America’s Nine Pot-Friendliest State Governors

Over the past half century, marijuana legalization advocates have had a tough war to fight. Arguing with pundits and politicians in favor of lawful access to cannabis has meant battling not only a series of misguided beliefs in pot’s addictiveness and overall danger, but a stronger set of underlying assumptions, based largely on racist and classist attitudes, that the anti-weed forces have been deploying since the 1930s. 

Considering those hurdles, they’ve done a fantastic job: Today, it’s unheard of to run for political office if you don’t have a well-defined position on legalization. Once held up as beyond question, pot prohibition has become regarded by most as a relic of the Cold War era at best, and at worst dangerously unfair to those who could be helped by medical marijuana. 

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been on the front lines of the political landscape since its founding in 1970. Today, the nonprofit organization has taken on the task of grading each state’s governor on their positions and actions with regards to legalizing weed; they recently released their 2020 report. 

This year’s report is, overall, better news than last year’s; thirty-two governors got passing grades of “C” or higher, up from only 27 last year. Only nine governors received “A” grades – all of them Democrats. Eight received “F grades – all Republicans.

Here are the nine who got straight A’s: 

Jared Polis, Colorado. Before Polis was elected governor in 2019, Jared Polis was, according to NORML, “an outspoken advocate for marijuana legalization.” After ascending to office, Polis signed House Bill 1230, which regulates and licenses dispensaries that offer on-site use. He also reduced penalties for marijuana-related offenses, expanded medical cannabis access, and signed an additional bill regulating home delivery. As governor, he called on federal drug officials to respect the decision of states that legalized weed access. During his leadership, Polis says, Colorado reached $1 billion in marijuana tax revenue.

J.B. Pritzker, Illinois. Pritzker made headlines across the nation when he signed into law House Bill 1348, which effectively legalized marijuana in the state that Chicago calls home – but also expunged low-level convictions at the state level. That meant more than 11,000 pardons across the land of Lincoln, with a possible 116,000 more individuals eligible for pardons. “The purpose of this legislation is not to immediately make cannabis widely available or to maximize product on the shelves. Instead, the defining purpose of legalization is to maximize equity,” Pritzker said.

Janet Mills, Maine. After assuming office in January of 2019, Mills took major steps toward legalization, setting in place regulations to oversee the production of cannabis products, after her predecessor Paul LePage delayed their implementation. Voters were, in fact, angry with LePage’s foot-dragging, as they’d voted in favor of legalization in 2016. New regulations include a marijuana track-and-trace system, an adult-use licensing system, and a public health and safety education campaign. Locals estimate retail facilities to be open this year.  

Steve Sisolak, Nevada. Sisolak’s actions while in office are reminders that marijuana law goes beyond simple legalization for personal use, extending to other issues such as civil rights and labor law. Assembly Bill 192, which Sisolak signed into law, allows workplace protections for employees who consume cannabis on their own time. Additional bills allow protections for those convicted of marijuana-related crimes, both on the job and in family court. He also oversaw the broad expansion of patients eligible for medical cannabis use, including people diagnosed with autism and opioid addiction.

Jay Inslee, Washington. Washington was an early-adopter state with regards to legalizing recreational use, so it stands to reason its governor would stand in line with weed advocacy.  During his short-lived campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Inslee called for national marijuana legalization (a position shared by several other candidates, including Bernie Sanders). He also signed Senate Bill 5605, which leads the way toward expunging state-level convictions. 

Kate Brown, Oregon. A longtime proponent of legalization and marijuana law reform, Kate Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in the US, the first openly LGBT person elected governor in the US, and the second woman elected governor in Oregon, so she’s likely found herself on the left side of a lot of political issues. She signed laws prohibiting landlords from discriminating against cannabis users and allowing some exportation of cannabis across state lines. Like many of her colleagues on this list, she also took steps to expunge convictions.

Phil Murphy, New Jersey. Murphy extended medical access in two ways – by increasing the pool of patients, and expanding the number of doctors permitted to prescribe cannabis. In the same piece of legislation, Murphy and the New Jersey state assembly enacted discrimination protections for users. Murphy himself also vetoed a conviction-expungement bill passed by the assembly, arguing that it didn’t go far enough. He later signed a stronger bill. Murphy is a devoted advocate for full legalization, urging voters to pass a referendum in November 2020.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico. Grisham has taken an economic-development approach to legalization, urging lawmakers to pass legislation regulating weed access for adults. “Recreational cannabis is an economic game-changer,” she told the Alburquerque Journal. “It’s an incredibly important opportunity.” In 2019 she signed four separate regulatory bills into law: One which decriminalizes possession of small amounts; another that allows convicts to petition for expungement; and two that expand medical access and protect patients from discrimination. 

Andrew Cuomo, New York. Last year Cuomo announced his support for legislation regulating adult cannabis use, as well as commercial production and sale at retail locations. He also signed into law legislation that reduces penalties for low-level marijuana offenses, as well as creating a process to review and possibly expunge criminal records relating to the possession of up to 25 grams of weed. He also called for the opening of a cannabis and hemp research center at the State University of New York.

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