Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t have the best night at the first presidential debate for Democratic candidates last night, but things got worse after he used his final moments on camera to take credit for Colorado legalizing marijuana.
In the middle of his closing statement, as he recounted what he accomplished as governor of Colorado, he said, “We were the first state to legalize marijuana and we transformed our justice system in the process.”
However, while it is very true that Colorado was the first state to open for legal adult-use cannabis sales during Hickenlooper’s tenure, it is far from true that Hickenlooper was a leader for the cause.
When Colorado legalized cannabis in 2012, it was passed by citizens at the ballot box, not through a legislative push led by the governor. In fact, Hickenlooper himself opposed legalization question, Amendment 64.
“Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them,” he said in his announcement about opposing Amendment 64 in September 2012.
Later, once the people of his state decided otherwise and Colorado was in the thick of launching adult-use sales in 2014, Hickenlooper told the Durango Herald, “I hate Colorado having to be the experiment… we should not try to get people to do more of what is not a healthy thing.”
So, in 2014, Hickenlooper’s office allocated the majority of the revenue gathered from adult-use cannabis sales and directed it to fund youth anti-cannabis projects. He also promised to “regulate the living daylights” out of cannabis.
In 2016, he pushed to further limit the amount of home grows in Colorado. In 2018, as his stint as governor rolled to a close, Hickenlooper vetoed three cannabis bills: one that would give cannabis to autistic children, one that would have allowed for “cannabis tastings” at stores, and one that would have allowed publicly traded companies to invest in Colorado cannabis companies.
In short, the fact that Hickenlooper took credit for the restorative effect marijuana legalization has had on the state’s criminal justice system is a bit of a stretch, leaving the activists who attempted to implement the will of the voters in Amendment 64 baffled.
Colorado Activists Respond to Hickenlooper’s Cannabis Claims
We reached to a bunch of Colorado’s OG activists to see just how high Hickenlooper rolled up his sleeves in 2012 to get to work legalizing marijuana.
“It’s bizarre that Hickenlooper is seemingly taking credit for legalization in Colorado, and it’s somewhat laughable that he attempted to use it as a way to distinguish himself from the rest of the field,” Mason Tvert told Cannabis Now. Tvert, now the VP of Communications at Colorado’s VS Strategies, led the legalization effort in Colorado back in 2012 and much of the decade leading up to legalization being approved by the will of the voters.
Tvert went on to note as a mayor and then as governor, Hickenlooper repeatedly opposed efforts to roll back marijuana prohibition, including the state’s historic legalization initiative in 2012.
“While he deserves credit for implementing that law and finally coming around on the issue, he has no business holding it over the heads of the many candidates who support legalization — including several who never opposed it, as he did,” Tvert said. “If Hickenlooper wants to use marijuana policy as a campaign issue, he should avoid misrepresenting what he did in the past and focus on what he would do in the future.“
Kayvan Khalatbari is a long time Denver entrepreneur and Colorado cannabis advocate. He is also a founding partner of the Denver Relief dispensary, which was sold to Willie Nelson. Khalatbari also now serves in the leadership of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
“I think [Hickenlooper] trying to take credit for cannabis legalization yet again, with all that he attempted to do to discourage its implementation, shows how desperate he is to get noticed,” Khalatbari told Cannabis Now. “He has a history of moderate, neo-liberal policies and that simply won’t cut it in a Democratic field with so many young people, people of color and LGBTQ folks.”
Matthew Schweich, the Marijuana Policy Project’s Deputy Director who was a key player in legalizing marijuana in Maine and Massachusetts, said, “Legalization has certainly improved Colorado’s criminal justice system but it’s important to recognize that the social justice issues facing this country extend far beyond marijuana prohibition.”
“Furthermore,” Schweich said, “Governor Hickenlooper should not imply that he deserves credit for a legalization policy that he opposed at the time.”
And last but not least, NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri weighed in. “Hickenlooper deserves no credit for legalization in Colorado and his claim is inauthentic and duplicitous,” Altieri told Cannabis Now. “The only ones who deserve credit are the citizens of Colorado, who took the bold and sensible step towards legalization, despite the utter lack of leadership from their governor.”
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