John Hickenlooper takes more moderate stance on marijuana as fellow 2020 hopefuls seek legalization
White House hopeful John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado when the state became the first to legalize marijuana, would not ask the federal government to end its prohibition on pot if elected president, he said Wednesday.
Discussing marijuana during a televised town hall, Mr. Hickenlooper distanced himself from a handful of fellow Democratic presidential candidates by saying he would decline to seek nationwide legalization under his administration.
“I would not ask the federal government to legalize it for everyone. But I think where states do legalize marijuana with the voters or through their general assembly, the federal government should get out of the way,” Mr. Hickenlooper said on CNN.
Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults under a ballot measure passed during Mr. Hickenlooper’s tenure as governor in 2012, and licensed dispensaries subsequently began selling retail pot in 2014.
Six other states have followed suit in the years since by in allowing licensed recreational marijuana dispensaries to operate, conflicting directly with longstanding federal prohibition.
“No other government had ever legalized marijuana,” recalled Mr. Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization. “We were worried about teenage consumption going up when the kids’ brains are rapidly growing -- what it could do. We were worried about the risks of, you know, more people driving while high. And partly it’s no fun to be in conflict with the federal government. But I believe that states are the laboratories of democracy, as Justice Brandeis said so famously, and that we would give it our best shot.
“And I have to say at this point, most of our fears haven’t come true. We haven’t seen a spike in consumption,” Mr. Hickenlooper added. “I’ve come more and more to believe now that the worst didn’t happen, and even though our system is not perfect yet -- we still have a black market -- I think it’s so much better than the old system where we sent millions of kids to prison, most of them kids of color, and not only imprisoned them, but made them felons, made...already difficult lives much, much harder.”
Mr. Hickenlooper announced earlier this month that he would seek the Democratic nomination to run against President Trump in 2020, joining a crowded field of more than a dozen other White House hopefuls currently seeking the party’s nod, including several who said they support federally legalizing marijuana.
A bill proposed on Capitol Hill last month Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat and fellow 2020 hopeful, would effectively end the federal government’s marijuana prohibition if passed. Titled the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019, the bill has garnered the support so far of seven co-sponsors, including four fellow White House hopefuls: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, New York Democrat and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent.