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Marijuana: Michael Hancock rips Amendment 64, campaign responds (update)

Update: The Amendment 64 campaign has replied to Mayor Hancock's comments below. The reply is on page three after the original post.

In the intensifying endorsement war around Amendment 64, Colorado's Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol act, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has come out in opposition, in part because he does not want his city to be perceived as a capital for marijuana.

In fact, he thinks Denver is already less attractive to some tourists because of the existence of medical marijuana in the state.

The medical marijuana industry here has not been as economically successful as supporters suggested, Hancock argues. However, during a reporters' roundtable last week, he didn't have much to say about the pro-64 argument that since alcohol, an arguably more dangerous substance, is legal, then pot should be, too.

"Let's just be clear: We're talking marijuana, so I'm not going to talk about the comparisons with alcohol," he responded. "And they always want to do that. The reality is that we're talking about the legalization of marijuana."

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at a peace rally earlier this summer.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at a peace rally earlier this summer.
Sam Levin

Amendment 64 commercials argue that some individuals simply prefer marijuana to alcohol and shouldn't be criminalized for it.

But comparisons aside, Hancock believes marijuana is a dangerous substance.

"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," he said, adding, "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."

(Side note: In an off-the-cuff remark to reporters in August, Denver police chief Robert White, whom Hancock hired last year, said that when he accepted the job, he didn't realize he was moving to the marijuana "capital.")

Hancock maintained that there is proof that the existence of medical marijuana in the state has negatively affected Denver's reputation.

"We already have evidence that we are losing some of our ground or some of our attractiveness to conventioneers, tourists, because of the medical marijuana leeway that's been afforded in this city," he said. "And so those three points...cause me a great deal of concern."

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, who is a major supporter of Amendment 64, recently told us that he thinks legalization would have the exact opposite effect on tourism -- and that other states would follow in Colorado's footsteps.

Continue for the mayor's comments on how he thinks medical marijuana dispensaries have done in the state.

We also asked for Hancock's take on arguments that regulation and enforcement are more effective when marijuana is legalized -- a common response to Amendment 64 critics like Governor John Hickenlooper, who say they are worried about a rise in underage smoking.

Mayor Michael Hancock at an Obama press conference yesterday.
Mayor Michael Hancock at an Obama press conference yesterday.
Sam Levin

"You can argue that with a lot of the things that are illegal, right -- if you know that it's occurring and where it's occurring and where it's allowed. The realities are this: I think the cost to society with people who graduate from marijuana to harsher drugs is exponentially higher than any benefit that someone may try to calculate that you'll get from a...regulated marijuana industry,"he said. "I just find it very hard. Those of us who grew up where the advent and introduction of some of the harsher drugs, whether it's heroin, whether it was PCP, crack cocaine, we know a lot of our family members and neighbors started with recreational use of marijuana."

Hancock cited a recent Denver Post series on heroin use in Denver, in which Angel, the main subject, started smoking weed at age twelve, then moved on to cocaine, and eventually became addicted to heroin.

Another reporter asked about another argument of supporters -- that the measure will benefit Colorado children with $40 million in tax revenue put into school capital construction.

"It still requires another act of the state legislature to direct those funds if they materialize at all," Hancock said, repeating an argument of the amendment's opponents. "One of the things that you need to understand is, even in the medical marijuana industry, the revenues that were promised -- or at least speculated would occur -- have not materialized.... A lot of the dispensaries have gone out of business. A lot of folks have gone into it thinking it was going to be a windfall. It just simply has not materialized."

Continue to read the Amendment 64 response to Mayor Hancock's comments.

Update by Michael Roberts, 12:13 p.m. October 23: In the original post above, we noted that we had contacted the Amendment 64 campaign and offered representatives an opportunity to respond to Mayor Michael Hancock's comments about the initiative. Moments ago, we received a statement accompanied by a link to a photo of Hancock from our Cafe Society item "Mayor Hancock is back in the tap room -- this time for Prost Brewing's Oktoberfest."

Marijuana: Michael Hancock rips Amendment 64, campaign responds (update)
We are disappointed that Mayor Hancock is not basing his public policy on evidence. It is well-established that the gateway effect is not an effect of marijuana itself, but rather of marijuana prohibition. When you want to buy a six pack of beer -- a substance our elected officials are happy to celebrate -- you go to the store and buy a six pack, and the cashier doesn't offer you harder drugs. The same cannot be said for the gangs and cartels, who our opponents seem to prefer be in charge of the vast non-medical marijuana market in Colorado.

And as to concerns about tourism, conventions, and businesses, visitdenver.org tells us that 2009, 2010, and 2011 all brought increasing numbers of conventions and overnight visitors to Denver. Perhaps more people are inclined to visit our beautiful city because of the low rates of retail vacancy or the $350,000 in taxes generated for the city each month by medical marijuana businesses, which can be used to keep our streets safe and clean.

Or perhaps they feel more comfortable visiting a city that is home to voters who, since 2005, have understood that marijuana prohibition is a failed policy and have twice voted to shift law enforcement resources away from enforcing laws against personal possession of marijuana.

Regardless, we ask of Mayor Hancock what we would ask of any voter in Colorado: look at the evidence. Amendment 64 will result in a better use of law enforcement resources, a regulated market in the hands of businesspeople with a vested interest in following the law, new jobs and more small businesses growing our economy, and the end to the arrest of 10,000-plus Coloradans each year who are disproportionately people of color -- especially here in the Queen City.

More from our Politics archive: Photos: "Colorado Democrats push early vote (for Obama) on heels of high registration numbers"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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