At least eight states will have new governors in 2023: Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Overall, 36 gubernatorial seats are being contested on Nov. 8 ballots, with the winner of each race gaining executive power to advance and pursue new and revised state policies and programs, including medical and adult-use cannabis.

From executive orders to budget proposals and vetoes, current and former governors have already steered, blocked or impacted cannabis legalization efforts in some fashion since California voters first approved Proposition 215 for a medical program in 1996, and since Colorado and Washington voters first passed adult-use ballot measures in 2012.

While legalization in any form is what’s at stake in states like Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska, which have some of the most restrictive cannabis policies in the nation, government officials in states like California and Oregon continue to seek new strategies and regulations to combat illicit activities and help struggling businesses in mature markets.

Furthermore, gubernatorial races in Arkansas, Maryland and South Dakota, where voters will also be casting ballots on adult-use cannabis measures, hold major implications for program rollouts should those measures pass. Missouri and North Dakota also have 2022 adult-use ballot measures, but no governor races are unfolding there this election cycle.

South Dakota perhaps provides a telling example of how one state executive has exercised her power to avert reform. Incumbent Republican Gov. Kristi Noem issued an executive order in January 2021, asserting that voter-approved Amendment A (adult-use cannabis) was unconstitutional, and launched a taxpayer-funded lawsuit challenging the 2020 ballot measure, paving way for the state’s Supreme Court to eventually strike it down. Voters could find redemption in 2022.

Meanwhile, a few key toss-up races to keep tabs on in 2022 include:

Arizona (open race) Republican candidate Kari Lake holds a 2.5-point lead over Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, according to an October Data Orbital poll. Kansas Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly holds a 2-point lead on Republican challenger Derek Schmidt, according to a September Emerson College poll. Nevada Republican challenger Joe Lombardo holds a 1-point lead on Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak, according to an October Data for Progress poll. Oregon (open race) Republican candidate Christine Drazan holds a 1-point lead over Democrat Tina Kotek, according to an October Data for Progress poll. Wisconsin Republican challenger Tim Michels holds a 1-point lead over Democratic incumbent Tony Evers, according to an October Data for Progress poll.

Below, Cannabis Business Times has rounded up candidate stances on cannabis for all 36 gubernatorial races with additional insights on what the election results could mean for each state’s current or forthcoming cannabis industry.

Alabama

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Kay Ivey

2022 Candidates:

Kay Ivey (Republican)Yolanda Flowers (Democrat)James Blake (Libertarian)Jared Budlong (Independent)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

Alabama became the 36th state in the nation to legalize cannabis for medical use in May 2021 after Senate Bill 46 was overwhelmingly approved in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law, according to Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

Alabama is projected to make $600 million in its first three years of cannabis sales, according to projections by enterprise software provider Akerna.

The state has recently embarked on the cannabis business licensing process for its limited license market. Prospective licensees must have requested an application from the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) by Oct. 17.  The commission received 607 requests for applications. The state will award 12 cultivation licenses, four processor licenses, four dispensary licenses (each licensee may operate three dispensing sites) and five integrated facility licenses (each licensee may operate five dispensing sites). Secure transport and testing licenses have no limits.

AMCC Director John McMillan shared with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5 that the University of South Alabama “is going to be the lead entity working with other universities in the state and also with other experts in different fields of license application to identify the very best qualified candidates that we possibly can to award licenses, probably next June.”

The Legislature failed to pass a decriminalization bill in 2021, leaving Alabama as one of only 19 states that jails residents for simple possession of cannabis, per MPP. (Possession is the fourth-most common felony in the state, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission.)

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Kay Ivey: While Gov. Ivey signed the state’s highly restrictive medical cannabis bill into law last year, it is unlikely she will move to pardon those serving time for possession charges after President Biden called on state governors to do so in his federal pardoning announcement on Oct. 6. After the announcement, Gina Maiola, Ivey’s communication director, shared with CBS’ WIAT that “even if the board could grant an across-the-board pardon, it would only impact a very small fraction, less than 1 percent of those currently serving sentences in our state.”

Yolanda Flowers: While Flowers’ official stance on adult-use legalization and decriminalization is unknown, she is a supporter of medical cannabis legalization, telling to Alabama Today, that cannabis “is an herb, it is a natural plant. I just hope that we keep it as natural and pure as possible without mixing a lot of chemicals into it. God gave the herbs for our use.” CBT reached out to the Flowers team for comment but did not receive a response as of press time.

James Blake: According to a campaign tweet posted Oct. 8, Blake stated: “Libertarians fully oppose the failed ‘war on drugs’ and further believe that cannabis prohibition has done considerable harm to the economy, overburdened the criminal justice system, and destroyed lives and families far more than cannabis itself. We call for full legalization of cannabis to support independent [farmers] in a competitive market, new hemp-based industry, medical patients, and the rights of all free individuals to choose what they consume.”

Jared Budlong: According to Budlong’s campaign website: “At this point, I fully support decriminalizing marijuana day 1 in office. Legalizing I hesitate to say yes because of problems like we’re seeing with the licensing for medical cannabis. The current legislature makes it functionally impossible to grow cannabis unless you are a wealthy person or group who can afford the $30,000-50,000 licenses. By design, our state only has a limited number of these licenses. Additionally, I’m concerned about the process of making it legal. Currently, there are untold numbers of individuals and groups selling and growing cannabis illegally who will, without consideration when formulating the change, be negatively impacted by wealthy groups who could afford the license. I’m researching solutions to safely discover the number of people currently operating and using illegally with the end goal of understanding how much effort will be needed to mitigate the negative impact of legalizing marijuana as quickly as possible.”

– Cassie Tomaselli

Alaska

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy

2022 Candidates:

Mike Dunleavy (Republican)Les Gara (Democrat) Charlie Pierce (Republican) Bill Walker (Independent)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

While cannabis has been fully legal in Alaska since 2015, Gov. Dunleavy launched an Advisory Task Force on Recreational Marijuana in September to review the state’s current tax and fee structures, as well as current regulations—and provide suggestions for program improvement.

The Alaska House voted to seal records of about 8,500 Alaskans convicted of low-level, cannabis-related crimes on April 20. The Senate, which introduced a companion bill in 2019, has yet to vote on the issue. Those two versions must be unified before a final bill can be sent to the governor’s desk.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Mike Dunleavy: Dunleavy expressed support for the record sealing on April 20 with a tweet saying, “I support lawmakers’ work to clear criminal records of Alaskans with low-level marijuana offenses. Alaskans should not be met with barriers for conduct that is no longer a crime under state law.” In regard to pardons for simple possession following Biden’s announcement on Oct. 6, Dunleavy’s team told Alaska’s News Source, “In Alaska, we do not have anyone in jail for simple possession of marijuana. As to the federal action, no executive clemency actions have been taken yet, so it is difficult to comment until we see the actual action take place.”

Les Gara: Gara’s stance appears to be friendly to cannabis businesses. Gara and his running mate Jessica Cook hosted a cannabis business roundtable in December, where he shared that listening to the industry would be important to his administration, according to KINY Radio. “Working together, finding solutions, listening to what the industry would like to see,” Cook said. “What options are there that have been put forth in other states that have legalized cannabis as businesses? You know, [see] what works in other places, and to see how we can make solutions happen in Alaska.”

Charlie Pierce: From 2006 to 2012, Pierce served as a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Alaska. In 2017, he was elected as mayor of the Borough. and his term ends this year. In an email to CBT, Pierce said on the topic of decriminalization, he supports “efforts to reduce low-level convictions.” With pardoning jail sentences, he would support “pardons for low-level convictions and would evaluate cases.” In terms of how he would work with current licensed businesses to better support the industry, Pierce said, “I would be willing to look at permitting processes, and evaluate current requirements of doing businesses. I do not support lowering taxes on sales.”

Bill Walker: Walker served as the 11th governor of Alaska from 2014 to 2018. During his time as governor, the state rolled out its adult-use cannabis program and appointed a Marijuana Control Board to regulate the industry. In 2018, when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended Obama-era cannabis guidelines not to stand in the way of legal cannabis, Walker pledged to fight back to “uphold the will of Alaska voters,” according to The Associated Press.

– Cassie Tomaselli

Arizona

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is not running for reelection due to term limits.

2022 Candidates:

Katie Hobbs (Democrat)Kari Lake (Republican)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

Arizona has a robust and progressive cannabis market, even compared to other adult-use states. The state, which legalized medical cannabis in 2010, and adult-use cannabis in 2020, also legalized 1 ounce of possession, as well as home cultivation of up to six plants. Since July, those with low-level cannabis convictions can petition to have those records sealed.

In 2021, Arizona adult-use cannabis sales totaled $593.6 million, and medical sales totaled $757.8 million, according to reporting by CBT. Cannabis sales also brought in $105 million in excise tax revenue to the state—surpassing alcohol’s excise taxes, which totaled $92 million, according to the Institution of Taxation and Economy policy.

Neither candidate has conveyed a public stance on cannabis as part of her campaign platform; however, Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs appears to be somewhat friendlier to toward cannabis, compared to Republican candidate Kari Lake (see below).

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Katie Hobbs: As Secretary of State, Hobbs certified the legalization measure that placed the adult-use initiative on the ballot in 2020 in Arizona. She has earned a C- rating from NORML, which states, “despite long reputation for reforming agenda, [she] refuses to answer anything on marijuana, [and is] unpleasant and cold when working with local NORML chapter.” According to Phoenix New Times, “Hobbs has expressed vague support for Proposition 207 and legalization of medical marijuana, but has not been outspoken about the issues,” NORML explained in its review of her record.

Kari Lake: Phoenix New Times reports that Lake received an F rating from Arizona NORML. Lake hasn’t made an official stance on cannabis that CBT was able to locate. In 2018, when Lake was a Local 10 news anchor, she accused a teacher movement #RedForEd without evidence on both Twitter and Facebook as being a cover to “legalize pot,” drawing backlash. (Lake later apologized.) In 2019, leaked audio from a hot mic at the news station revealed Lake calling the Phoenix New Times “a rag for selling marijuana,” reported the Washington Post.

Neither candidate appears to have commented publicly on Biden’s early October announcement urging governors to pardon those convicted and/or jailed for simple possession.

– Cassie Tomaselli

Arkansas

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is not running for reelection due to term limits.

2022 Candidates:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Republican)Chris Jones (Democrat)Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

Arkansas voters will cast ballots on Responsible Growth Arkansas’ adult-use legalization amendment in this November’s election. Should that measure pass, the next governor will hold veto power over subsequent legislation for a licensed program rollout.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders served as the White House Press Secretary for President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019. She also managed the 2016 presidential campaign for her father (and former governor of Arkansas) Mike Huckabee and served as a senior adviser for Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. Regarding Responsible Growth’s 2022 ballot initiative, Sanders told reporters Oct. 3 she plans to vote against the measure. “I don’t think that with the drug epidemic that we have across this state, frankly across the country, that adding and giving more access to that does anything to benefit Arkansas, so I certainly wouldn’t be supportive of that,” she said, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Chris Jones’ career experience includes working as a physicist, minister, educator and nonprofit leader. Jones announced his support of Responsible Growth’s 2022 ballot measure in early August on his campaign website. He said, “I support the thoughtful decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, and I support the Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the ballot this November 8. Regardless of what one thinks personally about the prospect of legal recreational marijuana, the revenue created by this ballot initiative would support general fund investments that can unlock the potential of Arkansas—in areas like education starting with preschool, infrastructure starting with broadband, and economic development starting with jobs—while supporting the state drug court program, UAMS, and law enforcement.”

Ricky Dale Harrington Jr.’s career experience includes working as the president of the Libertarian Policy Institute, the vice president of Azure Behavioral Health and the CEO of Harrington Consulting. Harrington announced his support of Responsible Growth’s 2022 ballot measure in early August, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but he said he wishes the proposal was “a little more open to get into that business.” He said he preferred the Arkansas True Grass committee’s failed 2022 proposal that would not have capped the number of cannabis businesses in the state and would have automatically released people who are incarcerated solely because of a cannabis-related charge.

-Tony Lange

California

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom

2022 Candidates:

Gavin Newsom (Democrat)Brian Dahle (Republican) 

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake? 

The governor of California is responsible for passing or vetoing legislation that alters the makeup of the state’s cannabis industry, and that may otherwise affect the industry and cannabis consumers and patients. The governor also has authority over executive agencies such as the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC), the California cannabis industry’s regulatory body. At a time when industry members have raised concerns about statewide issues such as high taxes, local moratoriums on cannabis business activity, and competition with the illicit market, the industry, consumers and patients largely rely on the governor to address them.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Gavin Newsom has served as California governor since 2019 and was previously lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2019, with his back-to-back executive terms in Sacramento extending from before the 2016 passage of Proposition 64 to his signature approval of major recent cannabis-related bills. In 2022, for example, Newsom passed budget trailer Assembly Bill 195, which eliminated the state’s cannabis cultivation tax, and A.B. 2188, which protects workers from employment discrimination for using cannabis off the job. Last month, Newsom signed 10 cannabis-related bills into law in one day, with those bills running the gamut from allowing interstate commerce under certain conditions (Senate Bill 1326), to explicitly allowing insurance agents to work with cannabis companies (A.B. 2568), to disallowing local jurisdictions from implementing bans on the retail sale of medical cannabis (S.B. 1186). In 2020, Newsom proposed the merger of three agencies, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch and CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, into one single entity. The DCC was formed the following year.

NORML gave Newsom an A- in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

Brian Dahle, who has served as a state senator in California’s first district since 2019, is a third-generation farmer who grows cereal grains in Lassen County in northeastern California. A priority of Dahle’s campaign is to reduce crime and drug use. As senator, he has said the California government should provide enforcement actions against the illicit cannabis market. Dahle is advocating to reestablish the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which was dismantled a decade ago, to contain organized drug trafficking. In 2022, cannabis-related bills Dahle voted for included A.B. 195 and A.B. 1706, both signed into law by Newsom. (A.B. 1706 states that if the prosecution in certain cannabis cases “did not challenge the recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation of a conviction on or before July 1, 2020, the conviction shall be deemed unchallenged, recalled, dismissed, and redesignated, as applicable, and the court shall issue an order, recalling or dismissing the sentence, dismissing and sealing, or redesignating the conviction in each case pursuant to Section 11361.8 no later than March 1, 2023.”) Dahle voted against S.B. 1326, S.B. 1186 and A.B. 2188, as well as A.B. 2210, which has also been signed into law and allows cannabis licensees to have temporary licenses to retail cannabis at events under specific conditions.

NORML gave Dahle a D+ in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

-Patrick Williams 

Colorado

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Jared Polis

2022 Candidates:

Jared Polis (Democrat)Heidi Ganahl (Republican)Danielle Neuschwanger (American Constitution)Kevin Ruskusky (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

Colorado is coming up on its 10th anniversary since voters passed adult-use cannabis legalization via Amendment 64 in the November 2012 election. The Centennial State was the first to roll out commercial adult-use sales in January 2014. But, for the first time since that sales launch, Colorado’s retail market is on track to shrink year-over-year in 2022. Through the first eight months of this year, adult-use sales were down roughly 10.4% compared to 2021, according to data from Colorado Department of Revenue. As industry operators continue to face myriad obstacles as western cannabis markets mature, the lead executive in Colorado will be charged in helping to navigate a path forward, from proposed legislation on regulating intoxicating hemp products to cannabis consumption lounges, worker protections, social equity programs and more.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Jared Polis has served as Colorado’s governor since January 2019. Prior to his governorship, Polis served on the Colorado Board of Education from 2001 to 2007 and as a member of the U.S. House from 2009 to 2019. He was an outspoken advocate for legalization while in Congress and sponsored several bills to amend federal cannabis laws, according to advocacy group NORML. In July 2022, Polis issued an executive order to protect employees’ off-duty cannabis use. In that order, he said, “The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our state. No one who lawfully consumes, possesses, cultivates or processes marijuana pursuant to Colorado law should be subject to professional sanctions or denied a professional license in Colorado. This includes individuals who consume, possess, cultivate or process marijuana in another state in a manner that would be legal under Colorado law.”

Heidi Ganahl has served as an elected at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents since 2017. She is perhaps best known as the founder of Camp Bow Wow, one of the largest pet care franchises in the world. Regarding cannabis, there’s no mention of the word on her list of priorities on her campaign website. And Ganahl’s campaign declined to offer her plans on cannabis to Westword in September. Her spokesperson offered the following statement to the news source: “The voters have already decided on the legalization of marijuana in our state. We must respect the will of the voters. We also have to protect our kids from the black market. In addition to that, Governor Jared Polis refused to put a cap on THC potency in marijuana and so it is unlimited here in our state. High potency marijuana is causing major issues for our kids—schizophrenia and psychotic breaks. Marijuana is also the most prevalent substance in children who commit suicide in Colorado. We must do better for our kids.”

Danielle Neuschwanger is running on a third-party ticket for governor after failing to qualify for the Republican primary ballot, falling short of the 30% support from the state Assembly she needed, 9NEWS reported in April. Her career experience includes owning Wild Buck Realty. She also is a cattle rancher and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, according to BallotPedia. Neuschwanger does not have a campaign policy specifically outlining her cannabis stance on her website, but Colorado NewsLine quoted her in February saying, “When Governor Polis is ruining our economy and taking money out of your pockets and lining marijuana companies’ pockets, I believe that he belongs in a jail cell.”

Kevin Ruskusky is a schoolteacher running a campaign, in part, to improve Colorado’s educational system on the Libertarian ticket. The primary issues listed on his campaign website indicate he supports environmental protections, gun safety and freedom of choice for abortions. In a statement to CBT, Ruskusky said, “My belief on cannabis is, it should be legal to anyone over the age of 21.”

-Tony Lange

Connecticut

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont

2022 Candidates:

Ned Lamont (Democrat)Bob Stefanowski (Republican)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

Gov. Ned Lamont signed Connecticut’s adult-use cannabis program into law in June 2021. The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) began accepting adult-use business license applications in February 2022, and officials ultimately received more than 37,000 applications for the 56 available licenses, which will be divided evenly among general applicants and social equity applicants. The DCP began announcing the license winners in July, but litigation challenging the licensing process prompted the state to allow five of the previously rejected social equity applicants to resubmit their applications.

As businesses are licensed and beginning operations, commercial adult-use cannabis sales are expected to launch later this year.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s medical cannabis program has 50,208 registered patients as of Oct. 23, according to the DCP’s website.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Ned Lamont is a longtime advocate of cannabis legalization and participated in a regional cannabis summit in 2019 with former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to discuss a unified approach to adult-use legalization. Lamont was also vocal about making cannabis policy reform a legislative priority in the years leading up to the passage of Connecticut’s adult-use legalization law.

A proponent of social equity in the adult-use market, Lamont issued a statement in June 2021, when the adult-use legalization bill reached his desk, saying, “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”

Bob Stefanowski may not be as willing to embrace cannabis as his Democratic opponent, as evidenced by a controversy that played out earlier this year. When Lamont shared a clip on social media of a country song by Rusty Gear that mentioned that it’s “cool to smoke some pot” in Connecticut, Stefanowski clapped back and asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate Lamont for allegedly violating Connecticut’s cannabis advertising laws. Specifically, Stefanowski claimed that per Connecticut’s law, promoting the use of cannabis on social media is prohibited unless there is proof that at least 90% of the audience is 21 years of age or older.

Eyewitness News reached out to Connecticut Attorney General William Tong in June for comment, and Tong replied that Stefanowski’s request was “inappropriate and unethical.” He added, “I will not allow my office, and our investigative authority, to be weaponized by a political campaign. As attorney general, I represent the governor in his official capacity, without regard to the governor’s party affiliation. Were Mr. Stefanowski the governor, I would take the same position as I do now.”

Stefanowski also ran against Lamont in Connecticut’s 2018 gubernatorial election; at that time, while Lamont said he would make adult-use cannabis legalization a priority in the state, Stefanowski said the issue should not take precedence, according to NORML.

-Melissa Schiller

Florida

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis

2022 Candidates: 

Ron DeSantis (Republican)Charlie Crist (Democrat) Hector Roos (Libertarian)Carmen Gimenez (no party affiliation)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

While there’s nothing on the ballot in the 2022 election, a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older has been filed and would need roughly 900,000 signatures to appear on the 2024 ballot. There have been challenges to the state’s vertical integration requirement for existing medical licensees (known as Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers in Florida), the most recent ending with the state Supreme Court upholding the mandate.

Florida’s medical program includes 22 vertically integrated cannabis companies that operate the state’s nearly 490 dispensaries.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Ron DeSantis: Gov. Ron DeSantis made some widely reported, colorful comments about cannabis in 2022, including that the state should “charge these people more,” referring to medical cannabis business operators.  He also told reporters in January that he finds the smell offensive. “I could not believe the pungent odor that you would see in some of these places,” he said, according to NORML. “I don’t want to see that here. I want people to be able to breathe freely.”

While he has no official statement on whether he would support adult-use cannabis legalization, he said that such a move would require approval from the Legislature, and has made statements in the past that he is against expanding access via legalization. When asked about the possibility of adult-use legalization during a 2019 interview, DeSantis said, “Not while I’m governor. I mean look, when that is introduced with teenagers and young people, I think it has a really detrimental effect to their well-being and their maturity.”

Charlie Crist: Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has pledged numerous times that he would legalize adult-use cannabis, funneling tax dollars to education, drug treatment programs and law enforcement, and expunge nonviolent cannabis offenses if he were in office—again. (Crist has served in multiple state offices, including governor from 2007 to 2011, U.S. representative of Florida’s 13th district and state senator.) He proposes changing the current state licensing structure, eliminating vertical integration to increase competition and opportunities for business owners of color.

