To kick off the 2019 state legislative season, we released out 2019 Gubernatorial Scorecard. This extensive database assigns a letter grade "A" through "F" to states' governors based upon their comments and voting records specific to matters of marijuana policy.
Following last spring’s publication of our 2018 Scorecard, there has been a dramatic shift in opinion among elected officials in favor of marijuana policy reform. Never before have so many state governors gone on record and pledged their support for legalizing the responsible use of cannabis by adults.
As a result, there is expected to be unprecedented levels of legislative activity at the state level in 2019 and in 2020 surrounding the need to regulate the commercial cannabis market.
Twenty-seven U.S. governors received a passing grade of "C" or higher (22 Democrats, 5 Republicans).
Of these, nine U.S. governors — all Democrats — received an "A" grade; this marks a significant increase since 2018, when only two governors received "A" grades. They are:
- Gavin Newsom: California
- Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado loosens restrictions on antibody treatment, holds off on mask mandate Lobbying world Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Pfizer seeks authorization for antiviral pill MORE: Colorado
- Ned Lamont: Connecticut
- J.B. Pritzker: Illinois
- Gretchen Whitmer: Michigan
- Tim WalzTim WalzMinnesota confirms US's second omicron case Pentagon sending medical teams to Minnesota hospitals amid surge in COVID-19 cases Minneapolis votes down measure replacing police department MORE: Minnesota
- Phil Murphy: New Jersey
- Kate Brown: Oregon
- Jay Inslee: Washington
Of the 24 Republican governors receiving a letter grade, only five (21 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher.
Of the 22 Democratic governors receiving a letter grade, all of them (100 percent) received a passing grade of "C" or higher.
Among the 20 governors taking office for the first time in 2019, six (30 percent) received an "A" grade. All are Democrats.
For the first time, there exists significant political support among a majority of U.S. governors for marijuana policy reform. However, this support is more partisan than ever before. While almost half of all Democratic governors are now on record in support of adult use regulation, no Republican governors publicly advocate for this policy. This partisan divide is not similarly reflected among the general public. According to national polling data compiled by Gallup in October 2018, 66 percent of the public — including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans and Independents — favor legalization.
The results of the 2018 midterm elections also show that advocating for marijuana legalization is a successful state-level campaign issue, as 30 percent of newly elected governors are on record voicing support for legalization.
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. While to date only one state — Vermont — has moved to legalize adult marijuana use via legislation (as opposed to the passage of voter initiatives), it appears likely that as many as four to five additional states (e.g., Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Rhode Island) may similarly do so in the near future.
Finally, it is clear that Republican governors are seriously out-of-step with the sentiment of voters when it comes to the issue of cannabis law reform. Of the nineteen governors receiving either "D" or "F" grades — indicating a strong opposition to legalizing marijuana for any purpose whatsoever, including medical purposes — all were Republicans. Yet such strong opposition, particularly to the question of medical cannabis access, is not shared by most Republicans. In short, just as Republican voters have evolved on the issue of marijuana policy reform over the past decades, Republican elected officials must do likewise.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.