Hickenlooper Talks Jeff Sessions, Pot Industry and Opioids on Politico

John Hickenlooper couldn't escape the pot questions during Politico's Playbook Exchange on August 1.
John Hickenlooper couldn't escape the pot questions during Politico's Playbook Exchange on August 1. Politico Facebook page
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper can't seem to give a national interview without legal cannabis grenades being hurled at him. As a result, he's become a seasoned veteran on the topic.

During a Facebook Live interview with Politico's Playbook Exchange in Denver on August 1, Hickenlooper talked about his efforts to connect with Denver suburbs and rural Colorado, health-care coverage, his brief brushes with President Donald Trump and, inevitability, pot.

"We can't be in Colorado and not talk marijuana," Playbook Exchange host Anna Palmer said after a blunt transition from talking about national cybersecurity, in which Colorado has been playing a leading role.

"We were so close," Hickenlooper joked, as he looked at his watch before throwing his hands up in exasperation. "You would've been the first."

Hickenlooper went through some of the usual motions while answering pot questions, admitting to initially opposing recreational legalization and advising governors in other states to "wait a year or two" as they consider legislation. "There's no big rush," he'll tell them. "Wait and see, and let's make sure there's no unintended consequences that we haven't been able to measure yet."

Hickenlooper was quick to quash any connection between legal pot and Colorado's rapid influx of transplant millennials, saying the only reason that recreational legalization passed in November 2012 was because so many young people had already moved here before the vote.

Things started to get juicier when Hickenlooper shared some details on a recent private meeting he had with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which Hickenlooper assured Sessions that Colorado's cannabis industry was far from a dumpster fire.

"The thing we were most worried about [was] a spike in consumption, especially a spike among teenagers," Hickenlooper said he told Sessions. "We worried about that, we worried about infants getting into it, we worried about driving while high. None of that's happened. We had a little increase among teenagers right in the first year. Since then, it's come down."

A 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that 21.2 percent of Colorado high-schoolers used marijuana at the time, compared to 21.7 percent nationwide. However, there is one demographic that has embraced consumption more, Hickenlooper told Sessions and Politico: senior citizens. "It's more effective pain relief, for many people, than opioids," he said.

Although Sessions made it clear that he opposes all drug use, including marijuana, Hickenlooper believes the attorney general's attention and resources will be used elsewhere. "He has higher priorities," the governor told Politico. "Marijuana's not the same threat to this country as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine – and he recognizes he has limited resources. He said, 'Listen, we're not going to come in and shut everything down.' And then he paused, he looked me right in the eye and says, 'But that should not be construed that anybody should think it's a good idea. if we have to make an example of some companies or individuals – if that's what it takes, that's what we'll do."

So while Colorado's cannabis businesses shouldn't expect a federal raid anytime soon, they should remain cautious. "We have not seen any crackdown," Hickenlooper told Politico. "He really said he didn't plan on having a crackdown."

Hickenlooper's takeaway from the meeting was that Sessions would come down like a "wall of rain" if the cannabis industry had a "big growth." Last year, the City of Denver approved caps on marijuana dispensaries and cultivations to prevent any more rapid growth, while other areas such as Pueblo County and Colorado Springs have taken similar actions on marijuana businesses within their jurisdiction.

Watch the full interview below:

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell