful that 2017 could finally be the year that lawmakers in at least one state take it upon themselves to legalize cannabis instead of waiting until voters act at the ballot box.
In Connecticut, for example, lawmakers are racing to beat neighboring Massachusetts to the legal marijuana market. At least three full legalization bills have been filed so far, including one sponsored by the Senate president. And the House speaker’s office pledged to give ending prohibition “a full public hearing” this year.
But Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), despite previously championing medical cannabis and decriminalization proposals into law, has raised alarms about the prospect of ending prohibition altogether, calling the idea a “mistake.”
In Vermont, where the state Senate passed a full legalization bill last year that later died in the House, lawmakers are gearing up to try again this session.
But new Gov. Phil Scott (R), while supporting Vermont’s decrim and medical cannabis laws, says he’s not sure the state should legalize just yet.
“I’m not saying never,” he said. “I’m saying it’s the timing’s not right. It’s not now.”
Scott’s, predecessor, Democrat Peter Shumlin, actively pushed for legalization and even mentioned it in his 2016 State of the State speech.
Elsewhere in New England, Rhode Island lawmakers are feeling emboldened by the recent anti-prohibition vote next door in Massachusetts. A bipartisan coalition of legislators is preparing to file legalization bills, and the House majority leader said the chamber will “consider [ending prohibition] very strongly this session.”
But while Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) seems a little more open to legalization than some of her fellow state chief executives, she still says the Ocean State should take it “slow and steady.”
In Delaware, Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry is preparing to introduce a legalization bill after having successfully championed the state’s medical cannabis law into enactment. But newly-elected Gov. John Carney (D) said, “I don’t support full legalization” in a debate last fall, only going so far as to offer support for medical cannabis and decriminalization, which the state has already enacted. Henry says she won’t move forward with the bill to end prohibition if Carney comes out strongly against the idea.
Across the continent and much of the Pacific Ocean, legislators in Hawaii have filed dozens of cannabis bills this month, including a number of full legalization proposals as well as a decriminalization one sponsored by the House speaker. But while Gov. David Ige (D) voted for decriminalization as a state senator, he now says he’s not ready to enact any new marijuana reforms.
“The governor opposes the decriminalization of drug paraphernalia and marijuana until the medical marijuana dispensaries open and we get a chance to gauge the impact upon the state,” his spokesman recently said.
While it’s clear that many governors aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the prospects of signing further marijuana reforms into law just yet, it remains an open question as to whether any would actually veto anti-prohibition legislation that reaches their desks. Polls now show majority voter support for legalization in many states, so any governors who stand in the way would risk creating political problems for themselves.
So, the operative question for the next few months is whether state legislative leaders are prepared to force their governors to make decisions on marijuana bills that they might prefer to avoid.