Break out the Cheetos and Goldfish. When Amendment 64 passed in November 2012, Governor John Hickenlooper reminded Coloradans that "federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or [Goldfish] too quickly."
But now it may be time to pass the snack bowl. Because while Hickenlooper admits that if he'd had a magic wand he would have reversed the result of the 64 vote, he adds:"I don't think I'd reverse it now."
Colorado's governor was one of the featured speakers on the last night's "Legalization: The Next Phase in the War on Drugs," the final symposium in the Community Now! series at the 2015 Biennial of the Americas. Tina Brown moderated a panel that, in addition to Hickenlooper, featured Ricardo Lagos, president of Chile from 2000-2006 and director of Fundación Democracia y Desarrollo, and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And the evening at the Ellie Caulkins Theater kicked off with opening remarks from Kevin Sabet, co-founder (with Patrick Kennedy) of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Nadelmann marveled at how quickly Americans have changed their stance on issues ranging from gay rights to legalization. "A new generation will look back on the marijuana wars like Prohibition," he said, "and ask, 'What the hell was that about?'" And Colorado led the way: "What you guys did was of historic significance, and not just for Colorado," he told the audience.
Brown — who said she hadn't visited a local pot shop because she had to moderate the panel — started out the panel by asking Hickenlooper about Colorado's "bold social experiment."
"I tried to slow it down," he admitted. "When other governors ask, I'm very blunt: 'The jury's still out.'"
But Hickenlooper's administration hasn't been waiting around for the verdict. Under Andrew Freedman, director of Marijuana Coordination for the state (whom Hickenlooper touted from the stage), the administration has been researching legal issues, the affect on kids, mental-health issues, regulatory reforms and otherwise moving forward with an industry that's already brought the state almost $100 million in taxes, the governor noted.
Brown asked Hickenlooper about the biggest surprise he'd found in the wake of legalization. "The industry that's grown up has been responsible," he responded. "There are a couple of bad actors, but they are very careful."
And yes, right after the election, if he'd had a magic wand, "I would have turned it around," Hickenlooper told Brown. "I don't think I'd reverse now."
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That doesn't mean everything is ideal in Denver, though. Because marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, the ban on banking stymies what's become a $1 billion cash business in Colorado, and there's a lid on critical research that might help that jury reach a decision. And since the state had to come up with its regulations regarding marijuana so quickly, the rules could use some tweaks.
But then, with Colorado laws in general, Hickenlooper noted, "there are lots of things I'd like to do."
Break out the goldfish.