On Crist’s campaign website, he shared more details of how an adult-use program would look under his administration: “Adults will also be able to legally grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. Crist will also call for dismantling the unfair vertical integration model for medical marijuana, which requires license holders to cultivate, process and sell their product. That limits competition, creates a handful of powerful cartels and discriminates against Black farmers with limited resources. Crist will create a new structure that will significantly increase accessibility to medical marijuana, decentralize operations, and enable minority entrepreneurs and others to enter the market and focus on what they do best, whether it is farming, processing or selling the product.”

On expunging marijuana charges, his campaign website notes: “Crist will seek legislation to expunge all existing charges and sentences for misdemeanors and third-degree felonies for marijuana possession, which covers up to 30 grams of marijuana or 1 ounce.”

-Michelle Simakis

Georgia

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp

2022 Candidates: 

Brian Kemp (Republican)Stacey Abrams (Democrat)Shane Hazel (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only (limited to cannabis oil containing a maximum of 5% THC)

What’s at stake? 

The medical program is in the process of coming online. In May, voters considered an advisory inquiry, “Should marijuana be legalized, taxed, and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older, with proceeds going towards education, infrastructure, and health care programs?” More than 80% voted yes, according to election results.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission tentatively named six license winners in the state’s vertically integrated program, and awarded the first two to grow, manufacture and sell cannabis in September. Trulieve Georgia and Botanical Sciences, the first of the awarded licensees, have a year to launch production, and each of the state’s six licensees can open five retail locations. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Brian Kemp: Incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, who was elected as Georgia governor in 2018, signed the medical cannabis bill into law in 2019. The state has not opened sales yet. During a 2022 debate in response to his policy on cannabis, Kemp said, “We have been going after street gangs and drug cartels. … That’s what my focus is on.”

In 2018, when Kemp was secretary of state and running for governor, he outlined his positions on cannabis policy during an interview, which is posted on his website:

I’m certainly not in the camp of being pro-recreational marijuana.

I do think though, from a medicinal standpoint, I am very open-minded about that. I am very supportive of what our legislature has done in the past, and we’ll continue to keep taking a look at that. I know there are many parents in Georgia who are using that medicinal marijuana with good results. As a parent myself, I understand that if that’s the only remedy you have, you’re going to use it if your child is sick or is having seizures or anything else. So I’m certainly open to that as we move forward.

Stacey Abrams: This is Stacey Abrams’ second run for governor in Georgia. Abrams served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 10 years and was House minority leader when she resigned to pursue the governor’s office. She did not note her position on cannabis on her campaign website, but she has expressed her support of decriminalization and of medical cannabis programs in the past. She tweeted in 2018, “I support decriminalization of marijuana, legalization of medical marijuana and local cultivation of medical marijuana. Once we have established a strong substance abuse network, I am open to legalization for recreational use.”

Shane Hazel: During an October gubernatorial debate, Shane Hazel, who most recently ran for U.S. Senate in 2020 and lost, said, “We believe that cannabis is a plant that grows from earth naturally and the hubris that the federal government has shown in making it a Schedule I drug while also holding patents on it is… laughable. It is a right of people, it is medicine, it is something we can add to our industry here in Georgia and really displace a lot of what comes in from out of Georgia.”

-Michelle Simakis

Hawaii

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. David Ige is not running for reelection due to term limits.

2022 Candidates: 

Joshua Green (Democrat)Duke Aiona (Republican)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake? 

Sitting Gov. David Ige, whose term expires in 2022, announced Oct. 6 that he was reviewing Hawaii’s cannabis laws in response to President Joe Biden’s statement on a three-step cannabis reform plan to remedy what Biden called the U.S.’s “failed approach” to marijuana policy. According to multiple state media outlets, including Hawaii News Now, his office released this statement: “The governor supports measures that align state and federal laws on this issue and is reviewing the president’s request to determine whether it is consistent with state law and in the best interests of the people of Hawaii.”

While there is no adult-use measure on the ballot, Lt. Gov. and Democratic candidate Joshua Green noted he would sign a legalization bill, while his Republican opponent Duke Aiona has noted his concerns about adult-use legalization.

The state’s medical program includes eight licensed vertically integrated cannabis companies operating 18 licensed retail centers, with nearly 34,000 patients and more than 2,700 caregivers island wide.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Joshua Green: Lt. Gov. Green, who is running for Gov. Ige’s seat, said during the first gubernatorial debate in October that he would support a legalization bill should it be approved by the Legislature, as well as regulating cannabis like tobacco and investing tax revenue in the mental health care system. “I think that people already have moved past that culturally as a concern,” Green said during the debate, according to coverage from Spectrum Local News.

Duke Aiona: Duke Aiona also has served as lieutenant governor and operates a private law practice. During his tenure, former Lt. Gov. Aiona organized the first Drug Control Strategy Summit, which is described on his campaign website as “an ambitious project which gathered leaders in government, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement, and social agencies to create an all-encompassing strategy that included community mobilization, prevention, treatment, and vigorous law enforcement. During the debate, in response to Green’s support of legalization, Aiona called cannabis “just another drug that’s going to go out there and cause more havoc within our community,” according to Spectrum Local News, and said he had concerns about people younger than 21 consuming cannabis if it were legalized.

-Michelle Simakis

Idaho

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Brad Little

2022 Candidates:  

Brad Little (Republican)  Stephen Heidt (Democrat)  Chantyrose Davison (Constitution Party)  Paul Sand (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: No legal market 

What’s at stake?  

In August, Kind Idaho, a medical cannabis advocacy group, started a petition to place medical cannabis legalization on the state ballot in 2024. Idaho is one of 10 states with no medical program, and the next governor could help steer the course of reform for medical cannabis.  

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:  

Brad Little assumed office as the governor of Idaho in 2019. He was appointed by former Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to fill a Senate vacancy in 2001. In 2009, he was appointed by former Republican Gov. Butch Otter to replace Jim Risch as lieutenant governor. He served as lieutenant governor from 2009 until he was elected as governor in 2018.  

Little responded to President Biden’s announcement to pardon prior cannabis offenses stating, “Open borders and open prisons—welcome to Biden’s America. He wants to let people out of jail for drug offenses while he keeps the border open, allowing drug traffickers to pour into our country unchecked. It is clear President Biden issued this blanket pardon for show, setting a bad precedent when cases should be reviewed on their individual merits. But what’s not clear is whether Biden really understands that individuals incarcerated for possession of small amounts of marijuana almost always have accompanying offenses, making his blanket pardon basically pointless. Here in Idaho, we will continue to fight for a secure border and make our correctional system fair, with a focus on keeping dangerous people off the street.” 

NORML gave Little an “F” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.  

Stephen Heidt served as an emergency manager in the 263rd CBCS NC Air National Guard. Heidt’s career experience also includes working as an educator. Heidt’s stance on cannabis reform is posted on his campaign website: “We should decriminalize cannabis, and the penalty for its improper use should be level equivalent to that of a traffic violation. By doing this, we will decrease the number of Idaho citizens in custody in county jails and out-of-state prisons, drastically minimizing the cost of detention, probation, and parole supervision, generating new state revenue, and saving millions of taxpayer dollars each year.” 

Heidt also responded to Biden’s announcement to pardon prior cannabis offenses stating he supports Biden’s stance. He added, “As Governor, I would relieve the collateral damages that came from these petty convictions.” 

NORML gave Heidt a “B+” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.  

Chantyrose Davison’s career experience includes working as an in-home health worker and caregiver. Davison also works with the Marsing Beautification Project, an organization designed to uplift the historic and small town of Marsing, Idaho. Davison has yet to take a public stance on cannabis policy. 

Paul Sand has over 65 years of experience in the electronics and computer space. Sand has worked as a contractor for Monaco Enterprise, a life safety and asset protection solutions company. Sand’s career experience also includes working as a carpenter and architect, a systems analyst, and an entrepreneur. Sand has yet to take a public stance on cannabis policy. 

-Andriana Ruscitto 

Illinois

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker

2022 Candidates:

JB Pritzker (Democrat)Darren Bailey (Republican) Scott Schluter (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

The Illinois governor has executive authority over various agencies that regulate cannabis and the power to approve or veto legislation addressing it. Since Illinois’ General Assembly legalized adult-use cannabis in 2019 and sales began Jan. 1, 2020, adult-use cannabis sales totals have surpassed $3 billion, according to state figures. With a limited-license market, Illinois’ 110 actively operating dispensaries equate to one dispensary per 115,000 people, according to the Brightfield Group (but more retail licensees are on the way). As elsewhere, competition with the illicit cannabis market remains fierce, with 2021 reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times providing estimates from New Frontier Data and BDSA that the illegal market outpaces the legal market in cannabis sales. Still, being surrounded by states that do not have legal adult-use cannabis sales, Illinois dispensaries see visitors from those states purchasing product.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

JB Pritzker was elected governor of Illinois in 2018. In 2019, his first year in office, he signed the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), passed by the Illinois General Assembly, into law. He has also expunged minor cannabis-related offenses for about 800,000 of the state’s residents, as well as directed revenue from the industry toward communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. While some social equity applicants and advocates, and other license applicants, have criticized Pritzker and his administration for licensing delays and other issues, a spokesperson from Pritzker’s administration told CBT in early September that the state has issued 185 social equity licenses, and 88 social equity craft grow licenses, and more than $113 million has been reinvested into communities.

NORML gave Pritzker an A in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

Darren Bailey is a state senator representing Illinois’ 55th district. Previously, he served as a state representative from 2019 to 2021, during which time he voted against the 2019 adult-use legalization measure that created the CRTA. He also encouraged communities to opt out of allowing cannabis industry to operate, according to WSJD 100.5. Earlier in 2019, he voted for House Bill 1690, which allows for the sealing and expungement of certain cannabis records; it passed the General Assembly and was signed into law. Bailey also voted for Senate Bill 455, which allows for school nurses and administrators to administer medical products to students who are medical cannabis patients. He voted against S.B. 2023, which made Illinois’ cannabis law permanent and added 11 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis patients; S.B. 2023 passed the General Assembly and was signed into law in 2019.

NORML gave Bailey an F in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

Scott Schluter is a diesel technician, U.S. Air Force veteran and the chair of the Southern Illinois Libertarian Party. In 2015, when Schluter was running for the state’s House of Representatives, he and Claire Ball, a then-candidate for state comptroller, sued the state’s then-attorney general and members of its board of elections, declaring that the state’s ban on political contributions from the cannabis industry was unconstitutional; the case was settled in 2017, according to court records. In a 2021 interview with “Fite 4 Liberty,” Schluter said of Illinois’ cannabis laws: “It’s just one of the worst laws. The tax rates for it are insane. Once again, you can’t tax yourself [into] prosperity, but that’s what we keep trying to do.” Schluter’s running mate, John Phillips, has helped with cannabis and hemp legalization drives, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

NORML gave Schluter a B in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

-Patrick Williams

Iowa

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds

2022 Candidates: 

Kim Reynolds (Republican)  Deidre DeJear (Democrat)  Rick Stewart (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?  

