GOP & Democratic Governor Candidates Agree: Legalize Marijuana

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Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren

Legalizing marijuana is going to be a huge issue in 2018 gubernatorial races.

Take, for example, the candidates for governor from both major parties who held press conferences to discuss ending cannabis prohibition in the past week.

On Monday, New York Republican gubernatorial hopeful Joel Giambra unveiled a proposal to legalize marijuana and use the resulting tax revenue to fund subway repairs and other transportation projects.

“I think that legalizing marijuana and using the revenues to create an infrastructure fund to deal with these problems is a much more appropriate way to solve our problems than raising new taxes,” he said.

And in Illinois, Democrat JB Pritzker spoke about the benefits of ending cannabis criminalization and taxing its sales before an assembled group of reporters on Friday.

“Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer. What it’s done is disproportionately impact black and brown communities,” he said. “The criminalization of cannabis never has been and never will be enforced fairly, and it’s time to bring that to an end.”

The two candidates’ vocal support for legalization highlights how marijuana is poised to play a more prominent role in many of the nation’s 36 races for state governorships this year.

Democratic and GOP Candidates in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and other states have all backed some form of marijuana law reform, ranging from full legalization to allowing medical cannabis.

In California, Colorado, Maine and other states that have already enacted legalization, gubernatorial contenders are vowing to stand up to potential attacks on their cannabis laws by the Trump administration. If elected, they may have to follow through on those pledges, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

Cannabis played a central role in the nation’s two 2017 gubernatorial races.

New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn in as governor on Tuesday, campaigned on legalization, often touting the tax revenue that could be generated from legal cannabis sales.

In Virginia, new Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, made marijuana decriminalization a centerpiece of his campaign, often describing the issue in stark racial justice terms.

The two are now expected to shepherd those promised cannabis reforms to enactment.

Gubernatorial races are just one lens through which to view the rapidly evolving politics of marijuana. Polling from major firms like Gallup, Pew and Quinnipiac shows that a growing majority of U.S. voters now supports legalization.

U.S. House Senate candidates and 2020 presidential contenders are also staking out far-reaching marijuana reform stances, something that would have seemed unimaginable just a few election cycles ago. For decades, cannabis was seen as a marginalized third-rail of politics that was dangerous to discuss lest candidates be attacked as “soft on crime.”

But those perceptions have changed as voters themselves have taken matters into their own hands and strongly approved marijuana ballot measures, demonstrating that legalization is a winning issue.

While it is by no means certain that challengers like New York’s Giambra or Illinois’s Pritzker will win their parties’ nominations — let alone unseat anti-legalization incumbent governors of opposite parties who are running for reelection in November — the fact that they are proactively calling press conferences to tout their cannabis law reform credentials shows that marijuana has arrived squarely at the forefront of mainstream American politics.

A number of states are expected to pass bills or ballot measures legalizing marijuana or allowing medical cannabis this year.

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