As local election results poured in last night, cannabis advocates in New Jersey and Virginia celebrated.
Another election night these days usually means more big wins for the cannabis advocates around the country. This November, local elections included major victories in the purple states of Virginia and New Jersey, where both states elected governors who made pro-cannabis promises on the campaign trail.
In New Jersey, the incoming governor Phil Murphy made legalization a real part of his platform in the eyes of pot-liticos. Marijuana Majority — an organization which makes sure the media, politicians and government officials treat marijuana as a serious issue important to a growing majority of Americans — noted the primary victory speech earlier this year where Murphy reiterated the stance.
“These election results show that marijuana reform is a winning issue, and one that isn’t going away,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “Candidates across the country should take note: Marijuana reform is now more popular than almost any politician, so would-be elected officials should listen to the public and make it a key part of their platforms.”
Murphy’s upcoming trip to the governor’s mansion will provide Jersey lawmakers, who have been stuck in a holding pattern during the prohibitionist Chris Christie era, with a viable road forward for real reform.
New Jersey NORML Executive Director Evan Nison worked on the issue in the state for almost a decade and shared his joy and a few reminders with fellow supporters on Facebook after the election results came in. “This has been hands down the most promising and exciting night so far towards that goal,” Nison wrote on Facebook. “Murphy’s win moved us monumentally closer towards adult-use legalization.”
Nison added that New Jersey’s diversity has the state primed to show what a truly inclusive cannabis industry can look like.
“Communities and inner cities that have been impacted by prohibition most should not have insurmountable hurdles to benefiting from the industry,” he wrote.
Murphy’s election also means that New Jersey could be the first state to skip decriminalization and go straight to legalization. Nison wrote that, if New Jersey makes that jump, it is more important than ever to set a new standard for treating people with former convictions fairly in the legal cannabis market. He called for expungements to be free and streamlined or automatic.
Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project told Cannabis Now he had his fingers crossed following the good news. “New Jersey might actually beat some of the other states to legalization, depending on how strong support is and how quickly legislators change their tunes now that Christie is on his way out,” Fox said.
Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam proved to be a true champion of marijuana decriminalization on the campaign trail in a state where 10,000 people are facing first-time marijuana possession convictions every year, according to a recent piece from the Washington Post. Marijuana Majority noted that Northam often brought up the issue of decriminalization during debates, as well as the fact that a potential change in control of the state’s House of Delegates could help the new governor move cannabis legislation when he takes office.
Virginia did see some small steps of progress earlier this year, and at the time, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now, “These new laws indicate a changing tide in Virginia, and have given us enough momentum that we fully expect to take decriminalization across the finish line in 2018 with significant bi-partisan support.”
In July, the Washington Post noted that 127 individuals in jail on a marijuana charge alone were costing Virginia taxpayers more than $10,000 a day.
“Following our big wins at the ballot box in 2016, last night’s results show that marijuana reform only continues to gain momentum,” said Sam Tracy, Marijuana Majority board member. “Next year, multiple states will be voting on whether to legalize marijuana for medical or adult use, and candidates in races for state and federal office will be asked about these issues, so they’d do well to come up with good answers. As the public becomes even more supportive of legalization, we expect these victories to continue.”
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