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The 6 Best Governors for Cannabis Policy… And the 6 Worst

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California's governor Jerry Brown barely earned sixth place on the list of best governors for pot policy.
Photo Neon Tommy


The 6 Best Governors for Cannabis Policy… And the 6 Worst

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 2018 midterm elections are around the corner, and many states have governors up for re-election — which means its time to examine their policy record on all things marijuana.

This week, the national cannabis advocacy group NORML released their 2018 Gubernatorial Scorecard to break down the pot positions of governors around the United States. We analyzed the results and have broken down which governors are at the top of the class and which flunked out.

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.

Honor Roll: The 6 Best Governors for Cannabis Legalization

Phil Murphy, New Jersey — A

After eight years under the leadership of anti-pot governor Chris Christie, New Jersey now has one of the most progressive governors in the country on cannabis. Murphy got the ball rolling with executive orders quickly after his election to modernize New Jersey’s medical program. He’s also ready for the next step. “Legalization will allow us to reinvest directly in our communities – especially the urban neighborhoods hardest hit by the misguided War on Drugs – in their economic development, in health care and housing, child care and after-school programs, and other critical areas,” Murphy said in a recent budget address. “These investments will pay dividends far greater than the cost of mass incarceration.”

Kate Brown, Oregon — A

Brown was one of the first governors to stand up to the threat of interference from the Department of Justice into state marijuana industries. “States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people,” she said in a statement. “Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.” In 2016, Brown also signed off on legalizing hash and edibles in 2016.

Bill Walker, Alaska — B+

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.

Phil Scott, Vermont — B+

The most reluctant member of our Honor Roll, Scott has taken a “I guess so” approach to marijuana legalization, which has been fascinating to watch in a time of hyper-polarized politics. Scott was the first governor ever to sign legislation passed by both chambers of a state legislature that legalized the possession and use of marijuana by adults. Despite the fact that the bill did not create a regulated cannabis industry, this move being counted as the first legalization by pen and not the ballot box. As for a full-scale industry, it’s not high on Scott’s to-do list.

Jay Inslee, Washington — B+

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.”

Jerry Brown, California — B

As the author of California’s 2008 Attorney General Guidelines, which he wrote for state licensed businesses to help them be as compliant as possible, Brown definitely has the longest policy relationship with pot of any other governor on the list. Under his watch, California has now semi-effectively merged the Adult Use of Marijuana Act with the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act — which he was a big catalyst behind. While many other governors received a B grade, Brown’s long-standing relationship with cannabis and his interesting relationship with the Justice Department earned him the nod over the rest of the pack.

Summer School: The 6 Worst Governors for Cannabis Legalization

Doug Doucey, Arizona — F

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.

Pete Ricketts, Nebraska — F

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.

Susana Martinez, New Mexico — F

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.

Greg Abbott, Texas — D

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.

Butch Otter, Idaho — F

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.

Paul LePage, Maine — D

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.

TELL US, is your governor on this list? Who do you think are the best and worst governors for cannabis policy?

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