Rivaling the likes of Texas and Georgia, Iowa has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country. In June, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation to replace the 3% THC limit for medical cannabis products with a limit of 4.5 grams of THC within a 90-day period for patients. The next governor could help expand the state’s restrictive medical cannabis program. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Kim Reynolds assumed office as governor of Idaho in 2017 as the state’s first female governor. From 2009 to 2010, Reynolds represented District 48 in the state Senate before she assumed office as lieutenant governor with former Gov. Terry Branstad in 2010; the pair was reelected in 2014. 

Reynolds opposes cannabis legalization. In 2019, Reynolds told The Gazette, “I do not support recreational marijuana. I don’t. I won’t be the governor to do that. I just think that when the data continues to come in, especially with the strength that we’re seeing, the potency, the amount of psychotic episodes that are happening, it’s a gateway, and there are statistics there to support that.” Iowa governor candidate Rick Stewart also recently called out Reynolds in a campaign ad for her stance on cannabis. According to the Des Moines Register, Reynolds’ campaign declined to comment.

NORML gave Reynolds a “D” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.  

Deidre DeJear’s career experience includes owning Caleo Enterprises, a marketing consulting firm. She has also worked as a consultant with African American Leadership Forum of Des Moines and as the African American vote director of Obama for America Iowa, and she co-founded Back to School Iowa. 

DeJear favors cannabis legalization. In a statement on her campaign website, she said, “Regulating legal use of cannabis for people 21 years of age and older provides the opportunity for our state to ensure the product on the market is as safe and reliable as possible. Regulation will also help to realign our criminal justice system, which will free up law enforcement resources for more pressing challenges affecting our communities, such as gun violence and protecting our children. We will work to remedy the harm, both past and present, caused by the criminalization of cannabis which has disproportionately impacted marginalized groups like people of color and low-socioeconomic groups. As we work towards these goals, we will ensure that people of color and small businesses have a strong stake in the inevitable economic windfalls of legalization.” 

NORML gave DeJear an “A” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.  

Rick Stewart’s career experience includes working as a law enforcement officer in Maquoketa, Iowa, and as the CEO of Frontier Natural Products Co-Operative. Stewart has been outspoken about supporting adult-use cannabis legalization and ending the war on drugs. “Everyone who knows me knows my opinion on the drug war—it is the biggest mistake America has ever made,” Stewart stated on his campaign website.

In Stewart’s recent campaign ad, he called out Reynolds on her opposition to legalizing cannabis. “What the hell, Kim? Here I am in Illinois, only a few miles from the Iowa border, and they’ve got legal cannabis. If I buy weed on this side of the bridge, I’m buying from a crook. If I buy weed on that side of the bridge, I’m buying it from a reputable business person. Our laws today in Iowa put people into rape cages cause they smoke marijuana. You’re going to lose your college scholarship; you’re going to lose everything because, in Iowa, we think cannabis is a gateway drug. A gateway to what?” 

Stewart also responded to Biden’s three-step cannabis reform plan Oct. 7 on Twitter: “Biden is releasing exactly zero … prisoners from federal prison 4 possessing marijuana. I have promised to pardon everyone in Iowa prisons & jails who were convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. Sir, grow some cajones.” 

NORML gave Stewart a “B+” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.  

– Andriana Ruscitto

Kansas 

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly

2022 Candidates:  

Laura Kelly (Democrat) Derek Schmidt (Republican) Seth Cordell (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: No legal market

What’s at stake? 

While neither medical or adult-use cannabis is on the Kansas ballot this November, medical cannabis is being debated among Kansas lawmakers, who held hearings on Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 with testimony from state agencies, local governments and law enforcement. The hearings result from a failed proposal to legalize medical cannabis earlier this year, when the state Senate never acted on a House-passed bill.

Among gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has been consistent in her support of medical cannabis, while Libertarian Seth Cordell supports both adult-use and medical cannabis. Republican Derek Schmidt said he is open to medical cannabis reform, but only in specific circumstances and with limits and guardrails in place. 

Kansas remains one of 10 states without some form of a legal medical cannabis program. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Laura Kelly is a supporter of medical cannabis legalization, despite there being no mention of medical cannabis—or of any specific political issue—on the incumbent’s campaign website. However, Kelly did confirm her support for medical cannabis in an Oct. 18 article from The Manhattan Mercury. “I have long supported legalizing medical marijuana and will work with the Kansas Legislature to pass a thoughtful law next session to do that,” she told the local news outlet. This position tracks with Kelly also saying in early 2020 that she would sign a medical cannabis legalization bill

More recently, this past June, Kelly signed a bill into law that allows patients to use cannabis-derived medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And in 2019, Kelly signed “Claire and Lola’s Law,” which allows patients to access CBD products containing up to 5% THC, Forbes reported. 

Derek Schmidt said he is open to medical cannabis during an Oct. 5 debate with Kelly—but only in limited circumstances and with specific regulations in place, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. He acknowledged certain cases, such as veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, where medical cannabis legalization is largely agreed upon. Schmidt also suggested Kansas law enforcement be involved in any medical cannabis legislation. “The public policy issue is how do you draw that line,” Schmidt said during the debate. “How to make sure that we can accommodate the things the vast majority of people agree on and not fling open the doors to the harm that comes with what is essentially recreational use without regulation.” 

Seth Cordell said he supports “full legalization” of cannabis in Kansas, noting that overcaution around cannabis is stifling potential economic gains for the state and the hemp industry, as well. “For one, in study after study, it is shown to be much safer than other currently legal recreational drugs,” Cordell said in an Oct. 19 KSN article. “Secondly, the economic impact to the state would be incredible. Not only from the moderate taxation of the sale of recreational cannabis, but also full legalization would eliminate many of the regulations on the hemp industry which are preventing it from being a viable crop.” 

– Zach Mentz

Maine 

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills

2022 Candidates:  

Janet Mills (Democrat) Paul LePage (Republican) 

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?  

Maine’s adult-use cannabis market launched Oct. 9, 2020, and has been steadily growing ever since—even though only roughly 10% of the state’s municipalities currently allow for licensed cannabis retail sales.  

After grossing approximately $1.4 million during the first month of adult-use sales from Oct. 9 through Nov. 8, 2020, licensed adult-use dispensaries sold more than $17 million in adult-use sales in August 2022 alone. Furthermore, through the first eight months of this year, Maine’s adult-use retailers have sold more than $98 million in cannabis, marking a 120% increase over the first eight months of 2021 

Suffice to say that whoever wins Maine’s gubernatorial election this November will certainly be overseeing a burgeoning cannabis industry in the Pine Tree State. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Janet Mills signed adult-use cannabis legislation into law in 2019 shortly after assuming office—approximately 2 1/2 years after Maine voters approved adult-use legalization in November 2016 (due to delays and vetoes from former Republican Gov. Paul LePage). 

Given the aforementioned low rate of municipalities opting in for adult-use cannabis retail sales, Mills signed legislation in April reimbursing Maine municipalities up to $20,000 to help cover expenses associated with the state’s adult-use program rollout, including legal fees, town meetings and more. That program was officially launched in August by the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy. 

Mills has an A-minus grade from NORML

Paul LePage served as governor of Maine from January 2011 through January 2019 after winning the 2010 and 2014 elections, but Maine’s term limits blocked him from serving a third consecutive term. Therefore, in April 2021, he announced he would again run for governor. 

Despite Maine voters approving adult-use cannabis in the November 2016 election, LePage vetoed subsequent legislation in April 2018, citing concerns over an adult-use market creating separate regulations and taxes from the state’s medical cannabis market. But in May 2018, lawmakers overrode LePage’s veto, voting 109-39 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate to approve the measure. 

In July 2018, LePage again vetoed a cannabis measure—this time for medical cannabis—that would allow doctors to certify patient use for any medical reason, among other reforms. And once again, state lawmakers overrode his veto, voting 119-23 in the House and 25-8 in the Senate to approve the medical cannabis reform legislation. 

– Zach Mentz

Maryland 

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is not running for reelection due to term limits

2022 Candidates:  

Dan Cox (Republican) Wes Moore (Democrat) 

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake? 

Another East Coast cannabis market, to put it simply. Adult-use cannabis legalization is on the Maryland ballot this November in the form of Question 4, which asks voters: “Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the state of Maryland?” That proposal made the ballot after Secretary of State John Wobensmith certified the measure in August

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Maryland voters plan to vote yes on Question 4, according to a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. If passed, House Bill 837—which the state’s General Assembly passed in April—would go into effect, allowing adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, 12 grams of concentrate, 750 milligrams of delta-9 THC or two plants for personal use. H.B. 837 also decriminalizes possession of up to 2.5 ounces as a civil offense opposed to a misdemeanor. 

Both Wes Moore and Dan Cox approve of a legal cannabis market in Maryland but have differing views on what that market would look like and the regulations that accompany it. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Wes Moore, according to his campaign website, “will legalize cannabis, expunge the records of anyone convicted of simple possession, and prioritize equitable access to this emerging industry.” 

In an Oct. 12 gubernatorial debate with Republican candidate Dan Cox, Moore described cannabis legalization as a “core priority” of his agenda. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring a potential cannabis market in Maryland is equitable, specifically for those most impacted by the war on drugs. 

“If the state votes [yes] on Question 4, our administration will make sure that it is going to be fair and it is going to be equitable,” Moore said. “And that means using this as an opportunity to think clearly about how we are going about the prospects of positioning licenses, how are we thinking about not just the growers and the manufacturers and the paraphernalia providers, but truly using this as an opportunity to help address the wealth gap that exists within our society. 

“But … we cannot talk about the benefits of legalization if we’re also not dealing with the consequences of criminalization,” Moore added. “We’ve seen inside communities—particularly Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately harmed—that we have to focus on things like automatic record expungement for those who have cannabis convictions. We have to focus on things like being able to deal with the pardoning of people who have criminal records for something that is now a burgeoning industry in the state of Maryland.” 

Moore tweeted in February his approval of legalizing “small amounts of cannabis” in Maryland, saying “it’s a meaningful way to combat racial inequalities.”  

Moore also has an A grade from NORML’s Smoke the Vote campaign. 

Dan Cox, meanwhile, has a D grade from NORML’s Smoke the Vote campaign. Previously, as representative for Maryland’s Fourth District, Cox voted no on H.B. 837, which established regulations for adult-use cannabis, and no on H.B. 550, which expands cannabis decriminalization policies. Both measures passed earlier this year. 

However, during an Oct. 12 gubernatorial debate with Wes Moore, Cox said he supports President Biden’s push to release those criminalized for simple cannabis possession—but isn’t focused on social equity like Moore emphasized. 

“Our laws shouldn’t be based on social justice reimagining,” Cox said. “We need to get back to fair and equal justice under law. Everyone should be treated equal. That’s why I do support making sure that those who are criminalized for small possessions are no longer criminalized. We need to make sure that we have a path for people to reestablish themselves, so they don’t lose their job over something like that. That’s something that I’ve worked across the aisle [on] and, in fact, in my committee worked to decriminalize a few plants, particularly when you consider how so many people have appreciated the effects, even our veterans with PTSD.” 

