When it comes to cannabis reform, state politics often matter the most.
NEWARK, NJ – OCTOBER 19: Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey , speaks at a rally on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. Murphy was later joined by former President Barack Obama This is Obama’s first return to the campaign trail to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month’s elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
With a President who can’t seem to make up his mind about cannabis and an Attorney General who has actively worked to roll back protections for the industry, it often feels like cannabis reform will depend entirely on action at the state level.
In a number of states, governors have already rolled up their sleeves and helped to make significant progress, passing legislation that advances citizen’s rights to access both medical and recreational cannabis. But in others, governors have moved in the opposite direction and implemented policies to turn back the clock on cannabis reform.
Here’s your guide to both the best and worst governors for cannabis legalization.
Of all the U.S. governors, Phil Murphy has consistently been one of the most vocal about cannabis reform. He was elected as the Governor of New Jersey last year and he’s already made strides in improving the state’s cannabis policies.
Murphy is currently pushing for the legalization of recreational cannabis in the state, which he hopes to accomplish by the end of the year. In January, Murphy signed an executive order that forced state regulators to review New Jersey’s medical cannabis program, which he claimed was in need of modernization. And in March, he introduced his budget, which he calculated based on the assumption cannabis will be legalized to put pressure on the Legislature.
Kate Brown has been the governor of Oregon since 2015 and has a consistently smooth track record on cannabis policy. In 2017, Brown enacted legislation that forces cannabis retailers to destroy customer records 48 hours after the sale is made. This legislation prevents the federal government from gaining access to customers’ personal information.
In 2016, Brown also enacted legislation that allows adults 21-years-old or older to purchase cannabis edibles and extracts, which were previously off-limits even under the state’s legal recreational cannabis law.
This legislation allows dispensaries to sell tax-free cannabis products to medical patients. That same year, Brown enacted legislation that protects financial institutions that work with cannabis companies from being persecuted criminally.
In 2015, Brown also passed legislation that allows citizens to expunge certain past cannabis convictions from their criminal records.
Bill Walker has been the governor of Alaska since 2014, when voters chose to legalize cannabis for adult use through a ballot measure. Since then, Walker has supported the will of Alaskan citizens and worked to prevent the government from interfering with the state’s affairs, which he’s called “federal overreach.”
Last year, Walker wrote to the Trump administration to ask the Department of Justice not to interfere with state cannabis laws. This year, the governor also established a pilot program to “study the growth, cultivation, [and] marketing of industrial hemp.”
Phil Scott was elected to be the governor of Vermont in January of 2017. This year, Scott helped Vermont to become the very first state to legalize recreational cannabis through the state legislature (as opposed to a ballot measure).
Scott claims that he views cannabis use “through a libertarian lens,” stating that “what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice.” Aside from his historic signing of this legislation, Scott has backed his position up by expanding physicians’ abilities to recommend medical cannabis to patients with qualifying conditions. On that note, Scott also expanded Vermont’s list of qualifying conditions to include Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Jay Inslee has been the governor of Washington since 2013, and has enacted a number of pro-cannabis policies over the years. In 2017, Inslee enacted a cannabis law that allows medical cannabis patients in the state to purchase cannabis plants, clones or seeds from licensed producers. That year, the governor also amended a state law that listed industrial hemp as a controlled substance. The previous year, Inslee had enacted a different law that allowed for the cultivation of industrial hemp within the state.
But Inslee’s record on cannabis isn’t without controversies. In 2015, Inslee established a voluntary patient registry program that incentivized participation by increasing possession limit and giving tax breaks to those who singed up with the program.
Doug Ducey has been the governor of Arizona since 2015 and while he signed legislation allowing for the production of industrial hemp in 2017, he’s done nothing else to advance progress on cannabis reform. In 2016, Ducey opposed a state ballot initiative aimed at legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, which ultimately flopped.
Overall, Ducey’s messaging on cannabis has been overwhelmingly negative and accusatory, blaming the plant for everything from unemployment to domestic violence to homelessness.
Butch Otter was elected to office in 2007, and cannabis advocates in the state will be glad to know that he’s finally retiring this year. Otter has called legal cannabis legislation “a big mistake,” claiming that it would lead to cannabis being “in the hands of every school kid.” The governor even penned a letter to President Trump asking that he and the federal government crackdown on states with legal cannabis laws.
In 2015, Otter also vetoed legislation that would have allowed children afflicted with intractable epilepsy to access CBD as an alternative form of medication.
Paul LePage has been the governor of Maine since 2011, and over the years he’s enacted and vetoed legislation that’s greatly hindered progress on cannabis reform in the state. Last year, LePage vetoed legislation that would have provided licenses for cannabis producers and retailers. The governor cited federal law as his reasoning for the veto. LePage also passed an act that same year that delayed the state from putting certain aspects of the Marijuana Legalization Act in place.
LePage has, however, enacted some pro-cannabis legislation. Last year, LePage passed legislation which states that cannabis cannot be the sole disqualifying factor for medical cannabis patients seeking an organ transplant. In 2014, the governor also expanded the number of healthcare providers who could legally advise patients on medical cannabis in the state. In 2013, LePage added a number of qualifying conditions to the state’s medical cannabis program.
Still, LePage has publically opposed cannabis legalization, going so far as to saying it “could lead to more deaths.”
Pete Ricketts has been the governor of Nebraska since 2015 and rather than enacting laws that hinder cannabis progress, his poor record on reform stems mostly from inaction. Since taking office, Ricketts hasn’t passed a single piece of cannabis-related legislation. He has, however, made his position on cannabis very clear, suggesting that the neighboring state of Colorado has seen an increase in criminal activity as a result of their legalization of recreational cannabis. Ricketts has also called cannabis a “dangerous drug.”
Susana Martinez has been the governor of New Mexico since 2011, with her term set to expire in November of this year.
While Martinez hasn’t enacted any cannabis legislation, she’s vetoed legislation that would have benefited the state’s medical cannabis program and the patients enrolled in it. Specifically, the governor vetoed legislation last year that would have expanded the number of patients eligible for medical cannabis. The move was condemned by the Drug Policy Alliance, which said that it would deny medical cannabis to “vulnerable New Mexicans at risk of dying from opioid overdoses.” This is not particularly surprising considering Martinez has claimed to oppose even the medical use of cannabis, saying that she would work to repeal the state’s medical cannabis law.
Martinez is so anti-cannabis that she even vetoed legislation that would have allowed for the cultivation of industrial hemp for research and development. This clearly earns her a spot on our list of the worst governors for cannabis reform.