Mayor Michael Hancock at an event in 2016.
Mayor Michael Hancock at an event in 2016.
Brandon Marshall

Hancock Leads National Mayors' Coalition Calling for Federal Marijuana Reform

Mayor Michael Hancock wasn't a fan of legal marijuana before Colorado voters approved it in 2012, but he's since become a public defender of the plant — or at least, the actions taken by the City of Denver to comply with Amendment 64. On Sunday, June 10, Hancock's office announced that the mayor will spearhead a coalition of mayors from around the country in an effort to push Congress to protect states with legal pot.

Although he originally opposed legalization efforts, Hancock was the mayor of the first major city to legalize marijuana, and since the first recreational sales on January 1, 2014, Denver has become one of the nation's capitals of legal weed, with over 200 dispensaries and 1,100 licensed pot businesses now operating in the city, according to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. Now, Hancock and mayors of at least eight other cities are asking Congress to listen to them about their experiences so that legalization "can be done smoothly, safely and effectively.”

“With 46 states having some form of legalization, the reality is, legal marijuana is coming to a city near you. As mayors of cities that have successfully implemented and managed this new industry, we have hands-on experience that can help Congress take the right steps to support other local governments as they prepare to enter this new frontier,” Hancock said in an announcement of the coalition. “We all will face common challenges when it comes to legalizing marijuana, and those challenges need federal solutions so implementation can be done smoothly, safely and effectively.”

The group was established during the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, which ends June 11 in Boston. Hancock is the current head of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

His coalition wants more protection for an industry that has collected nearly $5 billion in revenue in Colorado alone since 2014, including clear and legal access to banking services and the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

According to the mayor's office, the group's official goals are as follows:

  • Removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would allow banks and other financial institutions to work with state-compliant marijuana-related businesses, and allow employers in the cannabis industry to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed by other businesses.
  • Providing updated guidance to financial institutions that are providing or seek to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses.
  • Approving the McClintock-Polis amendment to annual federal appropriations legislation to safeguard state and local government marijuana reforms.
  • Extending safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana to U.S. military veterans.
  • Maintaining the Rohrabacher-Joyce-Blumenauer amendment, which protects states’ rights by prohibiting the federal government from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

Calls by the legal pot industry for amped-up state protection have been common since United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked protective federal guidelines for state-legalized marijuana businesses and users in January; Hancock even released a statement of his own condemning Sessions for the move and calling on Congress to intervene. There haven't been any reports of federal authorities cracking down on state-compliant pot businesses since Sessions's move in January, though, and Robert Troyer, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, said his office wouldn't change the way it approached marijuana enforcement.

Sessions, who was in Denver on June 8 to speak at the Western Conservative Summit, was mum on marijuana while in the Mile High City. But the same day he was at the Summit, President Donald Trump said he'd "probably" support a bill from Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren that would officially protect state-legalized and compliant marijuana businesses and users from prosecution by federal agencies.

Along with Hancock, coalition members include Mayor Heidi Williams of Thornton as well as mayors Mark Farrell (San Francisco), Jenny Durkan (Seattle), Libby Schaaf (Oakland), Tedd Wheeler (Portland), Christopher Cabaldon (West Sacramento), Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles) and Carolyn Goodman (Las Vegas).

Although Thornton didn't approve dispensaries until last year, the pot-shop ban was a city council decision, with the town's first dispensary opening under Williams in November 2017.

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