Cox also signaled support for a legal cannabis market in Maryland, but was clear in his stance that the industry must have certain guardrails in place. “We need to have a regulatory approach, and I pledge to Maryland to work with our construction industry, with our law enforcement, and with all sectors to ensure that there is appropriate testing, to make sure that there is safety on the job, and to make sure that when you’re walking down the street, people know the rules,” Cox said. 

– Zach Mentz 

Massachusetts

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Charles D. Baker is not seeking reelection.

2022 Candidates:

Geoff Diehl (Republican) Maura Healey (Democrat)  Kevin Reed (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake? 

Sitting Gov. Charlie Baker is not running for a third term, a decision he announced in late 2021. Baker was governor when Massachusetts voters legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016; however, he has been vocal about his opposition to cannabis legalization. Most recently, Baker responded to President Biden’s announcement to pardon prior cannabis offenses indicating that he would not fast track pardons for people with state convictions of simple cannabis possession, according to The Dales Report. 

“Anybody in Massachusetts who wants to expunge their record appropriately can do so now, under existing state law,” Baker said. “Massachusetts has passed an expungement law for anybody convicted of simple possession of marijuana back in 2018 …. And we signed legislation last year to make the process even easier.” 

The new governor of Massachusetts could help push the industry forward and increase equity initiatives.  

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Geoff Diehl served as a member of the Massachusetts House, representing the 7th Plymouth District from 2011 to 2019. Diehl was also a special election candidate for 2nd Plymouth & Bristol District of the Massachusetts Senate. In response to Biden pardoning cannabis offenses, Diehl said he would not follow suit and called Biden’s request “the latest in a series of outrageous moves … to eliminate consequences for wrongful actions,” The Dales Report reported.

NORML gave Diehl an “F” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

Maura Healey assumed office as the attorney general of Massachusetts in 2015. Healey was previously against cannabis legalization: Roughly six years ago, “she stood in front of the State House at a rally with health care professionals and warned of dangerous outcomes should marijuana be legalized,” Commonwealth Magazine reported.  

Fast forward to now, Healey said that her previous concerns about legalization have been “fortunately unnecessary,” however, she does not regret her vote against legalization. According to The Dales Report, Healey said she would follow in Biden’s footsteps and pardon cannabis convictions if she were elected governor. 

NORML gave Healey a “B-” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

Kevin Reed’s career experience includes working as a part-time counselor for homeless veterans. Reed is also the founder, chairman and CEO of Real Estate & Economic Development (R.E.E.D) group. Reed is running a gubernatorial campaign, in part, to lower taxes by attrition, stating on his website that “we can move to disband and repeal liquor license quotas and allow the state to have fair access to casino licensure with no arbitrary limit, as well as lowering the marijuana sales license, a barrier to entry for historically disenfranchised individuals. And work to slowly use that revenue to phase out or reduce the existing tax burden for residents,” according to his campaign website.

– Andriana Ruscitto 

Michigan 

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

2022 Candidates:  

Gretchen Whitmer (Democrat) Tudor Dixon (Republican) 

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical  

What’s at stake? 

Michigan’s cannabis market has boomed and quickly matured since adult-use sales launched in December 2019, but small-scales operators began calling for a licensing moratorium in September amidst falling prices in what they call a “race to the bottom.” Such a moratorium would need legislative action and a governor’s signature.  

Sitting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has walked the walk in her support of Michigan’s cannabis industry—from streamlining state oversight to signing restorative justice legislation—while Republican challenger Tudor Dixon voted against cannabis legalization in the November 2018 election, when Michigan voters passed Proposition 1 to legalize adult-use cannabis. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Gretchen Whitmer has played an active role in Michigan’s cannabis industry since its infancy. In September, Whitmer appointed Brian Hanna as acting executive director for the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA). That move came after Whitmer issued an executive order in February to consolidate cannabis and hemp regulation in the state under one overseeing body, the CRA, which replaced the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency. 

Relatedly, in December 2020, Whitmer commuted nonviolent cannabis sentences for four Michigan men. In October 2020, she signed “clean slate” legislation into law, expunging criminal records for those convicted of certain cannabis-related offenses. Whitmer also approved of President Biden’s recent federal pardons for those convicted of simple cannabis possession, noting Michigan already has been active in expungement for past cannabis sentences. 

“When it comes to marijuana, the people of Michigan have already taken action on this issue at the ballot box in 2008 and again in 2018,” Whitmer’s office said in an Oct. 6 statement, according to Axios’ Samuel J. Robinson. “Earlier in the governor’s term, she signed bipartisan Clean Slate legislation to create a process for people convicted of misdemeanors, including marijuana offenses, to apply for streamlined expungement. This law is one of the most expansive pieces of expungement legislation in the nation. It allows first time marijuana offenses to be expunged manually, and a process for automatic expungement will go into effect next April. We will continue to work with anyone who’s serious about solving problems and keeping our communities safe.” 

Tudor Dixon voted against cannabis legalization in the 2018 election, she told attendees during an Oct. 7 “ask me anything” town hall in Oakland County, Mich., according to a report from Michigan Advance. When asked whether she supported Prop. 1, the measure which legalized adult-use cannabis in Michigan, she asked for clarification on what the proposal concerned before saying, “No, I voted no.” 

She also said during the event she’s unsure if she would support President Biden’s pardon of those convicted on federal charges of simple cannabis possession. The Republican candidate said she wasn’t informed enough to have an opinion on the pardons. “You know, I really haven’t gotten into that,” Dixon said. “We’ve been on the trail. I just saw a quick thing on my phone, but I haven’t read the details on it.” 

– Zach Mentz

Minnesota

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Tim Walz

2022 Candidates:

Tim Walz (Democrat)Scott Jensen (Republican)Steve Patterson (Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis)James McCaskel (Legal Marijuana Now)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

The big news out of Minnesota this year includes changes to the state’s medical cannabis program, first with dispensaries allowing to sell flower March 1 and then with patients’ expanded access to edibles on Aug. 1. Perhaps even more notable, 2022 state lawmakers passed legislation allowing adults 21 and older to purchase “edible cannabinoid products” that can contain up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving (and up to 50 milligrams per package). That law—essentially legalizing THC-infused products for adult use—took effect July 1 and, inadvertently or not, is a big step toward opening the door to full legalization in the state. Minnesota’s next governor will be tasked with navigating a path toward further adult-use reforms as a recent poll revealed majority support for full legalization among the state’s electorate.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Tim Walz has served as Minnesota’s governor since January 2019. Prior to his governorship, he served as a member of the U.S. House from 2007 to 2019, including a stint as the ranking member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. In January 2022, Walz introduced an adult-use cannabis legalization proposal in his state budget that called for taxation and regulation for the plant. On April 20—an unofficial pot holiday—Walz posted on social media, “It’s time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota.” The Republican-controlled Senate in the state has kept those plans from moving forward.

Scott Jensen, who won Minnesota’s Republican ticket for governor with 91% of the vote in the state’s primary election, previously served in the state’s Senate, representing District 47, from 2017 to 2021. His career experiences include owning Catalyst Medical Clinic PA and working as a physician, according to BallotPedia. According to Jensen’s campaign website, he strongly supports expanding Minnesota’s medical cannabis program and “believes it is time for expungement for prior convictions of small amounts of marijuana. Individuals with past criminal convictions can face difficulty acquiring and maintaining employment, attending college, and engaging in other activities. In some cases, this hardship can lead to other crime and recidivism. Dr. Jensen believes it is time to end the cycle and expunge these minor infractions that cause greater harm than good.”

Steve Patterson is running for governor on the Grassroots-Legalization Cannabis Party of Minnesota, a third party created in 2014 to oppose cannabis prohibition. According to his campaign website, Patterson’s career experience includes owning a business and working as a former hospital security officer. Contrary to the name of his party’s ticket, Patterson doesn’t list cannabis as part of his platform on his website, but he does indicate his support for legalization elsewhere on his site.

James McCaskel is running for governor on a ticket with the Legal Marijuana Now Party, which was established in 1998 and became a major party in the state in 2018, when state auditor candidate Michael Ford received 5.3% of the vote. According to his campaign website, he is a community organizer who has degrees in philosophy and political science. Part of his legalization platform includes addressing racial disparities on his site: “By legalizing marijuana responsibly and safely, we would address criminal justice inequities created by our current system. Those states that legalize marijuana see a significant decline in arrests based on race in low-income neighborhoods. Employers should be prohibited from administering marijuana employment tests and previous marijuana convictions should be erased.”

-Tony Lange

Nebraska

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is not running for reelection due to term limits. 

2022 Candidates:

Jim Pillen (Republican)Carol Blood (Democrat)Scott Zimmerman (Libertarian)

 Current Reform Status: No legal market

What’s at stake?

Great question. Perhaps the answer could be anything and everything in a state where the outgoing governor has opposed reform—both for medical and adult-use cannabis—for the better part of the past eight years. Along with Idaho and Kansas, Nebraska has some of the most restrictive cannabis policies in the nation. But those policies could soon change with ongoing efforts to place legalization initiatives on the ballot. While the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down a medical cannabis measure before it landed on the 2020 ballot, a 2022 initiative by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana came up short on signatures. But Nebraska Sen. Jen Day pledged to introduce a bill during the 2023 legislative session to legalize medical cannabis. And another initiative for the 2024 ballot, sponsored by The Nebraska Hemp Company, is already in the works. Whether done legislatively or by election, cannabis reform will likely be steered with input from the state’s next governor.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Jim Pillen has served as a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, representing District 3, since 2013. His career experience includes working as a veterinarian and raising hogs for the market on Pillen Family Farms. Pillen’s gubernatorial run is focused on a conservative platform, according to issue stances on his campaign website. While a Nebraska Voter Guide states that Pillen opposed adult-use cannabis legalization, News Channel Nebraska reported in May 2021 that he “is an advocate of science and being able to help people. He said the issue could be handled in a controlled prescription fashion … and said he does not support unchecked use of marijuana.” In addition, Pillen told KETV Oct. 25 that he would support medical cannabis only through the Food and Drug Administration. “I am a supporter of FDA-approved process prescriptions, so approved medical marijuana through the FDA process, then we have safe product that all of us can agree on,” he said.

Carol Blood has served as Nebraska’s District 3 senator since 2017 with her current term in the unicameral state Legislature (single-house system) ending in 2025. Her career includes working as a business consultant through her ownership of Blood Business Consulting, and she is the CEO of the La Vista Chamber of Commerce. Her campaign website does not include a stance on cannabis policy.

Scott Zimmerman, who won the Libertarian ticket uncontested, is an elementary teacher running a gubernatorial campaign focused on economic freedom and civil liberties. His platform for office does not include a stance on cannabis, but it does include his stance on criminal justice: “Incarceration in our state prisons should be a last resort and reserved for violent offenders and individuals who are a true threat to our safety and security.” Zimmerman ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 on the Libertarian ticket with Mark Elworth, receiving 3.5% of the vote.

