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Former Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper Vies for Presidential Nomination. But Was He Good on Pot?

Two governors from legal marijuana states are seeking to become the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2020. We wrote about Washington’s current Governor Jay Inslee earlier this week. Here’s our take on Colorado’s former two-term Governor John Hickenlooper, who announced his candidacy on March 4.

Like Inslee, Hickenlooper opposed his state’s recreational marijuana ballot initiative in 2012 when Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed with 55% of the vote.

By 2014, when the law was implemented and adult-use stores began to open, the Governor stated: «I hate Colorado having to be the experiment. We are going to regulate the daylights out of it.»

He added: «This is going to be one of the great social experiments of the 21st century. But going out and getting tax revenue is absolutely the wrong reason to even think about legalizing recreational marijuana. We’re going to not use this as a source of revenue to help education or expanding health care. We’re going to use it in health care where it will relate to marijuana activity… I don’t think governors should be the position of promoting things that are inherently not good for people.»

Hickenlooper contended about marijuana that it «doesn’t make people smarter and doesn’t make people healthier.»

While attending a college reunion at Wesleyan in Connecticut on May 25, 2014, Hickenlooper said he had smoked pot in the past:

«I’m way past any point of saying I didn’t inhale.»

«So far, we’ve rolled it out pretty well,» he told a crowd of alumni. «My advice to Connecticut would be to go slow on the recreational. I tell all the governors to go slow. You don’t realize until you’re trying to create a regulatory framework how complicated it is to make everything work.»

A month later, when he was running for reelection, Hickenlooper commented during a debate about legalization in Colorado: «I think you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless, because I’ll get quoted everywhere. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. All right, what the hell – I’ll say it was reckless.»

The next day he attempted to clarify what he’d said: «Perhaps risky is a better word. While I believe it was risky for Colorado to be the first state to step away from a failed federal policy given all of the unanswered legal questions and implications, the adoption of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters sent a clear message to the federal government that marijuana should be legal and regulated. Is it risky now? It is certainly less so. We have a robust regulatory enforcement system that would not have been possible without the partnership of the marijuana business owners, activists, law enforcement officials, regulators, parents, policy experts and stakeholders. Together we have worked tirelessly to ensure a safe and fair system that protects the public health, diminishes the underground market and educates and keeps marijuana out of the hands of our children.»

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: «The adoption of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters sent a clear message to the federal government that marijuana should be legal and regulated.»

Hickenlooper won a second term in 2014 with 49% of the vote. He could not run for a third, so instead the owner of Wynkoop Brewery in Denver decided to toss his hat into the ring for president.

Now that he’s announced his candidacy, Hickenlooper can expect to be on the receiving end of a barrage of media questions about marijuana. On March 6, he observed: “Trust me – the marijuana industry is not going to support someone who says I don’t think it should be legal in every state. Every state should make their choice.

«I don’t think the federal government should come in and tell every state it should be legalized,» he continued. «The federal government should reclassify marijuana, so it’s not a schedule I narcotic.»

His one regret about legalization in the Centennial State? “I would have been all over edibles,» Hickelooper noted. «It took us two years to create regulations to reign that back in.»

Fun Fact About John Hickenlooper: His cousin, George Hickenlooper, directed Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) and Factory Girl (2006), among his many films. He passed away in 2010.

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