The U.S.’s 50 state governors just got their annual report cards from a leading national marijuana legalization organization, and—for the first time—over half of them got passing grades.
The new scorecard, released on Wednesday by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), comes at a time when a growing number of governors are focusing on ending cannabis prohibition in their states.
Over the past week, for example, at least eight governors have devoted portions of their inaugural or State of the State speeches to highlighting their support for marijuana law reform.
According to NORML, 27 governors deserve at least a C grade or higher, with nine of those getting an A. The scores denote an increase in the number of state chief executives that are embracing cannabis reform; last year the organization awarded only two A grades.
“This shift in political support among governors bodes well for the prospects of the passage of successful legislative reforms in various states in 2019 and beyond,” the organization said, adding that it anticipates lawmakers in as many as five states may send legalization bills to supportive governors’ desks this or next year.
But while NORML notes that polling shows support for ending marijuana prohibition is becoming less partisan among voters—with a majority of Republicans now on board—that shift hasn’t yet carried over to elected officials.
Of the governors who received passing grades in the new scorecard, 22 are Democrats and only five are Republicans. Meanwhile, 100 percent of those who got A grades are Democrats. On the other end of the scale, the 15 who got D grades and the four who received an F are all GOP governors. No Democrat got less than a C.
“There exists now for the first-time significant political support among a majority of U.S. governors for marijuana policy reform,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in an email. “But this support is also more partisan than ever before—with Democratic governors in growing numbers advocating for change while Republican governors are either remaining silent on the issue or campaigning in opposition to such reforms.”
“Just as Republican voters have evolved on the issue of marijuana policy reform over the past decades, Republican elected officials must do likewise in order to remain in step with the views of the electorate,” he said.
Meanwhile, it appears that marijuana reform is especially popular among newly elected governors, with nearly a third of those taking the gubernatorial oath of office for the first time this year getting an A.
Several recently sworn-in governors specifically campaigned on legalizing cannabis, such as Connecticut’s Ned Lamont (D), Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker (D), Minnesota’s Tim Walz (D) and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D).
Pritzker reiterated his legalization pledge in an inaugural address this week, while Lamont recently said that ending cannabis prohibition would be among his “priorities” for the new legislative session.
Even among those governors who don’t yet personally support full legalization, several are calling for more modest cannabis reforms. In Kansas, new Gov. Laura Kelly (D) said during the campaign that she supports medical marijuana, for example, while Gov. Tony Evers (D) of Wisconsin wants to decriminalize cannabis and let voters decide on broader legalization through a referendum.
“The results of the 2018 midterm elections also show that advocating for marijuana legalization is a successful state-level campaign issue,” Armentano said.
At the same time, seven incumbents received an increase in their grades from last year.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), for example, got a bump from a B- to a B after he recently shifted from saying that the state wasn’t ready to legalize marijuana to now arguing that lawmakers should take a serious look at the issue in light of moves to end prohibition in neighboring states.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved from a C- to B+ after ceasing to call marijuana a “gateway drug” and instead including legalization provisions in his budget request to lawmakers.
The one Republican to get a grade increase was Texas’s Gov. Greg Abbott who during a reelection debate last year indicated that he is open to supporting legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession. He now has a C- compared to his prior D- grade.
Overall, the new grades for governors reflect the fact that marijuana—once an issue laughed off or avoided by elected officials—is now squarely at the center of mainstream American politics.
And, because governors have historically tended to be among the strongest candidates for president, the enthusiasm with which many of them are now embracing cannabis reform says a lot about the future of federal marijuana prohibition.
“Some of these governors at the state level that are advocating most publicly and the loudest in favor of reform do have higher political aspirations after they leave office,” NORML’s Armentano said.
“We’ve already seen among the Democratic party that there is a sense among the would-be presidential candidates that their position on marijuana is somewhat of a litmus test,” he added. “Of the major candidates that have emerged thus far, they are all fairly strong in their advocacy for marijuana law reform.”
Indeed, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who have both launched presidential campaign exploratory committees, support legalization and have sponsored cannabis legislation in Congress, as has fellow candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Former Obama administration Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julián Castro, who recently announced he is running, has said states should be able to implement voter-approved cannabis legalization.
And Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is also considering a presidential run, announced this month that he will grant pardons to people with certain past marijuana convictions. He got an A grade in the new NORML scorecard.
All told, far more ambitious politicians at the state and federal levels are now proudly endorsing popular marijuana reforms than ever before in American history.