You may know him as a craft beer entrepreneur, expert banjo player or Colorado governor. He’s the one, the only, John Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor running for president. Starbuds recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his stance on cannabis and what he sees as the future for the plant in the United States.
Starbuds: After witnessing adult use legalization in Colorado, how has your opinion of cannabis changed?
Hickenlooper: I was originally wary of the idea, but when the voters approved it, I thought it was my responsibility to make this experiment as successful as possible. And, by and large, it has been. There’s been no spike in underage consumption. We’ve also seen major opportunities created – jobs, creativity for small businesses, and alternative treatment for pain. There are still some kinks to work out in terms of regulation — gray market, public consumption, capital generation etc. But I believe the federal government should decertify marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic and take other steps to make it easier for states who want to regulate it.
Starbuds: How can Colorado be used as a model for cannabis legalization in other states and the
country as a whole moving forward?
Hickenlooper: There are things we did well and things I would do differently now. As the first state to legalize and regulate cannabis, I think we did an incredible job creating these policies from scratch…. Now that other states have passed legalization, they are coming up with their own systems — we’ll get to see what works and what doesn’t. States are meant to be laboratories of democracy. The policies — to encourage more diversity in the industry — are now being deployed in other states and are definitely something that should be replicated. Across the board I think we should be decriminalizing marijuana – we put kids in jail and ruin their lives for what? A joint?
Starbuds: Do you support legalization at the Federal level? Why or why not? If not, do you support
legislation such as the States Rights Act?
Hickenlooper: I think it should be decriminalized at the federal level, and I believe states that want to legalize it should be able to. I believe in a state by state approach because different areas will have different challenges/areas of focus in terms of regulation. We are still in the early stages of developing a comprehensive regulatory system — we haven’t worked out all the kinks yet. If we allow states to take this on one by one, I think we’ll ultimately get to nationwide legalization — and we may even get there faster because the regulatory system will be better as different states try different things, and there won’t be this feeling of a top down mandate.
Starbuds: What do you think are the benefits of a legal regulated cannabis market?
Hickenlooper: It’s safer from a consumption standpoint. There are some revenue benefits, though not as much as people think. Most critically, it also address a significant problem with our justice system.
Starbuds: Given your background in the Craft Beer Industry, what parallels do you see in
Hickenlooper: The science behind both are extremely fascinating — cannabis is certainly a craft as well
Starbuds: As cannabis legalization has become increasingly popular within the U.S., the issue of public consumption and its legality becomes evermore relevant. How do you propose we address public consumption moving forward? What can we learn from the alcohol industry?
Hickenlooper: In Colorado, the law that was passed prohibited public consumption — as an amendment in the Constitution. Not saying that it should be out of the question — in terms of legislation, not sure how that will work here. Finding ways for visitors in Colorado to legally and safely consume remains an outstanding question. The industry, law enforcement, and local communities should find solutions that strike the right balance for all. We will also need to focus in on research and shaping policies about second hand consumption, driving while under the influence, any limitations, etc. There are a lot of interesting ideas out there, it’s just thinking about how we can make those work in a way that is both legal and safe.
Starbuds: As a small business owner yourself, you can certainly appreciate how difficult it is to
operate a cannabis business. How would you address the current issues surrounding banking and IRS Code 280e?
Hickenlooper: The 280e laws (and for those that don’t know, this means people can’t deduct business expenses) is untenable. Not only for businesses, but for the public. We want businesses to spend money on quality control, safety, customer service, and general community wellbeing. This is a law born out of the Reefer Madness days, and we should get rid of it.
Starbuds: It’s no secret that social justice reform and cannabis reform are interrelated. Several states have moved to overturn past convictions for marijuana related offenses. Moving forward, what role should the Federal government play when it comes to this issue?
Hickenlooper: Federal government should decriminalize, and it should expunge the records of people were charged/incarcerated for non-violent crimes involving marijuana.
Starbuds: Unlike Bill Clinton, did you inhale?
Hickenlooper: Ha, yes.