Colorado Governor Comes Out Against Marijuana Legalization Initiative

As Colorado voters prepare to consider a November ballot initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana, their governor, John Hickenlooper (D-CO), has come out against the initiative in no uncertain terms. Hickenlooper’s office released a statement decrying the amendment as harmful to children. Amendment 64 would allow the state to regulate and tax cannabis in the manner it currently handles alcohol. The NAACP has endorsed the initiative out of concern for the disproportionate impact petty drug possession charges have on the lives of young African Americans.

While acknowledging the injustice of felony charges for petty possession, the governor vaguely suggested there are other ways besides legalization to handle the problem:

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.

When ThinkProgress asked the governor’s office what alternative legislation Hickenlooper would support to address these “inequities,” a spokesperson said he was unaware of any pending proposals. During Hickenlooper’s tenure as Mayor of Denver, the city legalized petty possession of marijuana for anyone over 21 years old, though police can still make arrests based on state law. A majority of Denver Republicans voted to support Amendment 64, which is very similar to the city initiative.

Amendment proponent Mason Tvert called the statement “one of the most hypocritical statements in the history of politics” due to Hickenlooper’s former ownership of the Wynkoop Brewing Company brewpub in Denver. The governor’s stance also puts him at odds with 47 percent of Colorado voters who currently support legalization. Even vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is staunchly against marijuana legalization, felt the need to declare his support for states’ rights on the issue during a visit to the state.

However, Hickenlooper’s statement also shows some pragmatism in warning the federal government “will not turn a blind eye” toward state legalization. The Justice Department has cracked down on Colorado’s state-sanctioned medical marijuana program in the past year and shows no sign of relenting.