John Hickenlooper's Bragging About the Pot Legalization Measure He Opposed Shows That Reality Can Change People's Minds

Colorado's former governor came around on the issue when he realized that legalization was not the disaster he had anticipated.


"We were the first state to legalize marijuana," former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said toward the end of last Thursday's Democratic presidential debate, "and we transformed our justice system in the process." That statement was part of a paragraph in which the relatively moderate Hickenlooper highlighted his progressive accomplishments. As he put it:

You don't need big government to do big things. I know that because I'm the one person up here who's actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about. If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in American history.

There is much truth to that, but it was pretty chutzpadik for Hickenlooper to implicitly take credit for marijuana legalization in Colorado, since he opposed it at the time and has only gradually come around to the view that it was not the disaster he anticipated. "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, who spearheaded the legalization campaign in Colorado, told Cannabis Now. All of the Democratic presidential candidates say states should be allowed to legalize marijuana, and most of them think Congress should repeal the federal ban.

Hickenlooper announced his opposition to Amendment 64, Colorado's legalization initiative, in September 2012, two months before 55 percent of voters approved it. "Colorado is known for many great things—marijuana should not be one of them," Hickenlooper said. "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 OK."

As late as October 2014, when Hickenlooper was running for re-election against a Republican who opposed legalization, he called voters "reckless" for approving Amendment 64. But by then Hickenlooper, to his credit, was beginning to acknowledge that the effects of legalization were not as bad as he thought they would be.

"It seems like the people that were smoking before are mainly the people that are smoking now," Hickenlooper told Reuters in June 2014, six months after legal recreational sales had begun. "If that's the case, what that means is that we're not going to have more drugged driving, or driving while high. We're not going to have some of those problems. But we are going to have a system where we're actually regulating and taxing something, and keeping that money in the state of Colorado…and we're not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters."

That October, in another interview with Reuters, Hickenlooper walked back his "reckless" remark:

I was asked if I thought it was reckless to legalize marijuana in Colorado—perhaps risky is a better word. While I believe it was risky for Colorado to be the first state to step away from a failed federal policy given all of the unanswered legal questions and implications, the adoption of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters sent a clear message to the federal government that marijuana should be legal and regulated.

We have a robust regulatory enforcement system that would not have been possible without the partnership of the marijuana business owners, activists, law enforcement officials, regulators, parents, policy experts and stakeholders. Together we have worked tirelessly to ensure a safe and fair system that protects the public health, diminishes the underground market, and educates and keeps marijuana out of the hands of our children. We remain committed to carrying out the will of the voters, including providing marijuana businesses access to banking and maintaining a fair regulatory system.

In 2017 Hickenlooper rebutted then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions' concerns about marijuana legalization in Colorado. "Colorado's system has become a model for other states and nations," he and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman wrote. "We are confident that if we work together, we can maintain a responsible regulatory and enforcement model that protects public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests."

Hickenlooper's shift reflects Colorado's experience with legalization, which has been neither "reefer madness" nor "pot paradise," as The New York Times puts it in a recent story. While cannabis consumption among adults is up, the Times notes, "state surveys do not show an increase in young people smoking pot." Furthermore, according to a study reported in the Journal of Cannabis Research last month, "permitting or not permitting recreational cannabis dispensaries in a community does not appear to change student cannabis use or perceptions towards cannabis."

Marijuana-related visits to emergency rooms are up, although some of that increase may be due to a greater willingness to seek help now that cannabis consumption is legal. While the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who test positive for marijuana has risen, the Times notes, "a positive test does not necessarily mean the driver was high." (More on that here.)

While "legalization coincided with a 20 percent rise in violent crime rates in Colorado from 2012 to 2017," the Times says, "it is almost impossible to attribute broad changes in crime rates to just one cause." According to an analysis by University of Oregon economist Benjamin Hansen, "the homicide rates in Colorado and Washington were actually below what the data predicted they would have been given the trends in homicides from 2000-2012."

In the Times article, some Colorado residents complain about aspects of legalization that bother them, including odors from grow facilities and uncomfortable conversations with their children. But a 2016 poll found that only 36 percent of voters favored repealing Amendment 64, while most thought legalization's net effects had been positive or neutral. A 2017 survey found that 65 percent of Colorado voters supported legalization—up 10 percentage points from the 2012 election results.

Marijuana is by no means harmless, but neither is prohibition. Coloradans, now including John Hickenlooper, continue to prefer the costs of legalization to the costs of trying to forcibly prevent cannabis consumption.

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  1. This is one topic where Tucker Carlson reveals himself to be an ignoramus infected by reefer-madness propaganda.

    On MJ, Tucker is an abject Puritopian.

  2. Sorry, still an asshole.

    1. Who, Hickenlooper or Big Bird DiBlasio or Cameltoe Harris?

    2. Sorry, the name is too close to Lickinpooper.

  3. What? A politician flip-flopped/did a 180/lied then and/or now?

    Oh, OK. He “reconsidered” his opinion.

    But Rusty (weathervane) Biden is still the master.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t call it “coming around” so much as just trying to take credit for something that turned out to be a popular idea

  4. Is everything ok Reason?
    I haven’t seen any articles about a black guy getting shot by a white cop lately.
    It has to have happened somewhere, and it’s one of your favorite topics to write about.
    To suddenly stop doing what you like to do is a sign of depression.
    What’s wrong?

