Video: John Hickenlooper Says Legalizing Pot "Not as Vexing as We Thought"

Governor John Hickenlooper has never been a cheerleader for legalizing marijuana.

He opposed the passage of 2012's Amendment 64, which legalized limited recreational cannabis sales in the state, and last year, he declared that he wouldn't smoke pot if he was alone in a forest.

But judging by comments he made during an appearance on Fox Business earlier this week (and on view below), he seems to be changing his tune — or at least softening his anti-pot stance.

Here's the statement Hickenlooper released about his opposition to Amendment 64:

Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them. Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are okay. Federal laws would remain unchanged in classifying marijuana as a Schedule I substance, and federal authorities have been clear they will not turn a blind eye toward states attempting to trump those laws. While we are sympathetic to the unfairness of burdening young people with felony records for often minor marijuana transgressions, we trust that state lawmakers and district attorneys will work to mitigate such inequities.

Contrast this tone to his approach to questions on the topic from Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo.

The pair began by talking about what Bartiromo characterized as Colorado's burgeoning economy, marked by a 4.2 percent unemployment rate — far below the national average.

Hickenlooper credited Colorado's performance in part to Denver being a top destination for millennials (along with Washington, D.C.). "They bring with them job creation, they bring with them innovation.... They're helping to drive this," he said.

He also touted the elimination of regulations and his efforts to "get government out of the way" in order to "remove friction from business startups."

That's when Bartiromo mentioned marijuana — and Hickenlooper didn't instantly begin finger-wagging.

"First, it's all those young people coming," he began. "They look at marijuana and say, 'Hey, we can drink whiskey. Why can't we have a legalized system with marijuana?'"

He added, "If you look back, it's turned out not to be as vexing as some people like myself.... I opposed the original vote, didn't think it was a good idea. But the voters spoke and we're trying to make it work, and I think we are. Again, it's not as vexing as we thought it was going to be."

At that point, Hickenlooper reeled himself back in to some degree, insisting that marijuana sales hasn't resulted in "the economic boom that some promoters thought it was going to be" — although he subsequently estimated that Colorado would bring in $100 million in marijuana taxes from what he described as a "billion dollar industry."

By the way, that $100 million figure is well above the estimated $44 million in recreational marijuana taxes collected by the state during 2014. Perhaps he's including all taxes, including local ones, or indicating that he's expecting a big boost this year — or maybe he was simply rounding way up. But he also acknowledged that "we might have to lower the taxes a little bit" in order to insure the destruction of the pot black market, because "drug dealers don't care who they sell to," including children, whose susceptibility to decreased memory and other brain functions owing to marijuana use he mentioned on a couple of occasions.

Nonetheless, Mason Tvert, an Amendment 64 proponent and communication director for the Marijuana Policy Project, was cheered by Hickenlooper's comments when taken as a whole.

"It’s great to see the governor recognizes that regulating marijuana is working in Colorado and that it has many benefits," Tvert writes via e-mail. "Polls show more voters support the law now than did when it was approved, and it appears he might be part of that late majority. Just about everyone who takes an objective look at what is happening in Colorado agrees that things are going quite well."

Here's the Fox Business segment. The marijuana discussion begins at around the 3:50 mark.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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