Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells 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."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/02/highlighting-the-perspectives-of-governors-in-dynamic-marijuana-reform-times.html

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