  5. i was for tyranny before i was for tyranny in some other form.

  6. Chickenlooper was for pot legalization before he was against it.
    Or, is it the other way around?

  7. “If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in American history.”

    I thought term limits would keep Obama out of this one – – – – –

  8. Seems the standard for Democrats today, is to not let an opportunity go by to tell a lie when they believe it’s politically beneficial to them. Hickenlooper could have told the truth, but chose to tell a lie. IMHO, the lying hurts the Democrats more than it helps. But they have to continue, because they can’t admit they were wrong or told a lie, which is the entire case about what they’ve told us about Trump and those who voted for him.

    I expect the politician who denounces Obama and Hillary for all their lies, corruption, and scandals, will stand out. The question is will they be a sitting target for the powerful Democrats and get a knife in the back, or will they become the powerful as a result?

  9. “If we turn towards socialism, we run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in American history.”

    They’d have to dig up Wilson first. Or maybe Buchanan.

  10. “we’re not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.”

    Well, I wouldn’t go that far…oh, you mean unofficial unelected gangsters?

  11. Here in Colorado things have changed since newcomers appeared here from California, Texas, Arizona and one from Pennsylvania that the Left affectionately call “Hick”. I would call him “Loopy” or just “liar”. He was four square against marijuana, all the while making his fortune peddling alcohol to the residents.
    He is all for representation via Executive Orders, some of his first was to put a strangle hold on the business and protected Rights of firearms. No more private sales and bans on magazines. His orders earned him a visit by the state’s county sheriffs who told him they would not enforce his laws. His response was “Fuck you”. He later apologized in his trademark half-assed way. The sheriff in the county in which I reside was immediately targeted for removal. El Paso County, Which is the city of Colorado Springs’ home. The city has been working at becoming a gay-transgender enclave where the only things acceptable are weed, greed and a new influx of homeless folks are not welcomed. Homelessness is big business for shelters and soup kitchens and the handful of civic leaders who receive the government grants. They form committees to sit and figure ways to keep those grants which they do, they keep it as pay for committee forming. The marijuana I am sure some were seeking turned out to be regulated heavily and rules change everyday. The seekers turned out to be homeless.
    Our sheriff was charged with several offenses in an effort to drive him out of his elected position due to his position on the 2nd Amendment, that being he saw as an absolute Right. He served his terms but had to continue his court appearances for a couple years, then all charges were finally dropped. Millions of dollars pissed away by the elite who run things and hated the “cowtown” image Colorado once had.
    Then under Loopys watch homeowners with ARMS mortgages suddenly had their mortgage payments triple and the valuations on their homes plummet. All the foreclosures led to a sellers market, “sellers” being the banks. In under 20 years a 50k house of 700 sq ft now goes for over $200k and many are purchased by investment companies. Coloradans are forced out and then the next wave was more newcomers and rent for most people doubled and tripled. Wages stagnate and most jobs are part-time or service industry. Loopy presided over all of it. He wants a pat on the head but needs a kick in the balls.
    We are now blessed with executive order signer numero uno, a new governor who hails from the People’s Republic of Boulder Colorado. A dot com millionaire who has been in office 6 months and passes his own laws and his first lady is another man! A recall petition drive begins in a few days to get the governor out… it is he who is actually busing in illegal immigrants because New Mexico is full. Plus he declared Denver a sanctuary city!
    And why in the fuck am I writing this? Reason or some other entity should be doing this. Reason’s reporting seems nothing like journalism but more like a lame book report and a leather sport coat for the boss. I could tell you the idiocy that rules here and it would take a couple days non-stop to fill you in on what little I do know. Corruption, greed, bad management, tyrannical police forces and their boss the courts, while millions disappear from this city’s budget and nobody goes looking for it thus the roads have crumbled. 50 miles from me are state prisons, federal prisons, Super Max and others. Also privatized brutal jails that would make Arpaio proud.
    I wake up mad and go to sleep pissed and in between I shake my head at the shear gall of some people who can go straight to hell. Then there is Reason…
    Libertarian my ass you people, Reason is smoke and no fire. Colorado is smoke and fire and law enforcement is armed to the teeth. Wait til you hear about the buffalo hunt in the middle of town a few years ago. M16s are not the weapon of choice for killing buffalo but how could police know that? They aren’t from around here and M16s are for killing citizens….Many houses and cars were ventilated that day though.

    I could write a book about it all but nobody would believe the strange and terrible saga of the contents. The cold civil war is about to heat up I predict, and if I had a dime or two I would move from this pathetic hellhole, the Rocky Mountains would be right behind me.

    1. The cold civil war is about to heat up I predict

  12. Colorado’s former governor came around on the issue when he realized that legalization was not the disaster he had anticipated. it was politically safe and expedient to do so now.


    In other news,

    Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton around on the issue of gay marriage when she realized that it conformed to her “Christian” beliefs after all it was politically safe and expedient to do so now.

  13. Always love your insights and your way of presenting what can be a very confusing subject matter.

  14. […] Hickenlooper’s Bragging Shows Reality Can Change Minds […]

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