Hickenlooper should stay curious about cannabis


Though I don’t always agree with him on issues or know him personally, I generally like our governor. John Hickenlooper seems to be a smart, cautious, curious and honest guy.

That said, I have been puzzled by his stance toward cannabis. He says he tried it when he was younger and didn’t care for it. His signature is on the document that made cannabis legal in Colorado. Yet he strongly opposed Amendment 64’s passage and has carried it out — seemingly while holding his nose.

So it was encouraging to hear that he has been polling his friends and supporters at parties and gatherings about their cannabis usage. The governor reports that he has been somewhat surprised at the number of his supporters who use cannabis and how many admitted to using it before he signed the law that made it legal.

I am certainly not surprised that his constituents admit to using cannabis, and I fervently hope that the governor remains curious about it. I suggest he go farther in his informal polls and inquire about why his supporters were using cannabis even though it was illegal. Why didn’t they believe the government’s propaganda against it? Or whether they have suffered the kinds of emotional problems that prohibitionists still claim are going to wreak havoc on our citizenry and its offspring?

I’m certain that the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who use it responsibly would be a more honest sounding board on how cannabis affects their lives (and their children’s) than those with the governor’s ear who want to spend all the tax revenues on treatment and education about its perceived dangers. They would be better barometers than the police groups petitioning for more money for the perceived increase in traffic accidents.

There is some dispute at present about that tax money and how much will actually be generated. The governor released his own projections and how he intended to spend it. Later, a report by the Colorado Legislative Council suggested revenues well below the governor’s projections. And January’s numbers were lower than projections.

Trying to extrapolate future revenues from a new industry’s first month of sales is an exercise in stupidity. But that didn’t stop Smart Colorado’s Rachel O’Bryan from using the Denver Post’s Sunday forum to warn us all of the apocalypse we face unless we spend millions of dollars to warn young people of cannabis’ mortal danger

The op-ed doesn’t mention, of course, that we won’t know what tax revenues for the first year will be for some time. January was a chaotic month. A minimum of stores were open under a worldwide blare of publicity, and though those that were open enjoyed robust sales, they could only serve so many customers.

And let’s not forget one important thing about future sales. It’s not like legalization and the ability for adults to purchase cannabis introduced it to our fair state. Many Coloradans have been purchasing cannabis for decades now. This has created a “black market” that is actually a “gray market.” Many people buy from friends or neighbors or others who grow their own. That’s not likely to change right away.

And with the media yammering on about the high taxes on retail cannabis and stores gouging customers at $20 a gram and up, there isn’t much incentive to come in when you can buy an ounce from a friend for around $200. Is it any wonder more people aren’t heading into stores right now? Wait until more stores open and competition for customers actually begins.

Another thing that might interest the governor is that his generation is the fastest-growing age group for cannabis consumption today. And if you’re facing up to or already passing retirement age, what’s not to like about cannabis? The kids are out of the house, and legalization is breaking down the barriers that prohibition created (i.e. illegal markets and the stigma of consumption as criminal offense) that has kept many away.

I’ve talked with friends who have been reading the literature about cannabis’ touted medical properties and are more than curious, if still unsure about going into retail stores. They have watched their tax money wasted on decades of unscientific campaigns against cannabis. They have talked to people with medical cards. With legalization comes the opportunity for regular citizens for whom even a medical card might cost them their job, to find out if the stories about indica-dominant strains might help that chronic pain in their shoulder or knee instead of relying on prescription drugs with side effects of their own.

The possibilities here are really promising. Prescription pain medications are a serious problem in the United States, much more so than cannabis. If someone in their 60s or 70s could get relief without relying on prescription drugs, how much better off might we all be?

Here’s to Gov. Hickenlooper continuing to be curious about cannabis. The more we learn, the less we should have to rely on broken prohibition models.

• • • •

In a column that ran March 6, I wrote that Michael Elliott founded the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, now the Marijuana Industry Group. It should have read that he joined the organization in 2010. I also wrote that medical dispensaries operating before HB 10-284 was passed that year were unlicensed. I should have stated that they were licensed as caregiving businesses or patient collectives before Colorado enacted the current regulatory process.

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