Colorado's Governor, Who Founded a Brewpub, Nixes Cannabis 'Tasting Rooms'

John Hickenlooper claims letting pot store customers sample the merchandise conflicts with a ballot initiative that promised to regulate marijuana like alcohol.



Yesterday Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed the latest attempt to give recreational cannabis consumers in his state someplace aside from private residences where they can legally use the marijuana they have been legally buying since the beginning of 2014. Hickenlooper erroneously claimed that H.B. 18-1258, which would have allowed "tasting rooms" where customers of marijuana shops could sample the merchandise, conflicted with Amendment 64, the 2012 ballot initiative that legalized recreational use.

"Amendment 64 is clear," Hickenlooper says in his veto letter. "Marijuana consumption may not be conducted 'openly or publicly' or 'in a manner that endangers others. We find that HB 18-1258 directly conflicts with this constitutional requirement."

Amendment 64, now part of the state constitution, actually says "nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others." The conjunction is significant because it implies that cannabis consumption can be permitted if it is merely open or merely public but not if it is both. Depending on how open and public are understood, smoking pot on the patio of a restaurant, which is on private property but visible to passers-by, could be legal. So could vaping in a wooded area of a public park, which is on public property but shielded from passers-by.

Even if you don't buy those interpretations, it hardly seems reasonable to claim that vaping or sampling edibles in a tasting room that is located on private property and shielded from passers-by qualifies as "openly and publicly" consuming cannabis. Maybe that is why Hickenlooper changed the and to an or.

As for endangering others, Hickenlooper worries that "HB 18-1258 sends the wrong message by permitting people to consume marijuana in a public setting, a practice that may increase the number of impaired drivers on our roadways." The same logic, of course, condemns bars, restaurants, and other businesses that serve alcohol, including Wynkoop Brewing Company, the Denver brewpub that Hickenlooper cofounded three decades ago. In fact, given that alcohol has a much more dramatic impact on driving ability than cannabis does, establishments like Wynkoop pose a bigger hazard to public safety.

The sponsors of HB 18-1258 hoped that the idea of marijuana tasting rooms would make sense to Hickenlooper because of his experience with his own business, which not only serves beer along with food but offers brewery tours that include samples of Wynkoop's products. Instead he is insisting on an irrational distinction between beer and bud in the name of enforcing a ballot initiative that says "marijuana should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol."