Gov. John Hickenlooper signing a bill into law in 2013.

Colorado Governor Changes Tune On Cannabis Legalization

In the run-up to Colorado’s successful bid for cannabis legalization, nearly every politician in the state was a vocal critic of the measure, most notably the state’s Governor, John Hickenlooper, who expressed concerns about spikes in teenage use, intoxicated driving, and ruining the state’s reputation as one of the healthiest in the nation. A year and a half in, though, Hickenlooper has seemingly changed his tune.

“If you had asked me the day after the voters … changed our constitution to legalize marijuana, if you asked me if I had magic pixie dust and I could magically change that, I would have done it,” Hickenlooper said in an interview with CNN’s Cristina Alesci last month. “Now, I wouldn’t be quite so quick to go back. I’d say let’s give it another year or two and see if we can make a regulatory system that really keeps the bad guys out, keeps the pot away from kids, makes sure roads and highways are safe, and we have resources not just for regulation but to take care of the problems that get created along the way.”

While that might not sound like overwhelming praise, the Governor’s feelings about cannabis have evolved considerably from years past. During his time as Denver Mayor from 2003 to 2011, Hickenlooper was tormented by marijuana campaigns who passed local initiatives decriminalizing cannabis; many of them called the mayor a hypocrite for making his fortune as a brewpub owner, yet refused to discuss the legalization of marijuana.

“I hate Colorado having to be the experiment [for marijuana legalization],” he told the Durango Herald in a January 2014 interview. In the months leading up to his reelection last fall, Hickenlooper referred to the passage of A64 as a “reckless” move on the part of voters; and later spearheaded a bizarre campaign against teen pot use titled “Don’t Be A Lab Rat,” featuring enormously oversized animal cages with a dish and water bottle, placed strategically outside skateparks and schools. The idea was that too few studies have been done on marijuana, and so any teen who uses should consider himself an experiment.

Around that same time Hickenlooper conducted an hour-long interview with Katie Couric in Aspen, strictly on the issue of legalized marijuana in Colorado. Throughout the talk Hickenlooper repeatedly downplayed the financial benefit of taxed pot and refused to mention anything positive about the substance. When Couric referred to the state’s regulated framework as an overwhelming success, the governor responded “The word ‘overwhelming success’ is not something I’m going to apply to this because, you talk about branding, that’s the wrong… it could’ve been a lot worse.”

By January of this year, though, only one year after he expressed literal hatred for legal weed, Governor Hickenlooper had nearly done a full 180, being quoted in a 60 Minutes interview spouting rhetoric that mirrors campaign literature that the legalization movement has been putting out for years. “From time to time, people want to relax and help relieve the pressure of their day, in whatever form,” he said. “And they might choose to have a drink, or they might imbibe some marijuana. It will just be one of several choices of people trying to relax.”

Photo Credit: Mike Johnston

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