Hickenlooper: Marijuana regulators have done ‘a very good job’


John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, speaks during the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen in July. (Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News)

DENVER — When Colorado voters passed a ballot measure in 2012 legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) was in the minority voting no. But two years later, eight months into the legalization experiment, Hickenlooper says he’s pleased with the way his state has handled voters’ wishes.

“I think [state regulators have] done a pretty good job. Not perfect, but all things considered, I think they’ve done a very good job,” he said in an interview in his office at the state Capitol. “I’m a constant-improvement person, so I always see ways to make things better.”

State officials are continuing to fine-tune regulations on the nascent cannabis industry. This month, the Department of Revenue issued draft rules that would limit the amount of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, to 10 milligrams from 100 milligrams in serving sizes of edible pot products. The rules would also require child-proof packaging and clear labels identifying the product inside as containing THC.

State legislators passed a law in May creating a task force to propose the rules on edibles after an increase in the number of children visiting emergency rooms after ingesting edible marijuana products.

Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales has fallen short of expectations, though. A recent study by the Department of Revenue found that Colorado earned about $12 million from marijuana sales through the first half of the year, just over a third of the $33 million analysts expected.

But those initial estimates, Hickenlooper said, missed because budget analysts had no comparison.

“It was a guess. No one’s ever done it before. It was a wild guess, and every time we said it, we said, ‘We have no data,’ ” he said. “You’re creating a regulatory environment out of whole cloth.”

The state is setting that money aside for any unintended consequences, and Hickenlooper says he remains concerned that minors might get access to marijuana.

“We were very careful to take the revenue that’s there and say we want to hold this money. If there are negative consequences as a result of legalizing marijuana, we want to make sure we have the money to deal with it,” Hickenlooper said. “This is going to be one of the great social experiments of the 21st century, but we have to make sure that these kids aren’t guinea pigs, that we have the resources necessary so that if the kids do fall off the tracks, we have the resources necessary.”

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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