NORML Head Rips John Hickenlooper for Calling Colorado’s Pot Legalization “Reckless”

By Michael Roberts

COLORADO: Yesterday during a debate with Republican gubernatorial rival Bob Beauprez, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper described Colorado voter’s legalization of marijuana as “reckless.” In response, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, calls Hickenlooper a hypocrite — and that’s not all.

As originally reported by the International Business Times’ David Sirota, Hickenlooper was asked during the debate, sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, what he would tell other states thinking about legalizing cannabis.

“Any governor that looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless,” he replied.

Would that same term apply to Colorado voters? In response to that query, Hickenlooper said, “I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless because I’ll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me I wouldn’t have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell — I’ll say it was reckless.”

This isn’t exactly a new position for Hickenlooper. Back in 2012, he actively opposed Amendment 64, the measure that ultimately legalized limited marijuana sales to adults 21 and over in Colorado; it passed with more than 55 percent of the vote. His statement about the proposal reads:

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.

St. Pierre’s take? He understands that Hickenlooper is in a tough battle against Beauprez, who opposes marijuana legalization. But that doesn’t mean he thinks Hickenlooper’s making the right move.

“I think he’s surely caught up in an election,” he allows, “which is unfortunate, because he’s a former brewer and a seller of a drug far more dangerous than marijuana. And he also contacted NORML specifically asking for donations to his reelection, because he is championing a change of law. So it seems rather hypocritical to turn to an audience and say he thinks what the people did was reckless. What we’re seeing is a politician in full election mode.”

Do Hickenlooper’s actions belie his comments at the debate? St. Pierre argues that they do.

“In fact, Hickenlooper supports these reforms,” he says. “He has championed them against a federal government that has otherwise opposed them, and against his own law-enforcement community, which definitely opposed them. So he’s trying to have it both ways, like most politicians want it. Behind the scenes, he’s a legalizer with a capital ‘L.’ But when he’s in public, he speaks about recklessness and Cheetos.

“If I were a resident of Colorado and had a business related to cannabis in the state, I would want my governor to commit one way or the other and stop trying to have it both ways. Either he’s a person who believes adults can access these products just like they do alcohol, or he’s not. And behind the scenes, he believes otherwise. He believes this is an industry, he believes the industry’s viable, he appreciates the industry’s taxes. So he needs to be much clearer regarding what he believes adults in Colorado should be able to do in the privacy of their homes, which is what the law relegates people to right now. That’s a lot different thank walking around with the President of the United States in a beer hall.”

St. Pierre acknowledges that in comparison with all the other issues with which a governor has to grapple, marijuana is “a small slice of the pie. But in many ways, he’s been almost spineless on this topic. I can’t believe a smart politician would say to people that they were reckless — which might be a code term for dumb — but ‘now I want you to vote for me.’ That’s a very strange dynamic to set up politically.”

To St. Pierre, Hickenlooper can be characterized as “an overly repentant liberal” — his list includes Jerry Brown, Diane Feinstein, Michael Bloomberg and Project SAM’s Patrick Kennedy — “who are liberal in every sense of the word but cannot get over their previous use of a herbal drug that didn’t seem to impair them in their lives in any way.”

Moreover, St. Pierre continues, the typical politician “would kill to be as popular as marijuana. Usually in votes about marijuana, we get 54 percent, 55 percent — I’ve seen votes as high as 64 percent. Hickenlooper is a very smart, aspiring, ascending politician. But on this issue, he’s got a very blind side.”