And 2018 Is Looking Nice, Too
More politicians are realizing that marijuana reform is a winning issue. Tuesday’s election was a resounding win for cannabis law reform efforts.
And in 2018, with all 435 Congressional seats up for grabs, along with 33 seats in the Senate and 36 governorships, the stakes will be even higher.
The newly elected governors in New Jersey and Virginia campaigned on marijuana legalization and decriminalization, respectively. Neither candidate’s opponent support either legalization, or changing current cannabis policies. Local marijuana ballot measures were approved by voters in Athens, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan.
New Jersey: Governor-Elect Phil Murphy
Incoming New Jersey governor Philip Murphy made marijuana legalization a key part of his platform, even including it in his primary victory speech in June. Murphy wants cannabis to be legal for adults 21 and older within 100 days of taking office. He’s said he’s ready sign a legalization bill when it arrives on his desk.
“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” Murphy said after he won the Democratic primary, reports German Lopez at Vox. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”
That makes quite a change from the outgoing administration of the infamous Chris Christie, who, according to The Hill, is the most unpopular governor in the United States. Christie is very opposed to legalization, and in fact has called the idea “beyond stupid,” reports Claude Brodesser-Akner at NJ Advance Media.
State legislators appear ready to send a legalization bill to his desk in 2018, reports Susan K. Livio at NJ Advance Media. That means New Jersey could be the next state to regulate cannabis like alcohol, and the first to do it via an act of lawmakers instead of through a ballot initiative.
“Candidates across the country should take notice, as Phil Murphy won the Governor’s seat soundly because of, not in spite of, his open and vocal support for legalizing marijuana — a position supported by 65 percent of New Jersey voters and 64 percent of Americans nationwide,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri of the election.
“NORML looks forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy and other stakeholders in the state to end the disastrous policy of marijuana prohibition and to implement the moral, economic, and scientifically sound policy of legalization and regulation in the Garden State,” Altieri said.
Currently in New Jersey, a possession conviction of anything under 50 grams of weed can get you six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The ACLU-NJ found that the cops make a marijuana possession arrest in New Jersey every 22 minutes, on average, and that black New Jerseyans are three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than whites — despite similar rates of usage.
Virginia: Governor-Elect Ralph Northam
Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam championed marijuana decriminalization on the campaign trail, often bringing it up during debates and on social media. Northam often described the issue in racial justice terms during the run-up to the election, reports Tom Angell at Forbes.
“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana,” Northam wrote in a blog post early this year. “African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”
He also spoke about the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
As a physician, Northam said he is “increasingly convinced by the data showing potential health benefits of marijuana, such as pain relief, drug-resistant epilepsy, and treatment for PTSD,” his campaign website says. “By decriminalizing it, our researchers can better study the plant so doctors can more effectively prescribe drugs made from it.”
Northam tweeted about cannabis reform a number of times in the run-up to the election.
A potential change to Democratic control of the state’s House of Delegates could help the new governor move cannabis legislation when he takes office.
“These election results show that marijuana reform is a winning issue, and one that isn’t going away,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “Candidates across the country should take note: marijuana reform is now more popular than almost any politician, so would-be elected officials should listen to the public and make it a key part of their platforms.”
“Following our big wins at the ballot box in 2016, last night’s results show that marijuana reform only continues to gain momentum,” said Sam Tracy, Marijuana Majority board member. “Next year, multiple states will be voting on whether to legalize marijuana for medical or adult use, and candidates in races for state and federal office will be asked about these issues, so they’d do well to come up with good answers.
“As the public becomes even more supportive of legalization, we expect these victories to continue,” Tracy said.
In October, Gallup reported that its latest survey found record support for regulating marijuana like alcohol, with 64 percent of voters supporting legalization.
Support for medical marijuana is even higher, with Quinnipiac finding 94 percent support for allowing medical patients to use it legally.