With cannabis still illegal on the federal level, the marijuana policy developments happening on the state level are especially significant. Given that governors are the gatekeepers of what legislation becomes law, the marijuana policies of governors in the United States are crucial for determining the fate of cannabis in each state.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has released it’s 2018 Gubernatorial Scorecard ahead of November’s election when many governors will face voters at the ballot box. The scorecard is similar to NORML’s Congressional grading system which assigns a letter grade from A to F based on a politician’s cannabis-related remarks and legislative action.
Out of the 50 total governors, NORML gave 24 governors a passing grade of a C or higher, but granted only two governors an A grade. Fourteen of those passing grades went to Democrats (there are only 16 Democrat governors in the nation), nine to Republicans and one went to Alaska’s independent governor, Bill Walker. Many of these governors set themselves apart on the issue of cannabis legalization by standing up to the federal government’s anti-pot policies.
As for the rest, nineteen governors received a D grade and four failed completely. However, many of these governors will face re-election in 2018.
The Best Governors For Cannabis Legalization
New Jersey, Phil Murphy
“If you look to New Jersey as an example,” Altieri says, “the exit of anti-drug zealot Chris Christie and the election of pro-legalization Phil Murphy, you can see the positive impact having a reform-friendly governor has on the tenor of the debate.”
Governor Murphy is one of only two governors to receive an A grade. In recent months he has been pushing the state’s legislature to bring a legalization bill to his desk by the end of the year and has expanded the states medical marijuana program in the meantime.
Oregon, Kate Brown
The other is Oregon’s Kate Brown who has been an outspoken opponent of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a defender of the cannabis industry as a major benefit to the state’s economy.
Alaska, Bill Walker
Earlier this year, Walker reminded everyone of his commitment to his state’s 2014 decision to legalize the commercial sale of marijuana when a crackdown from Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed looming. “I remain committed to upholding the will of Alaskans on this issue and maintaining our State’s sovereign rights to manage our own affairs while protecting federal interests,” said Walker.
Washington, Jay Inslee
When you run one of the first states to sell legal pot, you shouldn’t take too kindly to United States Attorney Generals threatening your way of life, and Inslee definitely didn’t. “It’s a shame that [Jeff Sessions] has a closed mind, and he’s much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts,” Inslee 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.”
Colorado, John Hickenlooper
Meanwhile, Democrat Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper also received high grades despite his cautious approach in expanding the state’s regulations to include social consumption and home delivery as well as his recent comments to CNN in which he said he would be open to repealing legalization.
“Trust me,” Hickenlooper said, “if the data was coming back and we saw spikes in violent crime, we saw spikes in overall crime, there would be a lot of people looking for that bottle and figuring out how we get the genie back in. It doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m not ruling it out.”
The Worst Governors For Cannabis Legalization
Arizona, Doug Doucey
In addition to vetoing an industrial hemp bill, Doucey was one of the main cheerleaders for the effort against legalizing marijuana in Arizona in 2016. “I don’t know how we make ourselves a stronger state or a better place through this initiative,” he told KTAR News in 2016. “Almost everything outside of our economy and education that I have to deal with in this state has a common culprit of drug abuse and addiction.” When the initiative failed, he said they’d fought hard to win the round. Doucey is up for re-election this year.
Nebraska, Pete Ricketts
Ricketts has attempted to portray Nebraska as a victim of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. “Legalization of marijuana for any purpose has proven to be a risky proposition because the controls placed on its use in other states have fallen short,” he said in a 2015 statement. “Sheriffs I visit with along the Colorado-Nebraska border tell me that the Colorado law has led to increased criminal activity, placing a greater burden on law enforcement in our state.” Ricketts is up for re-election this year.
New Mexico, Susana Martinez
Martinez has truly turned on the blinders for any kind of progress on the marijuana front in New Mexico. Over her terms, she has vetoed various legislation that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana program, licensed industrial hemp research and provided general hemp permits. In addition to telling people decriminalization in any form is a horrible idea, she had originally promised to work to repeal the medical law while on the campaign trail in 2010. She cannot serve another term — she’s reached her term limit after serving as New Mexico’s governor for eight years — so her replacement will be decided in the November elections.
Texas, Greg Abbott
In 2015, Abbott signed a CBD softball bill that didn’t actually provide for widespread access, as the oil was just supposed to appear for kids with rare forms of epilepsy. Plus, three years later dispensaries are finally starting to open, and Abbott hasn’t made it easy. “I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medical or medicinal purposes. As governor I will not allow it,” Abbott noted in 2015.
Idaho, Butch Otter
Otter wouldn’t even sign a bill to legalize CBD. When he vetoed it, he noted, “I don’t know what more I or senior members of my administration could have done to help legislators understand our strong opposition to this legislation. Both the House and Senate were told by the Office of Drug Policy, the Department of Health and Welfare, and the Idaho State Police — as well as prosecutors and local law enforcement officers from throughout Idaho — that there were too many questions and problems and too few answers and solutions in this bill to let it become law.” At the time, he also called the claims of the outcomes patients would have more speculative than scientific. Otter is retiring this year, so he doesn’t have to take part in midterms.
Maine, Paul LePage
LePage has a proven himself to be a one-man roadblock for the state of Maine. Just last week, he was sent a bill to launch recreational sales that he has already promised to veto. He’s also vetoed banking access for the Maine cannabis industry and bills that built frameworks for licensing and testing labs. Last year, LePage noted that he “cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine.” He’s guaranteed gone next January, when he will have reached his term limits.