The Democratic Governor Who Sees A 2020 Presidential Opportunity With Weed

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to pardon 3,500 marijuana convictions Friday after he filed a “test the waters” organization to challenge Trump in 2020.

Jay Inslee admits he’s terrible at getting high.

“In my day, I tried marijuana a couple times, but it didn’t have any beneficial impact,” said the Democratic Washington state governor, who recently created an organization to “test the waters” for a 2020 presidential run.

“I just, you know, it didn’t have any particular effect,” said Inslee, who announced plans Friday to pardon upward of 3,500 marijuana convictions, even though weed never worked out for him, personally. “Maybe my technique was poor.”

Inslee went on to extol the virtues of beer, adding that he hasn’t touched pot since it became legal in his state six years ago. “The next question you should ask,” he said after calling BuzzFeed News, “is why not.”

Okay, we’ll bite.

“I just haven’t had the desire,” he explained. “It’s not any particular reason. I have the best job in the world.”

And yet, Inslee is looking into a new job — which might, just maybe, have something to do with his phone call.

Inslee said he recently registered a “test the waters” organization with the Federal Elections Commission, which allows a potential candidate to spend up to $5,000 to gauge viability before diving in. So far, money has gone to travel, the governor explained while sticking with an official-sounding line, “I have not made a decision.”

As Democrats jockey to brand themselves on a crowded shelf of candidates for 2020, Inslee briskly positioned himself as the green candidate, in terms of environmentalism. The Atlantic ran a profile Wednesday titled “Jay Inslee Is Betting He Can Win the Presidency on Climate Change.” But it appears increasingly clear he’d be greener still as the environmentalist weed candidate.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana use, Gallup has found, including 72% of Democrats — the sort of decisive opinion that could distinguish a vocally pot-friendly candidate in the primary.

“I am the first governor in American history to do this,” Inslee said of his new campaign to pardon past marijuana offenders.

Asked why he’d do this now — whether this announcement would help someone, uh, running for president — Inslee dipped his toe further into the water with, “That remains to be seen.”

“There is emerging recognition that legalizing marijuana is the right move for the United States,” said Inslee, who actually opposed legalization when it was on the same ballot as his first run for governor in 2012. Now, having seen evidence that the state’s pot law didn’t drive up crime or increase use among youth, he said he feels authority to tell other parents and grandparents, “you shouldn’t worry about that.”

“I think the revolution is going to move a lot faster than people think,” he said. “This thing we did today will help by removing stigma for marijuana, and I think that’s the idea nationally.”

The governor’s Marijuana Justice Initiative, as Inslee calls it, would essentially create an expedited process for people in Washington state to fill out an online form to have adult marijuana convictions between 1998 and 2012 wiped from a Washington State Patrol database, which is the primary account for background checks. The records would, however, still appear in some internal law enforcement logs. Inslee said this could help an estimated 3,500 people erase smears that sully chances for jobs, housing, and other applications for a lifetime.

“It’s not right to have a life sentence for marijuana possession,” Inslee argued.

Inslee’s evolution from pot opponent to would-be champion conveniently jibes with his rising profile as the recent head of the Democratic Governors Association and skyrocketing public support for legalization. Pot also became a populist cudgel for Democrats feuding with the Trump administration, in which officials overseeing state regulatory systems for pot were warding off hostile gestures from former attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Inslee’s stance tracks closely with that of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who announced her presidential exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve. She didn’t endorse pot legalization when it was on her state’s ballot, but became a convert.

While Inslee has portrayed himself as born again on pot, his climate record recently has put him on the defensive — he’s signed transportation budgets that leaned heavily on road and highway projects, while inheriting highway expansions from his predecessors. “I signed a budget while I had a Republican Senate, and it was the right decision,” he said Friday. “I’m not a zero, never build another road — because if we can put electric cars on the road, that’s a good thing.”

The electric light rail network around Seattle, however, has lagged, with fractured local funding and some transit advocates complaining it will take far too long complete at its current rate. Asked if he’s trying to expedite that timeline, Inslee said, “I would love any opportunity to do that. I haven’t proposed anything specifically this year.”

As he positions himself as the Trump counterpoint, Inslee is avoiding the blunt attacks of new Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who called the president a “motherfucker” on Thursday night.

Does Inslee think that’s appropriate language?

“It’s not language I use in public, but the sentiment is one widely shared, and intensely, in the privacy of our living rooms.”

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