Colorado Marijuana reform wins over its most vocal opponent

As our politicians suddenly discover their voices on cannabis reform it might do well to note what Colorado’s governor has to say on the issue.

When Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana four years ago, one of the move’s chief critics was Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The moderate Democrat said that if he could “wave a magic wand” to reverse the decision, he would. Then he called voters “reckless” for approving it in the first place, a remark he later downgraded to “risky.”

“Colorado is known for many great things,” Hickenlooper said. “Marijuana should not be one of them.”

But the governor’s views have softened. During a recent panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, he said that despite opposing the legalization of pot, his job was to “deliver on the will of the people of Colorado.”

“If I had that magic wand now, I don’t know if I would wave it,” he said. “It’s beginning to look like it might work.”

It was the latest in a series of comments Hickenlooper has made signaling what looks like an evolution of his views on marijuana. In April last year, during an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, Hickenlooper said legal weed was “not as vexing as we thought it was going to be.”

And during an appearance on “60 Minutes,” he predicted that Colorado might “actually create a system that could work” in successfully regulating marijuana.

So why the big change of heart?

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws. “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.

He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

Scaremongering almost always turns out to be overblown.

[N]one of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming. The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country. High-tech companies are moving in. Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries. And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.

“In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar. “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.

As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that’s out of a $27-billion state budget.

Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects. The rest goes back into regulating the industry.

What’s not to like about that?

Time our own politicians grasped the nettle and got on with legalisation.


– LA Times


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  • TM

    I think it is great that it is working. Given the medical benefits, and the fact that for many people alcohol does a lot more harm, the fact that it is removed from organised crime and so on – all good. However, the problem with dope is it makes you apathetic. It is also, as is alcohol, very damaging for young brains, and now that it is easy to buy if will be in a lot more households. It will become the norm. Colorado will become a state of losers within 5 years, however violent crime etc may well reduce and tax coffers are full.

    • Keyser Soze

      Explain the 4.2% unemployment rate. You make a bold prediction, I’d love for you to be able to quantify it because I’d have me some of that money. I predict that as always doomsayers are over egging their cake and life will continue albeit just that little bit nicer for some.

      • TM

        It is too early to use the unemployment rate as any sort of measure and also in the US people generally have a bit more get up and go – and if there is no work in their state they move to one where there is. I totally agree about the fact that life will not end and some people will be happier – and it causes less harm than alcohol. However it will be a disaster in NZ as the government underwrites your chosen lifestyle – in the US they dont – it is only Colorado that will suffer.

  • cows4me

    In the end it will come down to this choice. Does the state take in more keeping it illegal or does the state take in more through taxes.

    • Keyser Soze

      How can the state earn if it’s illegal? Fines? Property seizures? I’d bet that’s not a drop in the very large tax revenue bucket.

      • cows4me

        I think you’ll find it is. Many police departments in the US are now financed through drugs offenses be they fines, seizures, private prisons etc. Please explain to me how medical marijuana can be imported from the US, cost around $400 US and sold here for $4000 Kiwi, someone is greasing their palms.

        • Keyser Soze

          The olde supply and demand chestnut. Although there is relatively low demand in NZ for medical marijuana, the supply of (NZ) legitimate product is almost non-existent and limited to only one US manufacturer. Look no further for the greasy palms, they can charge whatever they like if we can’t source it elsewhere.

      • cows4me

        May I suggest this movie/documentary, it’s well worth a watch and I doubt you’ll think the same again.

        • Keyser Soze

          Just finished watching this… a nice summary of various sources of info on the topic. I have to say there was absolutely nothing in it that surprised me. What it does highlight to me is just how far behind the 8-ball NZ is. If a country like the US who has such massive Government and massive resistance from corporates is able to get their act together and begin to sort the mess out – well, we should be embarrassed.

    • Keyser Soze

      I agree that the biggest problem is the socio-economics of our drug trade – but in NZ the property seizures from drugs are minuscule. Many places in the US allow situations where a street level purchaser could have their vehicle seized for using it to drive down and buy a tinnie. It’s an absurd proposition whose obvious consequences should have been foreseen and aptly documented in The Culture High. I suspect a religio-moral motivation of righteousness underlying those rules.

      A greater problem we face is that when we legalise, what are the gangs going to do to replace the billion dollars they’re currently earning from drugs? I suspect they’re not all going to rush out and get jobs so I’m concerned about the law of unintended consequences. More violent crime? A new type of lucrative crime, maybe cyber related? At the moment in Colorado, gangsters will have simply moved on to states where laws still support their illicit trade but our NZ gangs won’t have that option, what then?


    What the naysayers simply projected or predicted simply did not come true

  • 10cents

    The best book I read on this topic is called Chasing the Scream. Id recommend it. Documents the birth, and expected death of the war on drugs.