State legislatures across the U.S. have convened for new sessions over the past month, and a growing number of governors are taking steps to push lawmakers to include legalizing marijuana as part of their 2020 agendas.
At least 10 governors have gone so far as to put language ending marijuana prohibition in their annual budget requests, or used their State of the State speeches to pressure legislators to act on cannabis reform.
Some are proactively addressing the issue, while others appear to be mostly reacting to support that has already built up among lawmakers. But altogether, it’s clear that top state executives are now taking marijuana more seriously than ever before.
Here’s a look at how governors are taking action on marijuana as 2020 legislative sessions get underway.
Gov. Jared Polis (D), who consistently led the fight for federal marijuana reform during his time in Congress, is continuing to champion cannabis now that he’s running his state.
This month, his administration rolled out a “roadmap” aimed at increasing the number of banks that serve legal cannabis businesses. He also announced an energy efficiency partnership between beer and marijuana companies that involves using carbon captured during the alcohol brewing process to grow cannabis plants.
And during his State of the State address last month Polis emphasized that “keeping Colorado the number one state in the nation for industrial hemp” is among his priorities for boosting the economy.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and leading lawmakers are pushing to make 2020 the year that Connecticut legalizes cannabis.
During his State of the State address, the governor spoke about how marijuana legalization in nearby states makes it illogical to continue prohibition. “Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow,” he said. “Right now do you realize that what you can buy legally in Massachusetts right across the border can land you in prison here in Connecticut for up to a year?”
To that end, Lamont has partnered with governors from neighboring states to develop a regional approach to cannabis.
On the governor’s behalf, the Senate president and House speaker have filed a bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut, and Lamont’s budget proposal includes funding for new state employees to craft and implement a regulatory system for cannabis.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who signed a marijuana legalization bill into law last year, has championed its implementation in 2020. His State of the State address included a line touting how the new policy’s out-of-state appeal “gives us a chance to collect tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana,” all of which continue to prohibit recreational cannabis.
Pritzker’s lieutenant governor was among the first people to purchase cannabis products when legal sales began on January 1. The day before, Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people with prior marijuana convictions. Nearly $40 million worth of adult-use cannabis products were purchased in the first month, an economic boost that the governor’s administration prominently touted.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) formally put marijuana legalization on the legislature’s agenda for the short, 30-day session ending later this month.
“It’s high time we stopped holding ourselves and our economy back: Let’s get it done this year and give New Mexicans yet another reason, yet another opportunity, to stay here and work and build a fulfilling 21st century career,” she said during her State of the State speech.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unsuccessfully pushed lawmakers to send him a marijuana legalization bill in 2019, but he’s trying again this year.
“For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said in his 2020 State of the State address. “Let’s work with our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to coordinate a safe and fair system, and let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.”
The governor’s budget includes language to accomplish the end of cannabis prohibition, and he is also proposing to create a new Global Cannabis and Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education in the SUNY system.
For the second year in a row, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) put measures to legalize cannabis in her budget proposal.
Unlike the version that lawmakers rejected in 2019, the new language would create a system of state-owned stores to sell marijuana.
House and Senate leaders have thus far expressed reservations about Raimondo’s plan, but it remains to be seen if they will become more open to legalization as a growing number of nearby states—including Connecticut—move to end prohibition.
Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is no big fan of hemp, having vetoed a bill to legalize the crop that lawmakers sent to her desk last year. But in 2020, recognizing that the plant is incredibly popular and that other states are enacting new laws regulating hemp in light of its recent federal legalization, the governor is working with lawmakers to pass new compromise legislation.
Noem laid out what she called “guardrails” that need to be included in any hemp bill that could get her signature, and she also discussed the issue in her State of the State address.
“Federal guidelines have been put in place, a South Dakota tribe has been given the green light on production, and other states’ actions mean we need to address hemp transportation through our state,” she said.
New hemp legislation has already advanced through one legislative committee, and the governor seems poised to sign it into law this year as long as her concerns are addressed.
Gov. Phil Scott (R) reluctantly signed a 2018 bill into law that legalizes low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation. Now, lawmakers are pushing to add legal cannabis sales to that, and the governor doesn’t appear as opposed as he once did.
A top lawmaker said that Scott is “at the table” in ongoing talks about legislative language. Although he still has concerns about impaired driving, the governor reportedly has his eye on using legal marijuana sales revenue to fund an after-school program he is proposing.
A cannabis commercialization bill cleared the Senate in 2019 and has already been amended and approved by a number of House committees this year, with a floor vote expected in the coming weeks.
While Scott hasn’t committed to signing it into law, advocates have become more hopeful that he won’t block it because of the tax money it can generate to support his other priorities.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) called lawmakers into a special session in December to begin considering a marijuana legalization proposal that he says is needed to generate revenue to support a retirement fund for government employees.
“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits” to the retirement program, he said during his State of the Territory address last month.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on decriminalizing marijuana in 2017 and has continually pushed lawmakers to send him a bill on the topic. Now that the governor’s party won control of both chambers of the legislature in November’s elections, it might actually get done, and he put marijuana decriminalization at the top of his 2020 criminal justice agenda.
“We need to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely,” he said in his State of the Commonwealth speech. “This means decriminalizing marijuana possession—and clearing the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it.”
Cannabis decriminalization legislation has advanced through several House of Delegates and Senate committees in recent weeks, and cleared the full House this week. A Senate floor vote is expected soon.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) included language to legalize medical cannabis and decriminalize marijuana possession in his budget last year, but lawmakers removed those provisions.
But the governor is still pushing the issue, calling out the legislature in his 2020 State of the State speech for ignoring the will of the voters.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana…and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks, something’s wrong,” he said.
The GOP House speaker has expressed some openness to allowing medical cannabis in some form, but Senate leadership is more hostile to the idea. It remains to be seen if gubernatorial pressure can convince lawmakers to advance the issue.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.