Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Offers His Advice to California

January 2, 2018

Recreational marijuana is officially legal in California. This makes it the sixth state to go green after Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, and Colorado. Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) shares his lessons from the legalization and regulation of marijuana in his state for California.

Hickenlooper told Cheddar's Baker Machado and Brad Smith one of the biggest lessons he learned was the need to regulate edibles to ensure they are properly packaged to keep marijuana away from children. "California is obviously going to be the biggest player in the legalized recreational marijuana industry. But that shouldn't impact those of us that came first," said Hickenlooper. "They've been very attentive in trying to learn from our mistakes."

More than $200 million dollars in tax revenue will be generated from legal marijuana sales in Colorado in 2017. Hickenlooper says he is using this revenue in his state to address the unintended consequences of marijuana.


MALE_1: Hey guys, welcome back to Cheddar. Recreational marijuana is officially legal in California making it the sixth state to go green after Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada and Colorado. Bakers on the state, first to make the change. Joining us now is Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper. Governor, it's been four years since the drug became legal for anyone 21 and over in your state, what is your advice for California?

MALE_2: Well, you know I've been out there, and talked to the General Assembly, and I talked to Governor Brown and I think, you know, they've got their arms around it pretty well. I mean the things we had challenges with were ah the edibles, uh, you know we we need to create legislation to make sure that they were put in tamper proof containers just like the medicine you might get at the pharmacy because we had kids getting into it. We were worried about uh child, uh, you know teenage consumption going up which really hasn't happened to any significant degree. Uh, an- and also, you know, our primary concerns were always just public health and public safety. So, I- I think California has got a lot of the, uh, of the fixed points of- right here's how we're going to keep people safe, uh, here's how we're going to make sure we don't, you know, in any way have our public health deteriorate.

MALE_3: Ah, Governor of course, I'm from Colorado, you're my former governor, miss yah a lots, love that state as always. But over the course of the last five years since marijuana became legalized there's been a lot of advancements in terms of how much tax revenue has been coming into the state. How many new jobs are being created because of that, because of marijuana being in the state. Is there any worry that what California being the sixth largest economy in the world legalizing this product, will it hurt or dampen all the advancements that Colorado was down over the course of the last five years?

MALE_2: Oh I don't think so. I think California is obviously going to be the, the biggest player, uh, in the, in the legalized recreational marijuana industry but tha- that shouldn't impact those of us that, that came first, they've been very attentive in trying to learn from our mistakes and they understand there can be tremendous unintended consequences so, and, and we've been very careful. One of the things, we focus on is to make sure we don't have illegal growing in Colorado, that then gets exported to a state like California so, it shouldn't affect, I mean Colorado it's over a billion dollar industry. I think they're thinking that will be six or seven billion dollars in California. Uh, we, we generated about 200 this year we'll be well over 200 million dollars in tax revenue but we try to use that tax revenue to market to teenagers that, that while your brain is rapidly growing this high teen scene marijuana is a bad idea, trying to mark- use that tax revenue from marijuana to deal with the unintended consequences of marijuana and I think, I think California is gonna try and do to a large extent the same.

MALE_3: Yeah, and to that point, uh, Governor, what were some of the mistakes you felt like you, we did make in Colorado as a result of this. Was it the high tax level that we saw on edibles or any sort of, uh, cannabis related things that still kept the black market alive? What were some of the other mistakes you probably mentioned to Governor Jerry Brown?

MALE_2: Well, ah, ah, you're exactly right. We did lower the tax 'cause it was a little too high and you know the key if you're worried about your kids getting into pot, whe- when their brains are so growing so rapidly, uh you don't want a black market. Drug dealers don't care who they sell to. So the better job we can of undercutting their market and, and reducing the risk so somebody can do a legal grow, and sell it legally to adults. Uh, then the black market hopefully, and and we've seen it, it's dramatically smaller than what it was before. Uh, the issues around edibles getting into the hands of, of not just teenagers, but into kids you know, uh, you know, uh, toddlers sometimes, uh, we really, making sure we get the right containers has been a big step forward there, uh, you know making sure that we don't have the illegal grows even to try and just export it to a neighboring state. Uh, but all those things are stuff that, that California has been warned both from Colorado, from Washington. I think they've done their homework and I- I think, hopefully, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy and hopefully what's happening is, we're making mistakes and getting it better improving all the time, and they're gonna start out way ahead of where we started out. But they'll also keep improving so we'll all share the innovation to make the system safer and better. I mean, you know, I opposed it when it first was on the ballot in Colorado, but, you got to admit the old system wasn't a good system setting, so many kids to prison and given them felonies for nonviolent crimes. I think there is the potential. We'll have to see, but the potential that this could be a much better system in the end.

MALE_1: A- and you know just to stay on that for a moment with the legalization that did take place, you know, how have you been able to retroactively kind of review some of those cases and, uh, revise some of the different sentences that were dealt out?

MALE_2: Oh we saw, I mean, first we changed immediately, uh, how, you know, when charges were filed. So we, uh, we dropped the number of arraignments around marijuana by seventy-five percent in the first year. So, that's a huge cost savings but it also takes kids in many cases, you know, young adults out of the legal system who otherwise wouldn't have any exposure to the legal system. So, I think that's a- a huge step forward. Uh, and then we've gone backwards as people, uh, as they apply for pardons, like any state, the governor has the ability to give pardons, uh, we look very closely at nonviolent crimes where marijuana was the only drug involved, and where people seem to get, you know, extraordinarily harsh sentences.

