National news finally taking cannabis legalization seriously


Colorado cannabis was all over mainstream news last weekend. Former Coloradan Harry Smith ran down some of the stories of the first year of legalization on his CNBC Saturday night special, Marijuana Country: The Cannabis Boom. Meanwhile, over at 60 Minutes, Bill Whitaker weighed in with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado pot czar Andrew Freedman, among others. And rotating across the top of the online Politico site over the weekend was a story about Amendment 64’s consequences for the state and those along our borders.

Last year at this time, most of what passed for coverage of Colorado’s legalization efforts were guestimates of how much money the state might get in tax revenue, camera shots of the long lines at stores, rumors of product shortages and endless pondering of the infinite problems facing the state. The best part of watching the CNBC and CBS specials this year was that they didn’t start with a general bias against cannabis, a refreshing about-face. Perhaps even mainstream media are figuring out that, after a year, the experiment seems to be working pretty well.

On 60 Minutes, Hickenlooper changed his tune from just two months ago. It’s no secret that the governor opposed legalization, especially when Coloradans voted for it early on his watch as governor.

“I think even after the election, if I’d had a magic wand, and I could wave the wand, I probably would’ve reversed it and had the initiative fail,” he admitted to Whitaker. “But now I look at it, and I think we’ve made a lot of progress. I think we might actually create a system that can work.”

That’s quite a shift from a debate in October (during his campaign), when the governor deemed the experiment “reckless,” then dialed that down a day later to “risky.” Given that he’s not running for anything anymore, his latest comments are encouraging. He admitted his frustration over the lack of a cohesive banking system for many cannabis businesses. “If you want to guarantee a fledgling industry becomes corrupt … make it all cash, right? That’s as old as Al Capone, right? Cash creates corruption.”

Both stories included segments, not surprisingly, on edibles, which are very popular and a rallying point for those who oppose legalization. Both outlined how the state, after a couple of highprofile cases, has begun to take steps to change the packaging and help educate people about the differences in ingestion methods. Smith pointed out that though a few more children and adults have shown up in emergency rooms, edible overingestion is hardly epidemic.

Smith, a Denver broadcaster before moving up to CBS News in 1986, demonstrated a healthy skepticism about he subject. At one point he picked up a cannabisinfused candy bar and asked Dixie Elixers’ Chuck Smith how a child could tell the difference if he or she found it on a living room table. Not missing a beat, Chuck Smith said that, like alcohol or anything else you don’t want your kids to have, it shouldn’t be on your living room table in the first place.

Smith was at his best reporting on the influx of parents coming to the state because their children have been diagnosed with Dravet syndrome and they’re seeking the high-in-demand, high-in-CBD Charlotte’s Web strain, which a Denver doctor admits needs more study but is showing promise for 20-30 percent of those who use it.

The Politico piece, written by Jonathan Topaz, looks at the lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado. Using the argument that Amendment 64 is preempted by the Controlled Substances Act, it seeks to force the U.S. to enforce federal cannabis laws in Colorado because legalization here harms neighboring states and may increase crime.

The story missed the latest wrinkle in that particular legal action. Last week a group of state Republican lawmakers petitioned Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to drop the federal lawsuit. This is particularly interesting since none of the signees are pro-cannabis. But each one well understands the Pandora’s box opened if the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of the federal government over state’s rights. They have even threatened to side with Colorado if the case is ever actually heard.

“Oklahoma has been a pioneer and a leader in standing up to federal usurpations of power on everything from gun control to Obamacare and beyond,” they write. “We believe this lawsuit against our sister state has the potential, if it were to be successful at the Supreme Court, to undermine all of those efforts to protect our own state’s right to govern itself under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

No word on whether or when the Supremes might take up the case.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.