America’s Least Pot-Friendly Governors

If you read our previous article about efforts by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to grade all fifty US governors on their actions and positions with regard to legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, you might remember that nine governors – all Democrats – received an “A” rating from the weed advocacy group.

Most of those governors were from states anyone following legalization news might guess – Washington, Colorado – and most of them were given NORML’s highest rating for actions like expanding access, expunging past convictions, and protecting the civil rights of cannabis users and patients. 

Eight other governors – all Republicans – received failing grades. It’s bad news for people who live in those states, but on the bright side, the number of governors who got passing grades of “C” or higher increased from 27 to 32.  

Here are the eight governors who got F’s: 

Brad Little, Idaho. Little has openly said that if Idahoans want legal marijuana access, then “they elected the wrong guy as governor.” He is opposed to all legalization proposals, including medical use. He relies on an urban/rural divide in marijuana use, saying of Idaho: “We’re not Portland. We’re not Seattle.” 

Eric Holcomb, Indiana. Holcomb opposes not only recreational use, but also medical access to cannabis by needy patients. He’s stated unequivocally that he’ll continue to oppose such access until weed is made legal under federal law. “I’m not convinced other states have made a wisde decision,” Holcomb said at a press conference in February 29. Earlier, he again relied on federal law to do his thinking for him, saying ““Right now, it’s a crime. I’m just simply not willing to look the other way.” He also subscribes to the disproven “gateway drug” theory. Here’s the kicker, though: Holcomb has admitted to having smoked weed in college. 

Pete Ricketts, Nebraska. Plenty of governors have come out against legalization, but only Pete Ricketts has written an actual paper on it. In short, Ricketts does not like marijuana, and there’s no piece of anti-weed rhetoric, no matter how disproven, that he won’t embrace. In May of 2019 he published a position paper on the state website titled “Understanding Marijuana’s Dangers,” describing legalization efforts as being “in defiance of federal law and at great risk to public health.” He also cited a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government-funded anti-drug organization, claiming weed “has been linked to temporary hallucinations, temporary paranoia, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens.” He also blames neighboring Colorado – a state with full legalization of recreational cannabis – for flooding Nebraska with pot. He later wrote a second paper re-emphasizing these views. 

Mike DeWine, Ohio. Ohio voters have been trying to legalize weed for a long time now – but they also elected Mike DeWine as their chief executive, so it’s hard to say where their hearts are at on the issue. In June 2016, then-Governor John Kasich signed a bill to legalize medical cannabis; the law was far-reaching, setting up a regulation system for growing facilities, retail dispensaries, doctors and patients, but also allowing patients to visit Michigan (where medical weed was legal by then) and transport it across the state line back into Ohio. DeWine was opposed to all of this, and still is. “It would really be a mistake for Ohio, by legislation, to say that marijuana for adults is just okay,” he told the Statehouse News Bureau. Today, medical access is still permitted, but recreational pot will have to wait for another governor. 

Henry McMaster, South Carolina. Though McMaster didn’t make any statements about cannabis legalization in 2019, he hasn’t been shy about admitting his opposition to it in the past. In 2018 he told the Charleston Post and Courier that “law enforcement officials have made it clear that we are not in a position to appropriately regulate medical marijuana.”

Kristi Noem, South Dakota. State legislators passed a bill to regulate commercial hemp production in South Dakota in 2019, but Noem vetoed it. Displaying a disappointing attachment to the policies on the failed war on drugs, she once said in a statement, “There is no question in my mind that normalizing hemp, like legalizing medical marijuana, is part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable.” Noem also embraces the disproven notion that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” claiming it is addictive (it’s not) and that it leads people to seek stronger drugs (it doesn’t).

Bill Lee, Tennessee. In March of 2019, Lee doubled down on his opposition to legalization by opposing a state assembly measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. State Senator Janice Bowling even told WATE Knoxville that Lee had assured her he would sign her bill, but Lee’s office denied it. Lee has also claimed that Tennessee’s population is too small for legal weed to have any measurable economic impact; in other words, he believes cannabis isn’t popular among Tennesseans. The farthest Lee is willing to go is expanding the state’s CBD possession law, which limits CBD use to patients with intractable seizures.

Mark Gordon, Wyoming. In addition to passing no legislation, Gordon has been unabashed in his opposition to legalization, telling voters that he is “not in favor” of any such measures. Worse, the Equality State’s governor said he’d be willing to discuss medical marijuana regulation, but has turned a cold shoulder to the reams of data that doctors and scientists have compiled. “I am not particularity in favor of doing that until we’ve had a very full conversation about what that means,” Gordon said during a gubernatorial debate. “So I am not in favor really of legalizing that.”

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