As governor of one of the very first U.S. states to legalize adult use cannabis, Jay Inslee has become a champion of legalized marijuana. Inslee was initially opposed to the recreational marijuana ballot initiative approved by Washington voters in 2012, but he’s since embraced and become protective of his state’s legal market. In a speech in early 2019, he declared it time for the rest of the nation to follow in Washington’s footsteps and legalize cannabis.
As governor, Inslee has signed onto law various bills that expanded the state’s medical marijuana program and allowed for hemp cultivation. Most recently, Inslee launched a program aimed at speeding up the expungements of past misdemeanor marijuana convictions, and then signed a new law that requires Washington state judges to grant requests to vacate any misdemeanor marijuana possession charges that occured prior to the change in marijuana law in 2012.
During his time as a U.S. Representative, Inslee signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would reschedule marijuana and protect state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. He also voted in favor of multiple floor amendments aimed at shielding states with legal marijuana.
Inslee also came to the defense of Washington’s legal marijuana industry in 2017 after the Donald Trump Administration indicated it may impose a crackdown. The governor joined three others in states with legal marijuana in writing a letter directed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, requesting they maintain a “hands off” approach with states that have passed their own cannabis policies. When Sessions responded by challenging Inslee’s claim that Washington state’s marijuana program was effectively regulated, Inslee followed-up and also criticized Sessions for being “much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts.” He also indicated that Washington could pursue legal action to protect its industry after Sessions rescinded the Cole memo in 2018.
In early 2018, Inslee and governors from 11 other states called on Congress to pass the STATES Act, which would give states the authority to legalize marijuana without fear of federal interference. He and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also sent a letter to Congress in 2013, calling for federal banking reform.
Inslee has predicted that federal marijuana legalization is inevitable and in March 2019 said that the issue has reached a “tipping point.”