EDITORIAL: Gov. Hickenlooper, legal marijuana is not a big success

By: The Gazette editorial board
March 1, 2017 Updated: March 7, 2017 at 2:47 pm
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Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on "Meet the Press" on Sunday to state, again, his both-ways position on legalized marijuana.

Hickenlooper's opinion matters to the world because he oversees the world's most liberal, anything-goes drug market. Legislators, governors and world leaders hang on every word Hickenlooper says as their jurisdictions consider enacting our laws.

"First I opposed it," Hickenlooper said of recreational legalization. "But our voters passed it 55-45. It's in our constitution. I took a solemn oath to support our constitution. The states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes have a sovereignty, just like the federal government does."

"You don't think it's clear the federal government can stop you? You don't think it's a clear-cut case?" asked "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd.

"I don't think it is," Hickenlooper replied.

The Supreme Court of the United States says otherwise.

Hickenlooper's states' rights argument arose because the Trump administration announced plans to enforce federal laws against marijuana. Recreational legalization, and the proliferation of medicinal retail, resulted from the Obama administration's assurances the federal government would not interfere with marijuana states.

That policy was temporary. The Supreme Court decided this issue in Gonzales v. Raich (2005). By a 6-3 vote, the court affirmed the government's authority to enforce federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana in states that allow it. The majority included Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Stephen Breyer.

Todd asked Hickenlooper if he would support legalization, if on the ballot today.

"I'm getting close," Hickenlooper said. "I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress. We didn't see a spike in teenage use. If anything it's come down in the last year. And we're getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers. I mean, that's, to get rid of that black market and get tax revenues to deal with addictions and some of the unintended consequences of marijuana, maybe the system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with."

The governor's optimistic view of legalized pot isn't shared by a lot of Colorado teachers, physicians, first responders and others who deal with the daily consequences of legalization. A few of their concerns:

  • Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 62 percent after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013.
  • Colorado youth past-month marijuana use for 2013-14 was 74 percent higher than the national average. The latest 2013-14 results show Colorado youths ranked first in the nation for past-month use.
  • Emergency department rates likely related to marijuana increased 49 percent in the two-year average (2013-14) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.
  • Highway patrol seizures of Colorado pot increased 37 percent since recreational legalization. Of 394 seizures in 2015, 36 states were to receive marijuana from Colorado.

"It's (marijuana) the No. 1 problem in schools right now," said Lynn Riemer, president of ACT on Drugs, at a 2015 gathering of hundreds of educators.

Colorado has long been known for wholesome outdoor activities, athletes and health. Increasingly, we are known as the marijuana state. Foreign drug smugglers have moved their operations here, knowing they can easily blend with an environment of storefront marijuana sales and grow operations in neighborhoods and warehouse districts.

Though Hickenlooper is "getting close" to embracing legalized pot, his state is a cautionary tale to all who objectively examine the facts. He would do the world a favor by warning against this bad idea.

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