Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper Has Some Advice for California on Marijuana

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gets asked about cannabis everywhere he goes.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gets asked about cannabis everywhere he goes.
Brandon Marshall

Our sister paper, Denver Westword, scored an interview with its home state governor John Hickenlooper in which it asked him about all sorts of things: local marijuana tax holidays, pesticides and all the late-night jokes made about Colorado and cannabis. (Note: His favorite is the one Jimmy Fallon made about Colorado folks being so high "they can’t even spell Hickenlooper anymore.”)

So what does the mile-high governor get asked about the most by other politicians? He says, not surprisingly, that it's marijuana. With some states, including California, contemplating recreational legalization, many of its leaders are curious how the process has gone for Colorado. Here's what Hickenlooper had to say:

How often do other politicians ask you about marijuana?

Hickenlooper: It’s the first thing they ask: "How is 'it' going? How are you dealing with edibles? Are you letting them have marijuana candy? Are you keeping that out of the hands of kids?" We’ve gone a long way in building up the system. We’ve put more muscle on the skeleton than most of us thought we could do this quickly. Ramp-up speeds have been very fast.

What advice do you give those politicians? And how has it changed since Amendment 64 [which outlined new cannabis laws in Colorado] was approved?

Hickenlooper: I first tell them to wait, we don’t understand the unintended consequences. ... If I’d had a magic wand the day after, I probably would have reversed the vote. Now I look at how far we’ve come, and I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll have a system that works … if you eliminate the black market, make it harder for kids to get marijuana. We can put more money into education for kids.

How would you compare how Colorado has handled regulating marijuana to other states?

Hickenlooper: In some ways we’ve done better, in other ways not. With Washington state, there were a lot of things we’ve done here that they’re envious of, and vice versa. As Louis Brandeis says, states are the “laboratories of democracy.” States need to create their own systems. We’re watching what Washington is doing; we try to harmonize. My guess is that our regulatory environments will become increasingly similar.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Hickenlooper: The hardest part is that you’re having to negotiate with an industry that’s being created even as it constantly evolves. It has its own self-interest, and the primary point isn’t public health. They want to be safe, but they also have a business to run. We’re moving so fast that the rate of change often builds to almost a necessity of conflict.

Later, Hickelooper added one more pearl of wisdom:

What’s the one thing people outside Colorado should know about recreational marijuana here?

Hickenlooper: Most people who were not smoking marijuana before it was legalized still don’t.


Read Westword's full interview with Hickenlooper as well as Andrew Freedman, his director of marijuana coordination, here.

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