Since the beginning of the year, 10 US governors have used their annual budget requests or State of the State speeches to encourage recalcitrant lawmakers to accept the inevitability of cannabis reform.
In drastic comparison to President Trump's new federal budget, which threatens states' rights to legalize medical cannabis, several state governors have rolled legal weed into their new budgets. The governors of four US states and one territory are currently pushing for adult-use legalization in their respective states, and two more governors are aiming for decriminalization this year.
2020's path to cannabis reform started on January 1, when Illinois became the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis. In his State of the State address, Governor J.B. Pritzker celebrated the successful rollout of the state's legal weed industry, which sold a record $40 million of pot in the first month of sales. Illinois is also one of the few states to consider social justice on day one of legalization. On the last day of 2019, Pritzker pardoned over 11,000 former cannabis offenders.
At least four other states and one territory are hoping to follow Illinois' lead in 2020. The governors of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York are all coordinating to bring legal weed to a wide swath of the East Coast this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy both tried to push adult-use bills through their states’ legislative bodies last year, but conservative lawmakers shot down both proposals.
This year, New Jersey is letting its voters decide on adult-use, while New York is trying its luck with an updated legalization bill. Cuomo included adult-use legalization in his new budget bill and separately proposed the creation of a cannabis and hemp program in the state public college system. In his 2020 State of the State address, Cuomo called on lawmakers to “work with our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to coordinate a safe and fair system, and let's legalize the adult use of marijuana,” according to Forbes.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo are both down with this plan. Lamont's new budget proposal sets aside funding for the regulation of adult-use sales and has championed a new bill that would bring adult-use legalization to the Nutmeg State. Gov. Raimondo also added legalization measures to her annual budget for the second year in a row. Lawmakers rejected her proposal last year, but Raimondo has proposed an updated bill that just might have a greater chance of success.
All the way across the country, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham prioritized a cannabis legalization bill in the state legislature's current session, which ends later this month. “It’s high time we stopped holding ourselves and our economy back,” Grisham said in her State of the State address, Forbes reports. And US territories are even stumping up for legal pot. Governor Albert Bryan Jr. called a special legislative session last month dedicated to bringing legal adult-use sales to the US Virgin Islands.
Two other states are considering decriminalization efforts this year. Virginia lawmakers just passed a bill this week that makes possession of up to one ounce of weed punishable by a $50 fine, with no jail time. Governor Ralph Northam, who campaigned on a policy of cannabis decriminalization, is certain to sign the bill into law in a matter of days. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has also added language to decriminalize adult-use and legalize medical marijuana into his annual budget for the past two years. The state legislature shot his reform plans down last year, but Evers is redoubling his efforts in 2020.
Two other governors have introduced plans to advance smaller, but no less important, cannabis reform measures. Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently proposed a program that would improve the energy efficiency of his state's existing adult-use businesses, by partnering with local beer breweries. And South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is finally considering allowing her conservative state to join the other 42 states that have legalized industrial hemp production, after vetoing a similar bill last year.