MALE_3: Governor, ah, as you mentioned early, Colorado brought in 200 million dollars in tax revenue because of this. How did that help the state's budget? What exactly did this help, that wasn't in the budget before? Did this go to roads? Did this go to education? Where was this going to help you guys?

MALE_2: See, I think it's important that we don't take the marijuana tax money and say, oh, this is to help the budget because then you're creating an unconscious motivation, a- an incentive for the state to sell more marijuana. You know, again, I- I'm not sure it should have been illegal. You know, uh, it's now legal and that's what it is. But I don't think the state should have a self-interest in promoting something that we know isn't good for people. Now, maybe it doesn't, maybe it doesn't hurt people and I'm not, especially with adults, that's individual's decisions now. So, we've tried to, to make sure that we focus our funding whe- when they passed the, the change to our Constitution. The first forty million dollars goes to school building. So that happens, ah, and then some portion of it gets allocated to education which we knew, but the rest of it goes towards TV ads to convince teenagers that it's a bad idea, uh, focusing on, uh, unintended consequences from drug use like, uh, mental health issues so we've got 15 million dollars that goes to try to create wraparound services for, uh, chronically homeless. Almost all of these people have some serious mental health issues and drug issues tied together. So, these are things that are historically hard to fund from your normal general fund. And yet we think have some nexus, some connection to, to marijuana use.

MALE_3: Uh, Governor, I wanna to go back to a point you have made a few moments ago. You weren't in favor of this legislation when it was proposed to, ah, to voters many years ago when I was in grad school, many years ago. Ah, what is, what is changing your stance on this? Why have you felt like you've softened over the years as a result of thi-, about this, because you've seen actually what it's been doing to the state?

MALE_2: Yeah, I think that, l- l- like I said before the old system wasn't a great system and, and we had, you know, uh, it's an old adage in the military that never give an order that you think might be disobeyed. I mean, it disrupts the whole chain of command and the, and the reliability of authority. So, when you have laws that no one obeys, it really frays the fabric that, that holds our society together. So, I mean, this was, one, one young kid, when I told him, I- I asked him whether he felt it was easier to get marijuana now than the- that recreational marijuana was legalized? He looked at me and laughed and he said, "Are you kidding? Any high school kid in Colorado could get marijuana anytime they wanted for a cheap price. It wasn't like you were being excluded. What you're doing now is, is really making it harder for teenagers to get pot because you get rid of the drug dealers who will sell to anybody. So, I think, for, the way I look at it, you know, going down the road, this system might end up being better, largely because we're gonna move towards a society whe- where, you know, where people obey the law.

MALE_1: A- and so let's bring things a little bit current here, today, as well, on the medicinal side. We know that a young girl named Alexis Mortell relocated to your state, uh, in order to treat her severe form of epilepsy with cannabis oil. Now, she's suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, uh, and filing with the DEA to legalize medical marijuana. So, ho- how have you seen this access to medical marijuana change some of the approaches, change some of the lives and impact other citizens in your state?

MALE_2: Well, the way we approac-, approach pharmacy and medical applications of different uh medicinal oils or natural substances is very complicated, and because of the classification of marijuana as a, you know, ah, ah, I think it's type one narcotic. I- it means you can't even use it in testing. So, I can give you fifty examples of people that have tried everything and they had, especially with young people, various forms of epilepsy or seizures and that cannabinoids are the only thing that worked. Well, we, we don't have medical tests that demonstrate this beyond a shadow of the doubt. So, we really can't get to the point where it's gonna be approved. I think that's crazy. Israel is testing right now, ah, various cannabinoids, and, and they should be and I think they are being brought back to get FDA approval, to have, what we know are natural occurring, you know, oils that have been shown again and again to be the only possible successful therapy for various types of seizures. And, and, for us to say that, that's, they can't use that really doesn't make sense, that I, you know, we've spoken out on this many times.

MALE_3: Ah, Governor, we only have a little bit of time left with you but I really wanna get your response to this, you, of course, urging for a renewal of the Children's Health Insurance Program, CHIP, of course, for low income families that is on congressional leaders to do list. Do you think this will happen and get passed, if President Trump will keep this going?

MALE_2: No, I think thi- thi- thi- this will get reauthorized. It's always been nonpartisan. It should be nonpartisan. It is a, I mean, it shouldn't be a bargaining chip. Everyone now in Washington says, well, if we give you this, you get that. This is something that historically has been Republicans and Democrats, if you put it on the Senate floor right now, on the Senate floor, I think you get seventy or seventy-five votes, uh, in the house you probably get, I don't know, three hundred and fifty votes, so good majorities in both houses of Congress. Let's just give it the, let the, the congressional representatives vote on it and take the anxiety. What drives me nuts, we have a family here where there's a ten-year old child who's got, uh, type one diabetes. She self insulates. And yet, if if we get rid of CHIP, she's not gonna be able to stay within our present system and she's gonna have to move back for a variety of reasons to move back to our neighboring state of Kansas where she has a larger support family and her family will end up having to go on Medicaid. That's crazy, right? That just doesn't make any sense.

MALE_3: I agree with that. Uh, Governor, this is the third time you've been on this network. It's always such a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much, John Hickenlooper, the great Governor of Colorado. Thank you so much, sir.

MALE_2: Pleasure is all mine. Thank you.