Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said that he was open to legalizing medical marijuana in his state during a radio interview on Wednesday. He added that he was "not there yet" on legalizing pot for all adults, a formulation that indicates the famously savvy governor knows which direction the issue is headed and is leaving himself the option of moving that way.
Appearing on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program, McAuliffe said that he supported legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, but that he didn’t think a bill supporting such a measure would pass the Virginia legislature anytime soon.
“I’ve supported the issue of medical marijuana for issues of people that it could help medically. I certainly would look at that, I think we ought to look at that,” McAuliffe said. “I think a couple members of the General Assembly have talked about it, but listen, it’s an issue I know the General Assembly has not taken up. And when it gets to my desk clearly I would evaluate it and listen.”
McAuliffe spoke about the issue in personal terms, saying that he had a neighbor when he was growing up who suffered from cancer who benefited from medical marijuana. But McAuliffe added that his support for legalizing marijuana would hinge on action from the legislature, which he believed was “highly unlikely” in the 2015 legislative session.
“I’m open to discussing anything. I gotta spend my time and focus on things that I can get done with the General Assembly, because I’m not into spending time if there’s no interest.”
Tom Angell, a top official at Marijuana Majority, which advocates for legalization, said that McAuliffe's move should be confirmation that the politics have shifted. "Everyone knows that Terry McAuliffe is a calculating, ambitious politician. For him to so clearly endorse medical marijuana and give personal testimony about how someone he knew was helped by it shows just how far the politics of this issue have shifted," he said. "Now we just need him to talk to Hillary Clinton about it."
Clinton, a close friend of McAuliffe's, has said only that states should be able to make their own marijuana policy, but has not said what her preferred approach might be.
McAuliffe did not support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, despite a tremendous potential financial benefit for Virginia.
"You know, I think there’s bigger issues than just the money that can be generated. The quality of life issues, how it affects the children. You know, I’m personally not there yet,” he said. “But I’m willing to have the discussion to see where we could go on the issue.”