-Tony Lange

Nevada

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak

2022 Candidates:  

Steve Sisolak (Democrat)Joe Lombardo (Republican)Brandon Davis (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake? 

Nevada celebrated its five-year anniversary of its adult-use sales launch this year. The state—more specifically, Las Vegas—currently contains two of the world’s largest dispensaries, as well as the “biggest and priciest products,” according to cannabis reporter Chris Kudialis. The state generated nearly $1 billion in cannabis sales in fiscal 2022, which produced $152 million in tax revenue. Still, efforts to loosen regulations are ongoing. In September of this year, a judge ruled that the Nevada Board of Pharmacy must remove cannabis from the state’s list of Schedule I substances. The state also recently began accepting applications for cannabis consumption lounges—a move that has been years in the making. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Steve Sisolak has advanced cannabis legislation during his time as governor, including creating the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board in 2019 to develop regulations for the industry. In 2021, he signed legislation to legalize cannabis consumption lounges in the state. (He does not currently take a stance on cannabis on his campaign website.)

Joe Lombardo is currently the sheriff of Clark County after serving 26 years on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. While he has no stances on cannabis listed on his website, he has previously come out in support of the creation of cannabis consumption lounges as long as they didn’t also include alcohol sales, according to The Nevada Independent.

Brandon Davis has advocated for fewer restrictions surrounding cannabis business licensing. On April 20 of this year, he tweeted: “Happy 4/20. End the war on drugs. Reduce regulations to obtain cannabis licensing. Reduce regulations on cannabis consumption lounges. Revoke incarceration for sale and cultivation of cannabis. Nevada has plenty of work to do. On this day shall we be reminded.” He’s also come out in support of decriminalizing all drugs in the state.

­– Theresa Bennett

New Hampshire

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu

2022 Candidates: 

Chris Sununu (Republican)Tom Sherman (Democrat)Karlyn Borysenko (Libertarian) Kelly Halldorson (Libertarian)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake? 

New Hampshire remains an anomaly in New England, as its neighbors Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and most recently, Rhode Island, have legalized adult-use cannabis. As CBT Associate Editor Tony Lange wrote in April, “New Hampshire will likely be the last state in New England to reform its laws to allow adult-use cannabis. That’s because a pair of House-passed bills were voted down in the Senate on April 28: one to legalize an adult-use market, and the other to permit possession and home grows.” Gov. Chris Sununu has noted his opposition to an adult-use program, while challenger Tom Sherman actively supports legalization.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Chris Sununu: In a statement following Biden’s announcement of his three-step federal cannabis policy reform plan, Gov. Chris Sununu’s office said: “Gov. Sununu has done more on the issues surrounding marijuana reform than any other governor in New Hampshire history. … Chris Sununu signed commonsense decriminalization so no one would be jailed for simple possession of minor amounts of marijuana, expanded access to medical marijuana, and provided a pathway to annul old convictions for marijuana possession.

“The NH Department of Justice and Gov. Sununu are reviewing the president’s actions. Under New Hampshire law and constitution, the governor does not have unilateral authority to pardon anyone ….” He assumed office in 2017; New Hampshire’s legalized medical cannabis in 2013.

While he has supported decriminalization, expungement and the state’s medical program, his voting record is mixed when it comes to patient access. In 2019, he vetoed a bill that would have ended the requirement for patients to have at least a “three-month relationship” with a provider before receiving their medical marijuana certification. According to New Hampshire Public Radio, in 2019, he noted his opposition to adult-use legalization: “I am pleased that the Commission, composed of public health officials in the treatment, recovery, and prevention fields, unanimously came to the conclusion that now is not the time for the recreational legalization of cannabis in New Hampshire,” he said in a statement.

Tom Sherman: Dr. Tom Sherman, M.D., who served two terms as state representative and two terms as state senator and founded a medical practice, spells out his support of adult-use cannabis on his campaign website: “Dr. Sherman believes we need to finally legalize adult-use cannabis like every state surrounding New Hampshire and stop sending that revenue out of state. He worked to expand medical cannabis in the state and has been a long-time advocate for legalization.”

During his tenure in the Statehouse and Senate, he voted multiple times to decriminalize cannabis possession and legalize adult use.

Karlyn Borysenko: Running on the Libertarian ticket, Dr. Karlyn Borysenko, Ph.D., whose Zen Workplace practice specializes in organizational psychology, notes her support for cannabis legalization on her campaign website:

There is no longer a question regarding the healing properties of marijuana and psychedelics—individuals all over the world have experienced tremendous personal benefits from these substances. Particularly when anyone can drive over the border to go to Massachusetts (something we should never be encouraging) to go to a legal dispensary, there is no reason [to] restrict access in this state. It’s time to make legalization happen.

Kelly Halldorson: Information about Halldorson’s position on cannabis was not available.

-Michelle Simakis

New Mexico 

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

2022 Candidates: 

Michelle Lujan Grisham (Democrat)  Mark Ronchetti (Republican)  Karen Bedonie (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?  

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation to legalize cannabis in April 2021 and has since been successful in rolling out the state’s adult-use program. The state hit a record high for total cannabis sales in August, bringing in $40 million. Grisham is also working to expunge cannabis possession convictions from criminal records in New Mexico. The next governor could potentially impact the growth of the state’s cannabis market. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Michelle Lujan Grisham assumed office as the governor of New Mexico in January 2019. Grisham tweeted April 1, when adult-use sales launched in the state, “Recreational cannabis sales have begun and New Mexicans are EXCITED! Thousands of sales have already been made today, with thousands more to come. We’ve created an incredible opportunity for economic growth in communities across the state, from Sunland Park to Clovis to Raton.” Grisham also signed legislation in 2021 that requires the expungement of prior cannabis possession convictions.

Issuing a statement Oct. 6 in response to Biden’s three-step cannabis reform plan, Grisham said, “Thousands of Americans have been overly penalized for the simple use or possession of cannabis, including through jail time and limitations on opportunities in housing, employment and education. New Mexico has already taken action to stop these antiquated policies from harming anyone else, and I was proud to have made the expungement of simple cannabis possession convictions from criminal records a cornerstone of New Mexico’s legalization process.” 

NORML gave Grisham an “A” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

Mark Ronchetti has worked as a meteorologist for Albuquerque’s CBS and FOX affiliates. He tweeted at Grisham Aug. 25, “If @Michelle4NM has a priority, she finds a way to get it done. She did it with legalized marijuana, the mini green new deal, and making it easier to sue cops. When she says she wants to end catch and release, she is lying. If she wanted to protect you, she would.” 

Karen Bedonie’s career experience includes working as an educator, contractor, businesswoman and Navajo historian, according to her campaign website. She does not have a campaign policy specifically outlining her cannabis stance on her site.

– Andriana Ruscitto 

New York

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul

2022 Candidates:

Kathy Hochul (Democrat)Lee Zeldin (Republican)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

Hochul became New York’s first female governor in August 2021 after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. She has since kickstarted the adult-use cannabis industry that Cuomo signed into law in March 2021; commercial sales are expected to launch later this year as more than 900 applicants are currently vying for adult-use dispensary licenses.

New York’s medical cannabis program also recently expanded as regulators adopted home grow regulations for patients and their caregivers.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Kathy Hochul called a special session in September 2021 to make “long overdue” decisions for the state’s adult-use cannabis market. Shortly after, she nominated appointees to the New York Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board. Hochul also moved the industry forward by signing legislation into law that allowed New York’s licensed hemp businesses to grow cannabis for the forthcoming adult-use market, as well as unveiling a “Seeding Opportunity Initiative” to promote social equity in the industry, in part by prioritizing those most impacted by the war on drugs in the adult-use licensing process.

Lee Zeldin, who currently represents the eastern half of New York’s Long Island in the U.S. House, voted in support of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in 2019, but voted against the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in 2020, according to Vote Smart. He also abstained from voting on the SAFE Banking Act in 2021, or the MORE Act or Medical Marijuana Research Act in 2022.

In March 2022, when Hochul announced her social equity plans for New York’s adult-use cannabis market, Zeldin tweeted: “The Criminals for Kathy coalition is growing. Cannabis dispensary licenses are going to start getting distributed in NY, & the Hochul admin will be giving FIRST PRIORITY to people previously convicted for marijuana offenses. Hochul’s criminal first agenda is so wrong for NY.”

-Melissa Schiller

Ohio

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Mike DeWine

2022 Candidates:

Mike DeWine (Republican)Nan Whaley (Democrat) 

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake? 

A ballot initiative or legislation could legalize adult-use cannabis in Ohio. The governor can pass or veto adult-use legalization legislation. Currently, one path to possible adult-use legalization is through a ballot initiative that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol plans to move to 2023. The postponement came after the coalition sued the GOP’s top leaders of the General Assembly’s House and Senate, accusing them of trying to block its 2022 ballot effort on a signature-gathering technicality; the lawsuit has since been settled. However, if voters pass adult-use legalization through this initiative or another, the General Assembly and the governor still have the power to eventually draft and pass legislation that could affect the makeup of the industry and outcomes for cannabis consumers.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Mike DeWine is campaigning for a second term as Ohio governor. Previously, DeWine served as Ohio attorney general, and before that, served as a U.S. senator and representative, as Ohio lieutenant governor, and as a state senator and prosecutor. In a 2018 debate with his opponent in that year’s gubernatorial race, DeWine said he is opposed to adult-use legalization and would veto it if it came across his desk, based on time he spent in Colorado, addressing concerns about potential driving hazards, the potency of modern cannabis, the use of cannabis by minors, and cannabis’ long-term impacts on the brain. In a January 2022 interview with the Sandusky Register, he said he would support expanding Ohio’s medical cannabis program. (However, Senate Bill 261, which proposes such an expansion, stalled out in committee in January.) Following President Joe Biden’s Oct. 6 announcement outlining his plan to pardon federal offenses for simple cannabis possession and urging governors to pardon those with state-level offenses for simple possession, a spokesperson for DeWine told Cleveland.com that the governor “is unlikely to respond to Biden’s call to follow suit on the state level.” The spokesperson said that is because Ohio governors can’t issue blanket pardons under state law, and possession of less than 100 grams of cannabis in Ohio can’t be punished with jail or prison time as a minor misdemeanor.

NORML gave DeWine an F in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

Nan Whaley served as the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, from 2014 to 2022, and is the past president of the United States Conference of Mayors. Prior to that, she served on the Dayton City Commission. In 2019, when Whaley was mayor of Dayton, the city decriminalized minor cannabis violations, removing fines and court costs for minor misdemeanor and hashish offenses, and passed an ordinance stating that minor misdemeanor cannabis offenses that occurred in Dayton are not considered criminal records, according to the Dayton Daily News. Whaley said at the time that she would have legalized cannabis in the city if she was able to, the news outlet reported in 2019. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently reported that Whaley supports legalizing adult-use cannabis in Ohio, stating that penalties are disproportionately harmful to Black residents. In an Oct. 12, 2021, retweet of a Cincinnati Enquirer news item about a Republican-introduced adult-use cannabis legalization bill (which subsequently stalled out in committee), Whaley said she is a longtime supporter of cannabis legalization and thanked Democratic state Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch for their leadership on the issue.

