Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. (Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

Democratic candidate O’Malley talks federal pot policy on Denver visit

In Denver visit, Martin O'Malley says he supports reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug

In a visit to Denver, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said he is looking to Colorado as he considers whether to support federal legalization of marijuana. But for now, he said, it’s a step too far.

“I think we still have to watch, and we have to learn in Colorado and Washington state,” he told reporters after a meeting with marijuana industry and legalization advocates Thursday. “I’m not there yet, but I am watching very closely what’s happening.”

The focus on the issue is emerging as a hot topic in the 2016 presidential campaign amid questions about how the federal government should respond to the increasing number of states moving toward legalization.

The former Maryland governor’s discussion came the day after Republican presidential candidates sparred about marijuana in a televised debate and three months after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul visited Denver for a fundraiser with the legal weed industry.

In Maryland, O’Malley signed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a civil citation and fine for those caught with less than 10 grams. He also supported the state’s legalization of medical marijuana.

In the meeting, he asked a dozen or so questions about how it works in Colorado and the results after legalization in 2013.

“You didn’t see everyone showing up three hours late for work every morning?” he asked with a smile.

If elected president, O’Malley said he would use his executive authority to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a move that will allow doctors to issue prescriptions and enable medical research. Right now, marijuana is a Schedule I drug at the federal level, akin to heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Brian Vicente, an attorney who helped lead the campaign to legalize weed in Colorado, wanted the candidate to go further.

“It’s a positive sign that you have a mainstream candidate discussing this issue in Colorado,” said Vicente, who hosted the event at his downtown law office. But, he added, the schedule change is a “largely symbolic” step.

Others at the meeting included members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration, pot business owners and other legalization advocates.

Gina Carbone, the co-founder of Smart Colorado, a group that warns against the commercialization of marijuana and advocates for greater protections for children, suggested the candidate received a one-sided view that ignored the negative effects.

“The marijuana industry is trying to sell this idea that marijuana use is great and there are no problems,” she said in an interview. “I definitely think he didn’t get the whole picture.”

John Frank: 303-954-2409, jfrank@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ByJohnFrank

This story was first published on DenverPost.com