Candidates line the stage during the GOP debate hosted by CNBC on Oct. 28, 2015, at the Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

GOP debate: Legal weed issues dodged in Colorado

That’s it? Really?

The GOP debate Wednesday in Boulder was billed by CNBC as “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate” and had been expected to dig into candidates’ views on marijuana, considering that in 2014 Colorado had nearly $700 million in cannabis sales and $76 million in state taxes and fees during the first year of recreational sales, and recently crossed the $100 million threshold for monthly sales.

The cable network had also touted the marijuana issue in the days leading up to the debate. However, it barely made a blip in the discussion at the University of Colorado.

It turned out Wednesday’s biggest election-related marijuana news came on the Democratic side, with Sen. Bernie Sanders declaring that marijuana should be removed from the federal schedule of dangerous drugs at a town hall meeting before George Mason University students in Fairfax, Va.

But back to the GOP candidates. When the topic of marijuana legalization finally came up more than an hour into the late-starting debate — not counting Sen. Ted Cruz’s quip about “famous Colorado brownies” — the moderators looked to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Not surprising, since his state is the only one voting on marijuana legalization in the 2015 off-year election, as activists in other states, including California and Nevada, are focusing on 2016. However, Kasich quickly deflected the issue.

Here’s how it went down (transcript provided by The Washington Post):

MODERATOR CARL QUINTANILLA: Governor Kasich, let’s talk about marijuana. We’re broadcasting from Colorado, which has seen $150 million in new revenue for the state since legalizing last year. Governor (John) Hickenlooper is not a big fan of legalization, but he’s said the people who used to be smoking it are still smoking it, they’re just now paying taxes.

Given the budget pressures in Ohio, and other states, is this a revenue stream you’d like to have?

KASICH: Well, first of all, we’re running a $2 billion dollar surplus, we’re not having a revenue problem right now. And, sending mixed signals to kids about drugs is a disaster. Drugs is one of the greatest scourges in this country, and I spent five years of my administration working with my team to do a whole sort of things to try to rein in the problem of overdoses, and it goes on and on. We could do a whole show on that.

I want to go back for a second thought on this issue of income inequality. My program would move the 104 programs of the federal Department of Education into four block grants, and send them back to the states because income inequality is driven by a lack of skills when kids don’t get what they need to be able to compete and win in this country.

GOP debate: In epicenter of legal weed, pot policy talk oddly absent
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, far left, speaks during the debate on Oct. 28, 2015, as Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush look on at the Coors Events Center in Boulder. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

The fact is, in order to get this economy moving again, I call for freezing regulations for a year except for the problem of public safety. I believe that we need to cut these taxes down, we need to be on a roadmap to balancing the budget, and we need to send power, money, and influence, the welfare department, the education department, job training, infrastructure, Medicaid, all of that out of Washington back to the states so we can run these programs from where we live to the top, not a one-size-fits-all mentality that they have in Washington.

And, that will get to the nub of opportunity for our children, and an ability to see wages rise. Again…


KASICH: …One more time, in Ohio, our wages are growing faster than the national average. We’ve cut taxes, balanced budgets, changed the regulatory environment. Folks, you want to —

QUINTANILLA: Thank you, Governor.

KASICH: — fix America, this is the formula. It worked for Reagan and it works for our team in Ohio. Thank you.

QUINTANILLA: Thank you. We’ll be back from Boulder, Colorado in just a moment.


The lack of marijuana discussion coming out of the GOP debate in Colorado — and the way CNBC handled the proceedings and Kasich’s reference to overdoses — did not go unnoticed on social media: