Hot Sheet

Hick, ever of two minds on marijuana, trains sights on pot’s ‘gray market’

Author: Dan Njegomir - November 15, 2016 - Updated: June 6, 2017

Gov. John Hickenlooper is back at it, blowing hot and cold on recreational marijuana in Colorado this week. In this morning’s Denver Post, Hick lashes out at so-called gray-market marijuana, i.e., grown in our pot-permissive state for illegal sale elsewhere:

…Hickenlooper on Monday called the marijuana gray market in Colorado a “clear and present danger” that demands tougher regulations and enforcement.

Reacting to recent busts, Hickenlooper said the state must “move swiftly and aggressively to make sure the illegal activity is stamped out.”

“If we don’t stamp it out right now, it becomes acceptable. And then, all of a sudden, people are going to start getting hurt,” the Democrat said in an interview. “If you let crime grow, it will breed on its opportunity.”

Hick—no prude in his own personal life; his bio includes pot use—comes across at times as a one-man good-cop-bad-cop routine on the subject. As recounted earlier this year in a report by David Kelley in the Los Angeles Times, the governor has gone back and forth on the subject since Colorado voters legalized it through the ballot box as Amendment 64 in 2012:

The moderate Democrat said that if he could “wave a magic wand” to reverse the decision, he would. Then he called voters “reckless” for approving it in the first place, a remark he later downgraded to “risky.”

“Colorado is known for many great things,” Hickenlooper said. “Marijuana should not be one of them.”

But the governor’s views have softened. During a recent panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, he said that despite opposing the legalization of pot, his job was to “deliver on the will of the people of Colorado.”

“If I had that magic wand now, I don’t know if I would wave it,” he said. “It’s beginning to look like it might work.”

Hickenlooper also told Katie Couric in a Yahoo News interview in May:

“We haven’t seen the big spike that I was worried about seeing of teenagers at greater frequency smoking…

…I think we’ve made real progress. And there might be a way to have a better system come out of this. … I am not as negative as I was. I am cautiously optimistic, like we might actually do this. This is going to be one of the biggest experiments of the 21st century.”

As some longtime observers of the beer-baron-turned-pol might agree, that’s really standard operating procedure for Hick on nettlesome policy issues: Thinking out loud; navigating policies as he discusses them, and allowing for plenty of uncertainty and wiggle room as he enunciates a stance.

Which probably opens the door to his remarks on gray market marijuana—arguably, either a mere tangent off of legalized recreational pot or an inevitable and uncontrollable byproduct of it, depending on how you look at it. As the Post reported:

The concern about Colorado-grown marijuana being sold illegally in other states is increasing after a recent crackdown by local and federal law enforcement that led to indictments from the U.S. attorney’s office.

…“I take this very seriously,” Hickenlooper said. “This is one of the things we worried about in the very beginning. But when we see the evidence, we better respond.”

The governor’s remarks came after he asked state lawmakers to set aside $16 million in marijuana tax revenues for new initiatives related to controlling the gray market as part of his $28.5 billion state budget proposal.

…The illegal trade is operating as part of the gray market, in which marijuana is grown legally but sold illegally. The state’s medicinal marijuana law allows patients and caregivers to grow up to 99 plants in a residential setting, while the state’s recreational marijuana law allows growers to form vast cooperatives cultivating six plants per individual.

The nation’s media will of course continue to closely follow Colorado’s experience with legalization as one of the leaders on the subject, and our governor doubtless will continue to wrestle with it as the media track his every thought.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.