Hickenlooper: States have 'sovereignty' on recreational marijuana issue, a 'great social experiment'

DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper seems to have warmed to the legal recreational marijuana industry in the state, according to comments he made Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Moderator Chuck Todd asked Hickenlooper, who is in Washington for the 2017 National Governors Association Winter Meeting, on his thoughts about the recreational marijuana industry and how it might be affected by new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“It’s become one of the great social experiments of our time,” Hickenlooper said of the recreational industry.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed legalization of recreational marijuana when voters approved it in 2012, and who oversaw the program’s implementation in 2014, remained most on the fence on the issue in Sunday’s interview with Todd.

“It’s never my choice to be in conflict with federal law,” Hickenlooper said when Todd noted that federal agencies have for the past several years looked the other way when it comes to enforcing federal recreational rules that prohibit recreational marijuana use.

“But our voters passed it. It’s in our constitution,” Hickenlooper said. “I took a solemn oath to support our constitution.”

He said states’ sovereignty should be respected when it comes to recreational marijuana. Colorado sold more than $1.3 billion of recreational and medical marijuana last year, and some industry leaders have said the dismantling of the legal recreational industry in Colorado would cause a recession.

“At this rate, it’s a sovereignty [issue] – the states have a sovereignty just like Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does,” Hickenlooper said.

As to Sessions’ and the Department of Justice’s stance on how it plans to enforce – or not enforce – federal laws, neither have yet to make a concrete statement.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week caused huge waves in Colorado and in the nationwide recreational marijuana industry when he said the U.S. would “see greater enforcement” of federal rules pertaining to states with legal recreational pot.

Hickenlooper pointed back to comments from Colorado’s Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who said when he voted to confirm Sessions that the new attorney general had said that federal marijuana enforcement wouldn’t be a top priority.

But Hickenlooper noted that the administration’s stance may have changed since then.

“The implication was you don’t have [to] go crazy on this. Now, obviously, things might have changed, and we have to see what happens,” Hickenlooper told Todd. “But, I mean, it’s over 60 percent of American people are now in a state where either medical or recreational marijuana is legalized. It’s become one of the great social experiments of our time.”

Todd then asked Hickenlooper if his stance on recreational marijuana had changed since the program’s implementation.

“I’m getting close. I mean, I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress,” Hickenlooper said.

He pointed to a recent report on health and marijuana commissioned by the state, which showed that many of the worries relating to the program, such as teen use and use while driving, may be allayed from data from the first two years of the legal recreational industry.

“We didn’t see a spike in teenage use. If anything, it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said. “If you get rid of that black market, you’ve got tax revenues to deal with, the addictions, and some of the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, maybe this system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with.”

In the interview, Hickenlooper and Todd also discussed the election of Tom Perez as new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as well as President Donald Trump’s first month in office.

Hickenlooper says Perez is “a constructive person” who “brings a big, broad background to the job,” and who as labor secretary “did more to think about how do we reeducate people for the next generation of jobs than just about anybody.”

He conceded that the Democratic party is at a bit of a crossroads as it elects Perez, amid a heavy anti-Trump faction in the Senate led by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. But he said that those Democrats frothing in an anti-Trump mentality had to remember the past.

I think some of them…[have] got to be thinking back to when President Obama was first elected, and within a couple of weeks, that same kind of anger was being used against him, and they’d do anything to beat him,” Hickenlooper said.

But he also noted that “you can’t blame anybody for being that upset.”

“There’s been a lot of problems in the first month of this administration,” Hickenlooper said.

And though he ruled out a 2020 presidential run in an interview last week with the Denver Post, Hickenlooper chalked his political success in recent years to his hardworking staff and ability to “hear what [people] are feeling” while out on the campaign trail. 

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