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How Cannabis Legalization Is Affecting Governor's Races This Fall

November may see marijuana legalization play a significant role in midterm elections across the country. Already politician’s positions on cannabis are impacting the support they receive from their own parties.

In California Democratic stalwart Dianne Feinstein was handed a huge blow when the state’s Democratic Party decided to endorse Kevin de León for the 26-year veteran’s seat in the United States Senate. And while cannabis may not be the only reason she lost the support of her party, it has played a significant role in how the people view her policies.

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Senators and Representatives are not the only politicians feeling the pressure to take a position on cannabis legalization. Some states with upcoming governor’s races may see cannabis factor into the outcomes, including those looking to expand their current medical marijuana programs and others that want to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Here is a look at the state's where cannabis may play a role in who occupies the governor's mansion this fall.

Cannabis and The Georgia Governor’s Race

In Georgia, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams won the party’s nomination in a landslide giving her the opportunity to become the state's first African-American woman governor. On the Republican side, there were several candidates in the field although none had enough votes to represent the party. It led to a contentious runoff election between candidates Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp, with Kemp emerging as the winner.

Cagle served as Lieutenant Governor of Georgia under current Governor Nathan Deal and has a reputation of being the more moderate of the two candidates. Kemp is born of the same mold as President Donald Trump — which is why no one was surprised when the President offered his endorsement in the governor’s race.

But, where does this leave medical cannabis in Georgia?

Currently, Georgia allows approved patients to possess up to 20 ounces of medical marijuana. However, it cannot be cultivated, extracted, or sold in the state which completely defeats the purpose of the law. Supporters of medical marijuana in the Peach State have been working tirelessly to create a true medical marijuana program, but efforts have failed in the General Assembly, and Governor Deal has repeatedly stated that he will not support cannabis cultivation in the state.

Even a nod from one of the country’s most outspoken medical cannabis advocates, Georgia State Representative Allen Peake (R-141) could not sway Republican votes to Cagle. Although the outcome of the runoff election did not go Representative Peake’s way, there will still be a supporter of expanding Georgia’s medical marijuana program in the Governor’s mansion. In a recent debate, both Republican candidates expressed their support for expanding access to medical cannabis.

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrahams was an early backer of medical marijuana. In fact, she supported medical cannabis legislation in the state back in 2015 when she was serving as a state Representative. That legislation was also sponsored by Representative Allen Peake.

Democrats Support Marijuana Legalization In Michigan

In Michigan, the recreational marijuana law that will be on the November ballot could have an impact on the governor’s race. Top Democratic candidates strongly favor full marijuana legalization.

Former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has expressed support and is ready to look at other state’s challenges and successes in rolling out a recreational marijuana program. The other Democratic candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed not only sees the medical benefits of cannabis, but he also supports full legalization to overcome the racial and economic disparities in arrests.

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The leading Republican candidate and current state Attorney General Bill Schuette has had great concern with the state legalizing marijuana in any form. Back in 2008 when Michigan first legalized medical marijuana, Attorney General Schuette was part of a lawsuit that sought to limit access to patients. While his position has not shifted on the matter, the state’s Attorney General decided to quiet his stance as he runs for governor.

Cuomo Is Pushed On Pot In New York

Sex and the City alum and candidate for New York’s top office, Cynthia Nixon, has been one of the state’s greatest voices when it comes to full legalization during her bid for governor. Nixon expressed that her support for legalization falls beyond access but more from a moral perspective.

Like others who support legalization, she points out how the prohibition laws disproportionately impact people of color and that the war on drugs “sucked.” Her brash and direct criticism of New York’s current Governor’s past position on pot has caused Governor Andrew Cuomo to evolve on the matter.

In January, Governor Cuomo announced that he was convening a group to study the full legalization of cannabis by the state’s Health Department. The results were recently released, and they concluded that the state should consider moving forward with full cannabis legalization.

Her progressive push has some Democrats concerned that the pressure from Nixon on the issue of legalization puts Republicans in a position to have a viable run by causing a fracture to the party.

Leading Republican candidate State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John Defrancisco has been rather mute on the subject of marijuana legalization. Tides could change once candidates make it through their primaries though.

Legalization Could Help The Budget Crisis In Illinois

In Illinois, there is a clear distinction between where Republicans and Democrats stand on the issue of legalization. Simply put, the Democrats are in favor while the Republicans are against.

Marijuana legalization is not a huge issue when it comes to this governor's race, but it may offer a solution to the problems that the people in the Land of Lincoln face. As the state deals with debt in the billions due to unpaid bills, Democrats have pointed out that legalization will offer another revenue stream to the state.

Democrats have also focused on the social aspect of legalizing marijuana and overcoming racial and socioeconomic disparities caused by prohibition.

The Incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner has fought efforts to expand the state’s current medical marijuana program and has taken a hard-line stance against recreational legalization.

*Photo Credit: By Diana Robinson (Governor Andrew Cuomo) [CC BY 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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