In a sign of how the debate over marijuana legalization is emerging as one of the most pressing issues at the forefront of American politics, several governors have recently addressed the issue.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), a day after beginning his third term in office, said in a radio interview that his “bias is towards legalization” and that he thinks his state will end prohibition sooner or later. In 2013, he signed a bill into law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Last year, the legislature passed a bill mandating that the state study the potential impact of legalization. That report, put together by the RAND Corporation, was released Friday.
In Rhode Island, newly elected Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), told the local NBC affiliate last week that she thinks legalization is going to happen and the state should figure out how to do it right. Legalization “is absolutely something that we should evaluate,” she said, “because if we think it’s inevitable, and if there’s a way to do it that is properly regulated so people don’t get hurt, it’s something that we should look at.” In recent years, the state legislature has legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized possession. A full legalization bill gained cosponsorship from nearly half the General Assembly last session, but was not put to a vote. The incoming governor’s remarks about the inevitability of ending prohibition could spur lawmakers to move the issue this year.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) opposed legalization when it was on his state’s ballot in 2012 and even called voters “reckless” after they approved it by a wide margin. Recently, however, the governor, who just began his second term, has changed his tune. On Thursday, he devoted a section of his State of the State speech to the issue, saying, “evidence shows that our regulatory system is beginning to work.” Noting that think tanks like the Brookings Institution have praised Colorado’s implementation of the law, he pointed to the state’s “robust regulations that allow the industry to develop and prosper in a safe and legitimate way.”
And it’s not just Democratic governors who are speaking out about the need for drug policy reform. Outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who previously endorsed marijuana decriminalization and backed the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference, slammed the failure of the war on drugs in his farewell speech to the state legislature on Thursday. “Over the years I have come to see our approach to non-violent drug offenders as flawed,” he said. “We must remember when it comes to the disease of addiction the issue is not helping bad people become good, but sick people become well. Turning to diversion programs hasn’t made us soft on crime, it’s made us smart on crime.”
With legalization all but certain to be on the ballot in several states in 2016 and the possibility that a number of state legislatures could take up the topic this year, it seems likely that more governors will soon feel compelled to address the issue.