On May 2, 2016, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper participated in the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, and had the chance to briefly discuss recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado.
The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to increasing global prosperity by promoting creative solutions to broaden access to capital and job opportunities, while also improving public health.
In “Governors Address Challenges Facing States,” a session moderated by Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Hickenlooper was joined by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The panel of governors discussed pressing issues facing state governments, including employment, education, health, transportation and the economy.
Heading into the 25-minute mark of the session, Schmidt took the opportunity to ask Hickenlooper about Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I want to come back to the substance of the panel, but you know this is coming, I’ve got to ask you about recreational marijuana,” Schmidt said. “In terms of a difference between a state and laboratories of democracy, here we have a real laboratory. You were famously not too wild about this legislation and you have recommended to your fellow governors that they wait, tell us why.”
“Well, I opposed the original legislation, or the constitutional initiative, to make recreational marijuana legally just cause (sic) it’s against federal law. You don’t want to be in conflict with basic federal law, but once it passed, it passed 55-45,” Hickenlooper said. “My job is to deliver on the will of the people of Colorado. So we’ve gone for the last three years and, from scratch, created a regulatory environment.”
In regards to the black market, Hickenlooper believes recreational legalization has reduced the number of illegal drug dealers. Hickenlooper cited a friend who hires out day laborers and how this friend had previously had issues with drug dealers loitering around his business, but that his friend hasn’t seen any drug dealers around his business in the past year.
“You take marijuana out of the inventory of a drug dealer, you’re going to have less things to sell. It makes it obvious that you’re going to have less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper also addressed his initial concern that recreational legalization would negatively affect kids in Colorado.
“Our biggest fear was kids would be, you know, think it was safer to smoke pot or get high, that kids would smoke it or eat edibles. We saw a little bit of a spike, but not a big spike,” Hickenlooper said.
In a moment of reflection, included below, Hickenlooper explained that if he had a magic wand to reverse legalization, he’s not sure that he would wave it because legal marijuana in the state has created a “billion-dollar industry” that has generated tax revenue the state has been able to invest in public safety, regulatory infrastructure, responsible-use marketing and mental health initiatives.
“It’s beginning to look like it might work,” Hickenlooper concluded.