What the Re-Election of Governors in Vermont, New Hampshire and Indiana Means for the States’ Cannabis Policies
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What the Re-Election of Governors in Vermont, New Hampshire and Indiana Means for the States’ Cannabis Policies

While Vermont has moved forward to tax and regulate adult-use cannabis sales, leadership in New Hampshire and Indiana will likely remain unwilling to enact meaningful change, according to industry advocates.

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November 13, 2020

While the industry likely focused on the five states that had cannabis legalization measures on the ballot Election Day, as well as the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, several other issues, including shifts in Congress and gubernatorial races, also have the power to shape the market.

RELATED: How U.S. House, Senate Results Could Influence Cannabis Legislation

Among the notable gubernatorial races were those in Vermont, New Hampshire and Indiana, where all three of the states’ incumbent governors were up for—and won—re-election.

Vermont

In Vermont, voters re-elected Gov. Phil Scott (R), who recently permitted legislation to become law that will establish a taxed-and-regulated adult-use cannabis market in the state.

Senate Bill 54 cleared the Vermont House and Senate in September, and Scott let the measure become law without his signature.

Now that Scott has won re-election, Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said, “It’s pretty much a continuation of the status quo in Vermont.”

Scott defeated his Democratic opponent, David Zuckerman, by a nearly 70 to 30 margin, while Democrats maintained control of the state Senate and House.

Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) lost her bid for re-election, which Simon said, “could be taken as a small positive,” as she was largely viewed as an opponent of cannabis policy reform efforts.

Aside from this change, Simon believes cannabis policy in Vermont is where it was headed before Election Day.

“The governor seems resigned to allowing a board to be created and to start doing its work, so they’ll start building that [Cannabis] Control Board, writing the rules, getting legislative approval, and there will be an ongoing process of slowly implementing the law that was passed,” he said. “[Scott] could’ve vetoed the bill and he didn’t, so it’s law, and his executive branch is tasked with implementing the law. I’m confident that things will proceed as described in the legislation, and we’ll see the legislature take up some of the issues again [and] possibly make some tweaks in the spring.”

The state’s medical cannabis program will undergo a transition, as well, as S.B.54 transitions medical cannabis oversight from the Department of Public Safety into the to-be-established Cannabis Control Board, which will eventually oversee Vermont’s medical and adult-use cannabis programs.

“Vermont was the only state that had a law enforcement agency overseeing medical cannabis, and it was very lousy,” Simon said. “That transition doesn’t necessarily result in specific changes in the policy, but I think it’s a really big deal, and in the grand scheme of things, it will be key to that program getting out of the Dark Ages, where it’s been stuck for quite some time.

“I think Vermont’s in good shape, and it’s just a matter of advocates staying involved in the process as the rules are written and [implemented], any legislative battles that do arise, and making sure things stay on track,” Simon added. “So far, so good.”

New Hampshire

While it seems that cannabis policy reform is well underway in Vermont, Simon said that New Hampshire is likely to see “all bad things” on the cannabis front considering Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) re-election.

Sununu prevailed over his Democratic challenger, Dan Feltes, in a roughly 65-33 margin, which Simon said wasn’t surprising.

“We all knew Sununu would win, but he won huge, despite Trump getting whipped pretty good by Biden,” he said. “Sununu won by a huge margin and had big coattails, so the GOP took control of both the House and Senate. … Several prohibitionists got elected and re-elected to the state Senate, making it even more hostile than it was before. It’s hard to find any silver lining in the cloud in New Hampshire.”

The governor and every legislative seat in New Hampshire serve two-year terms, and while it is possible that state leadership may change its mind on cannabis policy reform, Simon said the outlook for meaningful change within the next two years is “pretty grim.”

“[New Hampshire] is surrounded by states where cannabis is legal and where there are or will soon be stores along the border, and yet the 24-member state Senate and the governor do not seem at all inclined to do anything,” he said.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Simon said several cannabis-related bills that were introduced this year got pushed to next year’s legislative session. Among the legislation that was postponed were bills that would have allowed patients to purchase medical cannabis from any dispensary, not just the one they signed up for when they enrolled in the program, as well as legislation that would have allowed out-of-state patients to access New Hampshire’s dispensaries.

“[The bills] all died, but they’ll come back, and some of them might pass,” Simon said. “The governor has signed several bills over the years to improve the medical cannabis program, including adding PTSD, chronic pain and other conditions. … I think there’s certainly the possibility to continue improving the medical program.”

Indiana

Cannabis policy reform efforts could also face an uphill battle in Indiana, where Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) defeated Woody Myers (D) 57% to 32%.

Holcomb not only opposes adult-use cannabis legalization, but also medical cannabis and even decriminalization, said Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst for MPP.

“Indiana is severely lagging behind both its neighbors and the rest of the country on cannabis policy,” Naugle said. “It’s one of only 19 states that’s still implementing jail time for simple possession of cannabis, and one of just 14 that still lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law. Indiana’s neighbor to the north, Michigan, and its neighbor to the west, Illinois, both legalized cannabis for adult-use, and then Ohio, its eastern neighbor, has a comprehensive medical cannabis program. So, it’s really past time that Indiana reform its outdated cannabis laws.”

While there aren’t any current cannabis-related proposals pending in the state legislature, Naugle said she is interested to see how next year’s legislative session progresses, especially considering five states voting to legalize cannabis on Election Day.

“Nationwide, … we saw sweeping victories in the marijuana reform movement in this election cycle, so as more and more states move forward, it’s only a matter of time before Indiana improves its laws,” she said. “It’s time for elected officials to act on this issue to bring meaningful reform to Indiana."

Senior Editor Patrick Williams contributed to this report.