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Colorado's Governor, Who Opposed Pot Legalization in 2012, Is Ready to Defend It

John Hickenlooper, who is "getting close" to concluding that legalization is better than prohibition, says he has a duty to resist federal interference.

NBC NewsNBC NewsTwo years ago today, during his appearance at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Donald Trump said states should be free to legalize marijuana, but he also said, "I think it's bad, and I feel strongly about it." He added, "They've got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed legalization in 2012, disagrees with Trump's impression of the consequences. The president, whose press secretary last week predicted "greater enforcement" of the federal ban on marijuana in the eight states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, may be interested in what Hickenlooper had to say in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday:

Todd: If this were put on a ballot today, I know you opposed it before, but if it were put on a ballot today, would you now support it?

Hickenlooper: Well, I'm getting close. I mean, I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress. 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. I mean, 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.

Hickenlooper's views on legalization have been evolving since 2014 based on what has actually happened in Colorado, which suggests the "big problems" that Trump perceived in 2015 may have been exaggerated by the prohibitionists who were feeding him information. Even if legalization were a disaster in Colorado, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it. The federalist approach Trump has said he favors allows a process of trial and error from which other states can learn.

According to Hickenlooper, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prior to his confirmation, told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) that marijuana enforcement "wasn't worth rising to the top and becoming a priority." That assurance is consistent with Sessions' vague comments on the subject during a confirmation hearing last month but seems to be at odds with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statement last week.

If Sessions does try to shut down state-licensed marijuana businesses in Colorado, it sounds like Hickenlooper is ready for a fight. "Our voters passed [legalization] 55-45," he told Todd. "It's in our constitution. I took a solemn oath to support our constitution....The states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does." Asked if he questions whether "it's clear that the federal government could stop you," Hickenlooper replied, "Exactly. I don't think it is."

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  • Jerryskids||

    maybe this system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with

    Guy sounds almost libertarian. We don't have all the answers to solve all the problems in the world, but leaving bad enough alone is frequently better than doing something. The Democrats and the Republicans have been taking turns solving all the problems in the world for the last century-and-a-half, have the benefits been worth the price? Libertarians might not make things much better, but they probably won't make things worse and they'll do it at a tenth of the cost.

  • some guy||

    Not really. His default position was "Drugs 'r bad, m'kay?" He's only changing his mind now that public opinion is against him AND the public health/safety disasters he predicted did not come to pass.

  • creech||

    So, like almost all politicians. See Obama and Clinton on gay marriage, for instance.

  • Mainer2||

    principles shminciples

  • American Memer||

    So what you're saying is that new evidence caused Hickenlooper to change his mind about something?

    Frankly, sounds like a guy I could vote for.

  • masculistman||

    Libertarians might not make things much better, but they probably won't make things worse and they'll do it at a tenth of the cost.

    Oppressive government at a tenth of the price? What a savings. Sign me up. LOL

  • some guy||

    What's the punishment for political apostasy in Colorado?

  • masculistman||

    By "political apostasy" do you mean resistance to the federal government?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "If Sessions does try to shut down state-licensed marijuana businesses in Colorado, it sounds like Hickenlooper is ready for a fight. "Our voters passed [legalization] 55-45," he told Todd. "It's in our constitution. I took a solemn oath to support our constitution....The states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does." Asked if he questions whether "it's clear that the federal government could stop you," Hickenlooper replied, "Exactly. I don't think it is."

    Far as I can tell, this question was already decided by the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzales_v._Raich

    The good guys lost that decision.

  • Jgalt1975||

    Well, if Hickenlooper means that Colorado could nullify federal law, then yes, Gonzales v. Raich would mean he was wrong. However, if he meant that the federal government can't stop Colorado from having state/local legalization, that's not a fully resolved question. Under Printz v. United States, the feds can't order Colorado to enforce federal anti-drug laws, but one of the things anti-legalization advocates have argued in the past is that Colorado state and municipal government personnel who run the administrative side of the marijuana regulatory regime could be prosecuted federally for conspiracy, aiding & abetting, etc. just for performing their official duties. I don't think there's a Supreme Court decision clearly on-point for the latter issue.

  • masculistman||

    The good guys lost that decision.

    The fight is not over. We good guys will give them hell: http://norml.org/act

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The president, whose press secretary last week predicted "greater enforcement" of the federal ban on marijuana in the eight states that have legalized the drug for recreational use . . . "

    Sullum always takes care to get things right, and this is no exception.

    All the other references I've seen to the press secretary's remarks treat them as if they were a new policy announcement or something.

    It seemed to me that the press secretary was asked to speculate, and he was speculating about what might happen in the future. These days, it's incredibly important to distinguish between words and actions. The media loves to conflate the two so it seems like something important happened on even slow news days, but Trump hasn't actually done anything on marijuana yet.

    That being said, we should keep clubbing Trump over the head with his campaign promises to respect state marijuana laws.

  • masculistman||

    Trump hasn't actually done anything on marijuana yet.

    Yet. That is the key word.

    That being said, we should keep clubbing Trump over the head with his campaign promises to respect state marijuana laws.

    Excellent idea. That is what I do. You can contact him here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact or here: https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse or here: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump

  • Rich||

    Even if legalization were a disaster in Colorado, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it.

    Just like "Even if gang violence were a disaster in Chicago, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it."

  • Jerryskids||

    And just like "Even if the possums getting into the garbage can were a disaster on my back porch, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it."

  • some guy||

    Clearly we need to consider a nationwide ban on keeping garbage bins on back porches.

  • Mainer2||

    Common sense garbage can control.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is all this racism against possums? Of course we need the Fed to regulate this to ensure that we don't exclude the poor possum from getting his daily ration! They can't survive without the Fed if smaller organizations take away their right to trash binge.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Actually no, they shouldn't. Not unless Illinois declares the area out of control and asks for the federal government to help.

    Law enforcement is and should be a state and local issue, not a federal one.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Hickenlooper is a slimeball who would never have resisted a Democrat president on this issue. He has "evolved" purely because it offers a chance to show his anti-Trump virtues.

    While I would be happy for the CO state govt fighting the feds even for the wrong reasons, he has not a shred of legal ground to stand on. FLEAs can enforce federal law, regardless of whether the state has similar laws. All the states can do is refuse to help them.

  • Mainer2||

    If a future Democrat president needed someone to wear a uniform and stand by the trains with a clipboard and check names off a list, Hickenlooper would "evolve" in that direction.

  • Memory Hole||

    I bet we'll hear alot about how the devil weed escapes into god's country to justify whatever enforcement track they pursue.

  • Fat Hubie||

    It's sad that anyone thinks that any of this is constitutional....really sad.

  • masculistman||

    Hate marijuana prohibition? Do something about it: http://norml.org/act Tell Trump you are disgusted with his prohibitionist antics too: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact and/or https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump as well as https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse

    The more of us they hear from the better.

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