A line stretches outside BotanaCare 21+ in Northglenn on Jan 1, 2014, the first day of adult-use marijuana sales in Colorado. (Denver Post file)

Kentucky gov rips Colorado legalization; state’s marijuana adviser says laws evolving

Marijuana legalization is a “sucker’s bet” that has had negative consequences in Colorado and is not right for Kentucky, the Bluegrass State’s Gov. Matt Bevin said this week.

Bevin, while a guest on Terry Meiners’ talk show on WHAS radio on Tuesday in Louisville, shot down any prospect of recreational marijuana legalization happening under his watch.

“We are not, while I’m governor, going to be legalizing the use of marijuana in this state for recreational purposes or for revenue-generating purposes,” Bevin said.

Bevin addressed the topic of cannabis legalization after Meiners noted that legalizing marijuana and casino gambling were floated as potential solutions to Kentucky’s “pension crisis.”

Bevin scoffed at those ideas, chuckling at the idea that “a lot of toked-up people gambling” would be a boon for Kentucky.

He said there was “no political appetite” for casino gambling and that the situation was far from rosy in Colorado, a state considered a trailblazer in cannabis legalization, according to the audio from the WHAS show:

“The state of Colorado, which is revered by those who would love to see this happen as the model, you talk to the governor of that state, you talk to the legislators of that state, you talk to law enforcement people in that state:

You get a hundred and something million dollars worth of revenue and, yeah, that’s money, but the cost? … THC content in marijuana is not like it was even a generation ago. There are people overdosing based on ingestion of products that are edibles and things. You have that state being sued by at least two of their border states. You have law enforcement people and emergency rooms being overrun by problems. You have homelessness … spiking in that state.

It has not been good for that state, and states like us would be wise to look at that and realize that’s a sucker’s bet.”

Bevin’s comments about Colorado span a variety of issues raised since recreational marijuana sales began in 2014, including: over-consumption concerns related to cannabis-infused edibles; Nebraska and Oklahoma’s ultimately unsuccessful legal bid against Colorado marijuana laws; ongoing questions about public health and safety effects; and efforts to wrangle and curtail gray and black market operations. Regarding Bevin’s remark about overdosing, there are no reported cases of a fatal overdose from marijuana alone, according to multiple federal and international agencies.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and state officials are not taking a position of advocacy or opposition to legalization, but rather of “good government,” Mark Bolton, senior legal counsel and marijuana adviser for the governor’s office, said in an interview Wednesday with The Cannabist.

Colorado officials’ mission since the passage of recreational marijuana Amendment 64 in 2012 has been to implement the will of the voters and build a regulatory enforcement system that addresses public health and safety issues, Bolton said.

Hickenlooper’s messaging since that time typically involves noting that Colorado officials put a lot of work into its regulations, continue to address issues as they evolve, and that more data are needed to get a clearer understanding of the potential effects, Bolton said.

“I think the governor always communicates with others … by saying, give it a few more years to see what the real outcomes are,” Bolton said.

Bolton added that several of the issues Bevin raised were addressed by Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman in their response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ inquiry about the effectiveness of state marijuana laws.

Bolton said he’s not aware of a conversation between Hickenlooper and Bevin recently, but was double-checking to confirm.

Queries to Bevin’s office were not immediately returned.

The debt for Kentucky’s eight pension plans has escalated to between $64 billion and $84 billion, state officials say, citing consultants’ estimates. Bevin told Meiners that legislators have a “good, good bill” coming during a special session in the days ahead to help address the pension problems, which have created worry among the state’s public employees, as reported by local news sources such as WDRB and the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lawmakers, in response, have suggested that marijuana and casino gambling could help create some additional revenue streams for the state.

Listen to Terry Meiners’ full interview with Bevin:

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