NORML gave Whaley a B+ in its “Smoke the Vote” guide.

-Patrick Williams 

Oklahoma

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt

2022 Candidates:

Kevin Stitt (Republican)Joy Hofmeister (Democrat)Natalie Bruno (Libertarian)Ervin Yen (Independent)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

As Oklahoma’s elected officials continue working toward finding a grip on the state’s medical cannabis market, a special election is now set for March 7, 2023, when voters will decide the fate of adult-use legalization via State Question 820. Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis reform with a 57% majority in June 2018, creating an unlimited license structure for the program. But with trouble regulating the market and enforcing compliance, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation in May to implement a two-year licensing moratorium. That action came as Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws sought out the November 2022 ballot for an adult-use measure (S.Q. 820), which the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in September did not meet a deadline to appear on the ballot because of unprecedented delays with the secretary of state’s signature validation process, despite being “diligently prepared” for submission. But Stitt declared Oct. 18 that a special election for S.Q. 820 will be held March 7, 2023, instead.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Kevin Stitt has served as Oklahoma’s governor since January 2019. Prior to his governorship, Stitt led an entrepreneur career as the founder of Gateway Mortgage, a company that now operates in more than 40 states and services more than $20 billion in residential mortgages. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Stitt is the second Native American to be elected as a U.S. governor, according to BallotPedia. Although Stitt called a 2023 special election for S.Q. 820 (adult-use cannabis measure), and while he said he supports federal cannabis legalization, he opposes the state question, saying the country’s patchwork of state laws on cannabis has become problematic, Tulsa World reported.

Joy Hofmeister serves as the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, an office she’s held since 2015—winning two elections as a Republican before switching her party affiliation to Democrat in October 2021, when she announced her bid for governor. Hofmeister is a former public-school teacher who owns Kumon, a learning center program for children that specializes in afterschool math and reading. While Hofmeister said during an Oct. 19 debate that she’s undecided on supporting S.Q. 820 in the 2023 special election, The Center Square reported, she accused Stitt of not enforcing laws and leaving a mess to clean up in the state’s medical cannabis program: “His own appointee is helping Chinese businesses funnel drugs right here in the state. We know this is a serious crisis. Go talk to anyone in rural Oklahoma.”

Natalie Bruno is running for governor on Oklahoma’s Libertarian ticket. She currently serves on the associate board for Oklahoma Lawyers for Children. Her career includes working as the director of digital strategy for Skyline Media Group. On her campaign website, Bruno specifically lists cannabis as a top issue, stating, “Oklahomans have the right to produce and consume cannabis, whether recreational, medical, or industrial hemp. Cannabis should be decriminalized federally and removed as a Schedule I drug. A free cannabis market can boost our economy in agriculture, energy, commerce, and tourism. It would also open doors for additional medical and industrial research. Lastly, Oklahoma needs to expunge all cannabis-related crimes from citizen’s backgrounds and state records.”

Ervin Yen served as a Republican state senator, representing District 40 in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2018 before changing his party affiliation to Independent in October 2021 and announcing his bid for governor. Earning a medical degree in 1981, Yen works as a cardiac anesthesiologist and is running a campaign, in part, to lower the cost of prescription drugs, according to his campaign website. Before Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis reform in 2018, Yen expressed concern about the potential for abuse amidst the absence of data to suggest that cannabis can treat post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions, and said he believed medical cannabis should only be legal with limits on who can get a prescription, KOCO News reported. He later indicated his opposition to the medical cannabis ballot measure (State Question 788) as a potential factor for his defeat while seeking reelection to the state’s Senate that year.

-Tony Lange

Oregon

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is not running for reelection due to term limits.

2022 Candidates:  

Tina Kotek (Democrat / Working Families Party)Christine Drazan (Republican)Betsy Johnson (Independent)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake? 

Oregon is approaching eight years since voters approved adult-use legalization in November 2014. Still, the state’s industry is facing major hurdles. Operators in the state are currently struggling with price compression due to oversupply—through the first nine months of this year, adult-use sales were down roughly 15% compared to 2021, according to data from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Officials implemented a licensing moratorium in April to combat a “crowded marketplace.” The state is also battling illicit growers, particularly in the southern part of the state, who are also contributing to the price compression.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Tina Kotek served as speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives from 2013 to 2022. She does not have any cannabis-related stances listed on her campaign website, but she has voted in favor of several pieces of cannabis legislation in the past. 

Christine Drazan, who served in the Oregon House of Representatives as minority leader from 2019 to 2022, does not have any cannabis-related stances listed on her campaign website. She has, however, voted against several pieces of cannabis-related legislation in the past, including House Bill 2519 and Senate Bill 420.

Betsy Johnson served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 2001 to 2005 and then in the Oregon Senate from 2005 to 2021. She does not have any cannabis-related stances on her campaign website.

-Theresa Bennett

Pennsylvania

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is not running for reelection due to term limits.

2022 Candidates:

Josh Shapiro (Democrat)Doug Mastriano (Republican)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program into law in 2016, and medical cannabis became available to patients in February 2019. The state has over 410,000 registered patients as of August 2022, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health expanded the program earlier this year to help advance research and provide additional financial assistance to patients. In addition, Wolf signed cannabis banking legislation into law in July to allow the state’s medical cannabis operators to secure financial services from banks and lenders.

Wolf has been a longtime advocate of adult-use cannabis legalization and included it in his 2021 state budget proposal as part of a broader plan to combat the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. While legalization has struggled to gain the support it needs in the General Assembly, the Senate Law & Justice Committee held a hearing on the issue in February to weigh cannabis mistakes and successes elsewhere. Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman also announced plans in September to pardon Pennsylvanians with select minor, nonviolent cannabis-related convictions.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Josh Shapiro, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s attorney general, has been outspoken about his support for adult-use cannabis legalization. He tweeted in March: “We can cut costs, legalize recreational marijuana, and raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. We just have to win in November.” Shapiro also shared his stance on Facebook in June 2021: “Legalize marijuana. Regulate it. Tax it. But let me be clear: Legalization must include expungement for those in jail or who have served time for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Our Black & brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by this for far too long.”

Shapiro acknowledged in a March interview with the Times Leader that while he previously opposed adult-use cannabis legalization, his view shifted after serving in law enforcement. “As a chief law enforcement officer, quite frankly I don’t believe that we are made any more safe by arresting people [in nonviolent marijuana cases],” he said. “I think it actually diverts law enforcement resources away from the real challenge, like fentanyl, for example.”

Doug Mastriano, currently a state senator, told a crowd in late 2019 that adult-use cannabis legalization would cause an increase in violence, mental illness and driving under the influence. “It’s just madness and it’s stupid,” he said, as reported by Herald-Mail Media.

NORML gave Mastriano an “F” grade in its Smoke the Vote voting guide.

­-Melissa Schiller

Rhode Island

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee

2022 Candidates:

Daniel McKee (Democrat)Ashley Kalus (Republican) Elijah Gizzarelli (Libertarian)Zachary Baker Hurwitz (Independent) Paul Rianna Jr. (Independent)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical

What’s at stake?

Medical cannabis in Rhode Island was legalized in 2006. Today it includes a caregiver program, 50-plus cultivators and less than 10 dispensaries. In May of this year, Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize cannabis for adult-use. The next administration will be put to the test for building upon a commercial sales rollout that is expected for Dec. 1, 2022.

The law, signed by sitting Gov. Dan McKee, immediately legalized possession of cannabis of up to 1 ounce, home cultivation for up to six plants (three mature), and will automatically clear criminal records for misdemeanor and felony possessions over the next two years—a move commended by social justice organizations. A new regulatory commission will be established, and members will be appointed by the governor. The law enacted a two-year moratorium on cultivation licenses, and existing medical establishments will be permitted to obtain hybrid adult-use licenses.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Dan McKee: McKee has garnered an “A” from NORML’s Smoke the Vote gubernatorial rating. “This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee said in his announcement after signing the adult-use legalization bill in May 2022. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision, and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.” 

Ashley Kalus: In a public debate covered by the Providence Journal, Kalus agreed with McKee that “recreational marijuana sales should be legal.”

Elijah Gizzarelli: According to Gizzarelli’s campaign website: “We currently have people imprisoned at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) who have never hurt or stolen from anybody; their only crime was possessing a substance the government decided they shouldn’t be allowed to have. We must respect the choices people make regarding their own bodies. That includes what they choose to put into their bodies. … Once elected Governor, on day one I will issue a pardon to all inmates with non-violent drug convictions. We will send them back home to their families with a heartfelt apology.”

Zachary Baker Hurwitz: In a statement made after the Oct. 11 debate between candidates McKee and Kalus, Hurwitz said, “There have been peer-reviewed clinical studies that show that marijuana does help patients who are in pain and also helps those who have other ailments. I also support marijuana shops opening and would look to other states to see how they regulate distribution and manufacturing to ensure the safety of the product.”

Paul Rianna: In an interview with Ray-ality TV, Rianna said, “I support legalization of marijuana. I think if it’s handled correctly, it can benefit the state. … It has to be transparent and fair … and not overtaxed because it’s cheaper to buy it on the street. … It does help people if it’s legalized and hopefully the crime rate’s going to go down, too.” On expungement, he said, “If it’s something nickel and dime, something small, then yeah, I agree with expunging records; it will help people be able to be out there and be productive, get a job and grow their future. Because the smallest thing on your record could keep you from being anything you want to be.”

– Cassie Tomaselli

South Carolina

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Henry McMaster (Republican) 

2022 Candidates: 

Henry McMaster (Republican)  Joe Cunningham (Democrat)  Morgan Bruce Reeves (Libertarian)  

Current Reform Status: No legal market 

What’s at stake?  

South Carolina is one of 10 states that has no medical program. The next governor could help steer the course of reform for medical cannabis. The SC Compassionate Care Act passed in the Senate in February after seven floor sessions, but Republican Rep. John McCravy challenged the bill’s constitutionally in May, arguing legislation that creates a new tax must instead originate in the House, which led to the bill’s demise in the lower chamber. 

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Henry McMaster assumed office as the governor of South Carolina in 2017 and is running for reelection. He has been vocal about his opposition to cannabis legalization, but last year he said he would be open to considering legalizing it for medical purposes, according to FitsNews. “There is a lot of suffering that is treatable … with medical marijuana,” he said.

However, McMaster also voiced he was against legalizing cannabis in his early years in office. “It is the consistent opinion of law enforcement that it would be a detriment to society, to law enforcement, to open the door to that,” McMaster said during an October 2018 debate. He added that legalizing medical cannabis would put the state in a “very dangerous territory.” 

NORML gave McMaster an “F” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

Joe Cunningham’s career experience includes serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021, where he represented South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Cunningham expressed he is in favor of legalizing cannabis in South Carolina.  

“This is a great first step and terrific news,” he said in an Oct. 6 tweet in response to Biden’s three-step cannabis reform plan. “It will be life-changing for many. But we have a long way to go. It’s time to legalize marijuana here in SC and expunge the records of people with low-level marijuana convictions. And I’m the only person running for governor who will.” 

NORML gave Cunningham an “A” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

Morgan Bruce Reeves founded the Morgan Reeves Community Unity Foundation. He has also worked as a senior pastor. Reeves stated on his campaign website, “It is time for South Carolina to join the 38 states that have legalized cannabis. Shown by studies to be safer than alcohol, never linked to overdose, and proven effective as a medical treatment for common ailments such as glaucoma, cannabis is a beneficial plant and the open door to a fast-growth industry for our state.” 

NORML gave Reeves a “B” in its Smoke the Vote voting guide. 

– Andriana Ruscitto 

South Dakota

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Kristi Noem

2022 Candidates:

Kristi Noem (Republican)Jamie Smith (Democrat)

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only

What’s at stake?

South Dakota made history in the 2020 election when voters approved medical and adult-use cannabis legalization on the same ballot. While medical cannabis sales have since launched in the state, a lawsuit, supported by Noem, challenged the adult-use measure. The South Dakota Supreme Court ultimately overturned the initiative in November 2021, but advocates regrouped and gathered enough signatures to qualify a new adult-use legalization measure for the November 2022 ballot. If voters approve legalization a second time, Noem or her replacement could again influence the next steps.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Kristi Noem backed a legal challenge to South Dakota’s voter-approved adult-use legalization measure in early 2021.

This year, she signed several bills into law to fine-tune the state’s medical cannabis program, including legislation to allow home grow and to authorize physician assistants and nurse practitioners to recommend medical cannabis to patients.

However, she also vetoed legislation that would have automatically removed simple cannabis charges and convictions from public background records if the violations were more than five years old.

Jamie Smith, who currently serves as the minority leader of the South Dakota House of Representatives, states his support for adult-use cannabis legalization on his campaign website: “In South Dakota, the people rule. As governor, I will always seek to carry out the will of the people. We must acknowledge and carry out that decision, which means legalizing recreational cannabis rather than wasting taxpayer dollars on lawsuits. Legalization will also create thousands of potential new jobs and increase our annual GDP by more than $14 million.”

Smith reiterated this support in an Aug. 5 Instagram post: “My plan is simple: Listen and implement the will of South Dakotans. Recreational cannabis should be legal in our state. The people of South Dakota voted for the legalization of recreational cannabis and that vote was not only ignored, but impeded by Gov. Noem at every turn. As your governor, I will fight for the will of South Dakotans to legalize recreational cannabis.”

-Melissa Schiller

Tennessee

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Bill Lee

2022 Candidates:  

Bill Lee (Republican) Jason Martin (Democrat)

Current Reform Status: No legal market

What’s at stake?

Tennessee has yet to legalize cannabis in any capacity despite several attempts made by lawmakers over the years. While polling website FiveThirtyEight puts incumbent Lee’s odds of winning at 99%, which would likely continue to hinder reform in the state, Lee’s 2022 opponent has built his campaign around cannabis legalization as one of his main issues.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Bill Lee has publicly stated he does not support cannabis legalization. In 2018, he told WPLN he doesn’t think Tennesseans should be able to possess and use cannabis. More recently, in response to President Joe Biden’s move to pardon federal cannabis convictions, Lee told The Tennessean he does not plan to pardon those convicted of cannabis possession in the state.

Jason Martin is a proponent of passing cannabis for adult use and decriminalizing small drug offenses (as he’s stated publicly numerous times, including on his campaign website and Twitter page). During a public forum in July, Martin advocated for cannabis legalization, stating it “could be an opportunity for rural Tennessee,” according to The Tennessee Tribune. He often speaks to the benefits cannabis legalization could bring to the state, including putting cartels out of business, relieving overcrowded prisons, and giving veterans an alternative medicine to help with their post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain.

– Theresa Bennett

Texas

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott

2022 Candidates:  

Greg Abbott (Republican) Beto O’Rourke (Democrat)Delilah Barrios (Green Party)Mark Tippetts (Libertarian) 

Current Reform Status: Medical cannabis only (limited to 1% THC)

What’s at stake? 

Texas does currently have a medical cannabis program; however, it is the most restrictive in the country with a THC cap at 1% for all products. (For perspective, all federally legal hemp products must contain less than 0.3% THC.) Three of the four major party candidates in this year’s gubernatorial race support going beyond expanding the medical program and legalizing adult use altogether.

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Greg Abbott has opposed cannabis legalization in the state since his appointment in 2014. He has expressed interest in reducing the criminal penalty for cannabis possession to a Class C misdemeanor, stating: “We don’t need to be stockpiling in our jails and prisons people who are arrested for minor possession allegations,” according to Dallas Morning News. He did not budge on that stance following President Joe Biden’s move to pardon federal cannabis convictions. “Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a public statement.

Beto O’Rourke has come out in favor of cannabis legalization, stating on his social media: “When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.” O’Rourke, who served as a U.S. representative for Texas from 2013 to 2019 and was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, has addressed the issues that come with prohibition, including racial disparities in arrests, as well as the burden on law enforcement and taxpayers. The Democratic nominee has stated he would use the “nearly $1 billion in new state revenue and reduced criminal justice costs to invest in public schools and teacher pay raises” after legalizing cannabis, according to BallotPedia. He’s even gone so far as to round up celebrities to excite voters around the issue—Willie Nelson, for example, was at one of O’Rourke’s recent rallies, where he stated, “I’d like to do this song for our next governor” before playing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Delilah Barrios has come out in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis. “If marijuana was legal for recreational use, these consumers would have less costly and more variety of options to choose from. I feel confident most of our population would support this because it would also open up the market to struggling farmers,” Barrios states on her campaign website, where she also notes the benefits of the plant for the bee population. 

Mark Tippetts has cited cannabis legalization as one of the top-three messages of his campaign, according to BallotPedia. He states on his campaign website: “Locking up people for marijuana production, possession, and use has resulted in a diversion of law enforcement resources into victimless crimes and an exploding prison population. … By allowing peaceful people to live their lives in liberty we create a more peaceful world. … I don’t advocate the use of marijuana. That’s a choice individuals should be able to make for themselves. I do recognize that marijuana prohibition causes more harm than good.”

-Theresa Bennett

Vermont 

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Phil Scott  

2022 Candidates:

Phil Scott (Republican)Brenda Siegel (Democrat)

Current Reform Status: Adult-use and medical 

What’s at stake?

Vermont’s long-awaited adult-use market just opened for business on Oct. 1, so, if anything, Scott will be riding a bit of a cannabis industry bump into the election. He remains one of the country’s most popular governors, with a 66% approval rating (University of New Hampshire, July 2022) and a bit of self-imposed distance between himself and the MAGA-forward caucus of his party.   

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Phil Scott has supported the state Legislature’s attempts to roll out a taxed-and-regulated adult-use cannabis market—with considerable hesitation. As lawmakers crafted a bill to follow Vermont voters’ legalization of cannabis in 2018, Scott pressed the Legislature on rules to crack down on potential sales to minors and to enforce highway safety. He signed the bill in October 2020, pointing to Illinois as an example of the sort of cannabis market he’d like to see fostered in his own state.  

Brenda Siegel has taken President Joe Biden to task on his inaction with the spectrum of cannabis reform possibilities before his administration. While her own state is now on the vanguard of the legalization wave, she has made a point of discussing the pervasive stigma of cannabis—and the ways in which public policy might shift the electorate out of that rut. Siegel hails from the Vermont Progressive Party, which leans more to the left than Biden’s D.C. coterie.

-Eric Sandy 

Wisconsin 

Incumbent: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers  

2022 Candidates:  

Tony Evers (Democrat)Tim Michels (Republican) 

Current Reform Status: No legal market 

What’s at stake?

Quite a lot, actually. No one has ever mistaken Wisconsin (or its Legislature) for a hotbed of cannabis reform, but Evers has done some work in recent years to nudge lawmakers toward legalization—via the state budget. He has renewed his calls on the campaign trail this year. Notably, if his plan were to make it into law, this would be the first time a state had bypassed medical legalization and gone straight to setting up an adult-use market.

Michels, meanwhile, outright opposes the legalization of cannabis. 

Wisconsin’s next biennial budget would be up for debate between now and its enactment in the summer of 2023, so there’s certainly a shot at legalization hanging in the balance of this election. 

Furthermore, Evers recently signed an executive order to compel a special legislative session. This month, in that special session, lawmakers will consider a constitutional amendment to allow citizen initiatives to appear on the state ballot. Long story short, this would inevitably open another path forward for cannabis legalization in Wisconsin.  

Candidate Policies on Cannabis:

Tony Evers wants cannabis to be treated like alcohol in Wisconsin. “It’s time for Wisconsin to join more than a dozen states across the country by legalizing and taxing marijuana, much like we already do with alcohol,” he said last month, “so we can continue to compete for talented workers to come to our state, expand access to medical treatment for thousands, and have more resources to invest in critical state priorities like K-12 education.” 

Tim Michels was even more blunt on the opposite side of the argument: “I do not support the legalization of marijuana. I think it’s all a slippery slope. I really do.” 

-Eric Sandy 

Wyoming 

Incumbent: Republican Gov. Mark Gordon  

2022 Candidates:

Mark Gordon (Republican)Theresa Livingston (Democrat) 

Current Reform Status: No legal market 

What’s at stake? 

There’s nothing on the table right now that would suggest legalization anytime soon, although activists are presently targeting the 2024 ballot with medical legalization and decriminalization measures. Alongside any signature-gathering efforts, the Wyoming NORML team promises to continue working with the state Legislature to get some momentum going. Invariably, those conversations would reel in the ear of the sitting governor—and the 2022 candidates take different approaches to the matter.  

Candidate Policies on Cannabis: 

Mark Gordon suggested he’d be willing to consider medical cannabis legalization during the Republican primary debate earlier this year. (“I think I would be willing to look at the research,” he said.) But he stopped short of taking any official stance on the matter, saying that it wasn’t much of a priority for him. A 2020 state poll found 54% of residents support the idea of legalizing medical cannabis—a bit of homespun research that Gordon may very well “consider” alongside the rest of the medical cannabis literature.    

Theresa Livingston does support the legalization of medical cannabis (with a regulatory structure similar to Oklahoma) and the decriminalization of cannabis, according to a Wyoming NORML candidate survey. “I would rather support the legalization of cannabis,” she wrote, (sic) throughout. “Fewer people in jail—easier for those that need it medically to obtain. I think eventually it will be legalized in the USA, which will be easier for everyone. Federal employees now can’t use it even if it legal in their state because they are under federal law. We allow alcohol with restrictions, age & driving, etc.” 

-Eric Sandy 

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