Colorado’s governor played sage to California on Tuesday, warning lawmakers that their state has a “steep hill” ahead in legalizing recreational marijuana and urging them to pay close attention to aspects such as home-grow regulations, pesticides and public safety.
Hickenlooper addressed California lawmakers in Sacramento to share his lessons learned and words of wisdom from when his state launched first-of-its-kind, adult-use cannabis sales in 2014.
“It’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in public life, but also one of the things I’m most proud of,” Hickenlooper said during a Senate Governance and Finance committee oversight hearing on cannabis tax system implementation.
Hickenlooper told lawmakers of how he was not a supporter of legalized marijuana in Colorado when voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012 and his concerns about the unintended consequences of such a move.
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Take Colorado’s home-grow regulations, which allow for medical marijuana patients to have up to 99 plants with a doctor’s approval. The lax regulations spawned a “gray market” in Colorado and created more potential for out-of-state diversion, he said.
“It’s a stupid system, and I would encourage you guys to clamp down,” Hickenlooper said.
Amendment 64 allows adult residents to grow up to six plants; a number of local ordinances have set a limit of 12 plants per household.
In hindsight, Colorado also should have put better care into its edibles regulations from the start — banning cannabis-infused products that would be attractive to children and ensuring clearer labels, actions that since were implemented, he said. Developing strong pesticide protocols also was highly recommended.
And there were the issues outside of Colorado’s control.
The inability for state-legal marijuana businesses to openly bank is a “terrible system,” he said.
“These are really vexing issues that you’re going to have some challenges on,” he said.
He spoke highly of developing a collaborative and transparent system and the successes that could come as a result.
From a “35,000-foot level,” Colorado has fared pretty well from this experiment, Hickenlooper noted.
Health officials have not seen a spike in teenage use; there has not been a dramatic increase in overall usage or consumption; a collaborative taxation system exists to stamp out the black market and fund programs to address any unintended consequences; and polls show that residents are increasingly in favor of continued legalization, he said.
“The United States now has almost two-thirds of the country — I think it’s 64 percent of the people in America — lives in a state that has either legalized medical or recreational marijuana,” he said. “… I think it’s going to be one of the great social experiments of the first half of the 21st century. And the more we work together, the more we can help each other, the better the outcome will be for our citizens.”
In response to a question about uncertainty on the federal level, Hickenlooper said he’s hopeful that the Trump administration would not interfere with legal states.
“We’re optimistic that (President Donald Trump) is going to let the experiment continue,” he said, “but they’re going to closely watch it, I’m sure.”