The new year is already shaping up to be an important one for marijuana reform. And activists and lawmakers are finding allies in governors across the country, with numerous calls to states and budget speeches, including calls for legalization.

From New York to New Mexico, high-level policymakers have reported that cannabis policy reform is a legislative priority for 2021. So far, at least 11 governors have actively addressed the marijuana issue in their official speeches, budgets or press conferences, with more expected.

While governors are not in a position to unilaterally enact the reforms they desire, their support on this issue could significantly increase the likelihood of success of cannabis policy change this year, at least in some states.

Here’s what the governors are saying about marijuana policy in 2021


Gov. Ned Lamont (D) made a call for cannabis legalization in his annual State of the Union address in January, saying that policy shifts are happening all around us in neighboring states.

Let’s not miss these opportunities for out-of-state markets or, worse, underground markets, he said.

The governor included the legalization proposal in his 2021 budget request the following month.

Lamont, who has convened an informal working group in recent months to recommend policy changes, said his budget plan would create a comprehensive framework for the cultivation, production, sale, possession, use and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety and social justice.

In his State of the Union speech last year, he also advocated legalization. And he also discussed this proposal in his budget speech this year.


As lawmakers filed bills for marijuana reform, the Kansas governor unveiled a plan earlier this month to legalize medical marijuana and use the resulting tax revenue to fund Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D) held a press conference to announce her legislation, saying it creates a regulatory framework for the cultivation, testing, distribution, prescription and purchase of medical marijuana.

The introduction of this bill is in itself a victory for the people of Kansas who will benefit from medical marijuana – something that, again, our neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri have already recognized and addressed, she said.


In his State of the State address in January, Governor Andy Beshear (D) said that Kentucky needs to move forward with cannabis reform.

Speaking of laws that unnecessarily prevent us from growing and innovating, it’s time to legalize medical marijuana, the governor said in his speech, adding that he also wants to allow sports betting.

Legislation to legalize medical cannabis was filed at the time Mr. Beshear spoke at this address.


In Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz (D) spoke last month about the need to legalize marijuana as a way to boost the economy and promote racial justice.

In a briefing on his budget proposal for fiscal year 2022-23, the governor said he was willing to allow sports betting, but that lawmakers should look to recreational cannabis to increase tax revenue.

He said that not only would adult marijuana revenue be taxed through sports betting, but legalization would also help with the fairness and, frankly, the racial impact of our marijuana laws.

However, Waltz did not include the legalization proposal in his budget. Earlier this month, key Minnesota lawmakers introduced a bill to legalize cannabis in the state.


Last month, Nevada’s governor said his budget proposal included provisions to keep marijuana tax revenue for state schools.

Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) spoke about his financial plan in his State of the State address, saying he would ensure education remains funded by marijuana taxes so districts can meet the needs of students during the pandemic and beyond.

The 2019 legislature passed SB 545, which requires that revenue from 10 percent of the excise tax collected on recreational marijuana sales be deposited into the [school distribution account], according to the governor’s budget. These new funds for education were not charged to general funds and were credited as an increase. This is continued in the 2021-2023 budget.

New Jersey

Gov. Dr. Phil Murphy said in his speech last month that we are on the verge of passing a groundbreaking and groundbreaking set of laws to reform our historically unjust approach to marijuana and cannabis.

Advocates had hoped the Legislature would pass the law sooner after voters approved a referendum on legalization in November, but disagreements between the Legislature and the governor over certain child welfare provisions delayed reform.

New Mexico

In her State of the State address last month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) reiterated her intention to legalize marijuana in the state by 2021.

The governor discussed cannabis reform as a means of generating needed tax revenue and creating jobs in the face of a coronavirus pandemic. He said a crisis like last year’s can be seen as a loss or an invitation to rethink the status quo, to be ambitious, creative and courageous.

That kind of thinking, of course, includes recreational cannabis and the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of new revenue it will bring to our state, she said.

Prior to the annual speech, Lujan Grisham presented Agenda 2021, which identifies legalization as one of the legislative priorities.

It appears that lawmakers are moving toward a cannabis legalization bill that will be considered by a House committee this week.

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has often talked about plans to legalize marijuana as part of this year’s budget.

For the third consecutive year, it has included a reform proposal in its budget request and recently announced that it would send an amended version to the Legislative Assembly in hopes of reaching an agreement with lawmakers who criticized some provisions of its original proposal.

In his State of the State address last month, the governor said New York will legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults, joining 15 other states that have already done so.

This will increase revenue and end the over-criminalization of this product, which has overpopulated so many communities of color and put them behind bars, he said.

Mr. Cuomo first discussed the details of the legalization plan in a budget speech in January.

We are also proposing to legalize cannabis for adults, which would raise about $350 million, he said, adding that $100 million would go to the social justice fund. That leaves $250 million for the budget and for our needs.

Tuesday, the governor released details of an amended marijuana legalization budget he sent to the legislature, with new provisions allowing cannabis delivery services and a clarified approach to penalties for illegal sales.


Earlier this month, Pennsylvania’s governor said legalizing marijuana would be a priority when he begins annual budget talks with lawmakers. However, her official request for expenditure contains no legislation that would actually change cannabis policy.

In a 2021 supplemental legislative plan, Governor Tom Wolf (D) stated that Pennsylvania has established a successful medical marijuana program through bipartisan work and that it is now time to take the next step and legalize recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth, with an emphasis on business support and restorative justice.

Prior to his budget speech, Mr. Wolf said on the agenda that adopting changes to cannabis policy should be part of the state’s economic recovery and also promote social justice.

With neighboring states moving toward legalization, he said: Pennsylvania can’t afford to be left behind.


Marijuana prohibition was intentionally instituted generations ago to discriminate against people of color, Virginia’s governor said last month, calling for legalization in a speech to the commonwealth state to address those disparities.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) stated that the criminalization of cannabis is an example of how our criminal justice system treats different people unfairly. He added that blacks are arrested for marijuana more often than whites, despite similar rates of use.

The speech was delivered on the same day the governor introduced a comprehensive legalization bill that will be implemented by the House and Senate.

In December, the government released a separate budget proposal that lays the groundwork for marijuana legalization, including millions of dollars to support efforts to overturn cannabis convictions, as well as measures to establish a state that would eventually create a commercial sales system.

We know that marijuana prohibition laws have always been based on discrimination and that criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities, Mr. Northam said in his budget speech.

Both the House and Senate approved their own versions of the marijuana legalization bill this month, and lawmakers are now taking steps to iron out the differences in a unified proposal that will be sent to Mr. Northam’s cabinet.


On Tuesday, Governor Tony Evers (D) unveiled a plan to legalize marijuana as part of his budget proposal.

Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin, as we already do for alcohol, provides a controlled market and a safe product for recreational and medical consumers, he said in a statement, and can provide countless opportunities to invest in our communities and create a more equitable state.

Evers, who was the first to announce earlier this month that he would include legal cannabis in his budget request, did not mention the policy in his budget speech Tuesday. But the text of the plan as submitted to lawmakers details what the program will look like.

The proposal is already meeting strong opposition from Republican lawmakers. However, some members expressed interest in more modest cannabis reforms, such as B. decriminalizing or allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

New York’s top lawmaker says the marijuana legalization bill must be approved by the Legislature before negotiations with the governor can begin.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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