United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded nine years of federal cannabis protections yesterday, issuing a memo that reiterates the plant's federal illegality and allows U.S. Attorneys to prosecute state-legal pot businesses and users. The AG's move was met with plenty of opposing statements from Colorado lawmakers and politicians, including Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. And now Denver's mayoral candidates are getting into the mix.
Mayor Michael Hancock, who's looking at a third term, issued a statement on Thursday, January 4, condemning Sessions's move and calling on congressional leaders to protect Colorado:
"Denver and Colorado residents voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana in our state in 2012. Since then, we have worked diligently to implement their will in a way that works for Denver, and through this work, we have become an international model for how to do it right," Hancock said. "The decision today by Attorney General Sessions to roll back the guidance we received from the Obama Justice Department is severely disappointing and lacks good judgment. They should respect the will of our voters, and this is just another example that this administration doesn’t listen, doesn’t pay attention and just doesn’t care. I urge our congressional representatives to take immediate action to protect our voters’ will from this disastrous decision.”
While that statement would seem fairly supportive to anyone who consumes or works with legal cannabis, potrepreneur Kayvan Khalatbari doesn't think it went far enough. Khalatbari, a former Denver City Council candidate who is running for mayor in 2019, saw Hancock's statement as an opportunity to highlight the differences between the two, saying the mayor's response was "not enough to assure us." Here's Khaltbari's full statement:
I strongly condemn US Attorney General Sessions’ rescinding of the Obama administration policy that barred federal prosecutors from interfering in states with strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems as we have in Colorado and Denver. I further ask and urge Denver’s mayor, Michael Hancock, to more definitely commit to defending and protecting our laws, our economy, and our people against federal prosecution.
While the Sessions memo leaves discretion to federal prosecutors and thus leaves open the possibility the memo will cause little change, Sessions has repeatedly demonstrated his aggression toward the use and cultivation of cannabis and support of the private prison industry and the failed war on drugs.
It is therefore incumbent on our state and local officials to stand strongly in opposition to this policy change, which could lead to a reversal of the near decade of progress we’ve made in criminal justice and drug policy reforms.
This is why I ask and urge Michael Hancock to stand strongly with Denver voters, businesses, and residents and commit the city to defending our laws, our economy, and our people. Michael Hancock was an outspoken opponent to the legalization and regulation of recreational cannabis. His current statement is not enough to assure us the weight of the city’s legal and political resources will be devoted to protecting our way of life and our laws.
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As Khalatbari noted in his statement, Hancock was vocal in his opposition to Amendment 64, the voter-approved initiative that legalized recreational cannabis in Colorado.
"I do firmly believe it's a gateway drug. I also think it's the wrong message we want to send our children that it's okay for them to consume or use marijuana," Hancock said in 2012. "We don't want to be the first state in this nation that legalizes marijuana. I believe we will lose our attractiveness to companies, employers who want to come to our state. Tourism is the number-one industry for the City of Denver, number two in the state of Colorado, and I believe that sector will be disproportionately harmed with the perception that Denver is the marijuana capital."
Hancock has since backed off his anti-Amendment 64 stance, much as Governor John Hickenlooper has done. In a March 2017 interview with 9News, Hancock called Denver "a model for the rest of the world,” adding, “I’m proud of the industry, quite frankly, who have done a good job of partnering.”
Khalatbari, who co-owns cannabis consulting firm Denver Relief and founded and sold a pot dispensary under the same name, was an outspoken cannabis advocate long before he started playing politics.