On March 1, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Like many in the crowded Democrat field of candidates, he appears to have been advised that campaigns in this cycle need to support marijuana legalization. There are reasons to doubt his sincerity.
Inslee was elected governor in 2012. Washington voters also approved I-502 that year legalizing marijuana in the Evergreen State. Inslee opposed I-502, which may have cost him votes. Luckily for him, his opponent also was against the measure.
Inslee’s position on marijuana has evolved since taking office and he’s now trying hard to be seen as embracing the concept of legalization.
For example, when Inslee was a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO last April 20, he joked in the “Overtime” session about marijuana being a “growing industry and well-regulated ” in Washington State. “I can honestly say we’ve got the best weed in the United States of America,” he crowed.
Inslee even recently admitted during an interview on BuzzFeed’s AM2DM show that he legally grows cannabis. “Well, I may not smoke it, but I do grow it legally and we’ve got the best weed in America from the state of Washington,” the Governor repeated.
Governor Inslee’s position on marijuana has evolved since taking office and he’s now trying hard to be seen as embracing the concept of legalization.
A spokesperson for Inslee later said the governor doesn’t actually cultivate marijuana himself. That would be illegal, unless he had a commercial license, since Washington’s adult-use law famously excludes home cultivation.
Inslee now says he supports legalization, but what does that mean? It’s a broad concept and the devil is in the details. There are some very specific concerns that Inslee needs to address, particularly Washington’s ban on home cultivation.
He has a chance to rectify that this session. Bills have been introduced in the Washington state legislature that would allow adults to legally cultivate several plants for personal use. Unfortunately, SB 5155 and HB 1131 are both stuck in committee.
There are other problems with Governor Inslee. Back in 2016, he vetoed a hemp research bill. The legislature then overrode the veto. Rather than give up, the governor continued to be an obstacle by refusing to include funds for the hemp program in the budget.
In 2015, Governor Inslee signed the Cannabis Patients Protection Act (SB 5052). That measure had been opposed by advocates, and for good reason. The law resulted in the closure of more than 1,500 dispensaries, with only 222 licensed shops left standing. It also allowed some people to game the system by gaining an unfair advantage over established medical providers.
On February 26, a bipartisan group of Washington legislators wrote to Inslee complaining that the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) has a “toxic culture.” They’re urging him to rescind his reappointment of WSLCB board member Russ Hauge, who was district attorney for Kitsap County from 1994 until 2014.
Governor Inslee to Bill Maher: “I can honestly say we’ve got the best weed in the United States of America.”
On January 10, Inslee announced a plan to pardon some people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records. His Marijuana Justice Initiative allows some applicants to be pardoned. The governor’s office estimated that “roughly 3,500 individuals are eligible under this Initiative.”
The number of potential applicants is so small because the plan is extremely restrictive. Still, it’s a start. Or is it? According to figures obtained by the Seattle Times, only 160 people applied in the Initiative’s first month of operation. Just 13 of those applicants were actually successful. Most applicants didn’t qualify.
Even if it turns out that the 3,500-people estimate was too high, people in Washington with a conviction for a minor marijuana offense may be in luck. Washington State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon has introduced House Bill 1500, which would allow people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions to apply to the courts to have their convictions expunged.
The state police have estimated that more than 200,000 misdemeanor convictions could be vacated if HB 1500 is passed into law. If an applicant meets the necessary conditions, then the courts are required to vacate the conviction. Governor Inslee reportedly supports HB 1500.
Of course, Governor Inslee is not solely running on his marijuana record. The Governor’s main focus is climate change. Anyone familiar with hemp knows it can help improve the environment. With hemp now federally legal, Inslee needs to jump on that bandwagon before his fledgling campaign falters.
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