John Hickenlooper – the present governor of Colorado and rumored 2020 VP candidate – has replied to a letter sent to him from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. According to The Denver Channel, Hickenlooper’s letter consisted of five pages and was co-authored by Colorado’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman.
The Original Sessions Letter
Sessions wrote and sent his letter at the end of July. In it, he lauded marijuana as a wonder drug and invited Hickenlooper to a pot circle. Just kidding – he conveyed his concerns about the recreational marijuana industry and cited several “facts” to back up his worries.
Among things cited include:
Highway Patrol yearly seizure of marijuana increased 37% Seizures of marijuana from the US mail increased 427% Colorado youth are smoking cannabis at a 20% increase Marijuana related traffic deaths increased 48% Emergency room visits for cannabis-related causes increased 49% Marijuana-related exposures increased 100%
Of course, there’s no discussion about the other variables that can sway the results of any study suggesting the above. For instance, emergency room visits for cannabis-related causes: have they really increased? Or is it that people visiting the ER now openly admit that they’ve been smoking a legal substance instead of trying to hide their consumption of an illicit one?
And, as for marijuana-related traffic deaths? No one is advocating that you get high and get behind the wheel, but it is extremely difficult to know if marijuana-related traffic deaths are about marijuana at all. Factcheck.org sums it up like so:
“The limitations of the data make it impossible to know for sure how many of the documented incidents were directly caused by marijuana use. Unlike alcohol, for example, testing positive for marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean a person is under the influence of the drug at the time of the traffic accident.”
Again, no one should drive high…on cannabis or anything else. But how much of the blame should pot shoulder? Was alcohol involved? Is the spike a result of people actively testing for THC when they didn’t before? Does anyone consider that any amount of THC, including a joint smoked days ago when the psychoactivity is long gone, will cause a test to come back positive? There are many variables Sessions doesn’t – and won’t – address.
For his part, Sessions didn’t just send a letter to Colorado’s governor: he sent them to the governors of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, all states with recreational legalization. Both the Alaska and Washington governors openly criticized the data amassed by Sessions, calling it out of date and incomplete. Not that it mattered – Sessions is adamantly against marijuana; per the Washington Post, Sessions personally asked congress for permission to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries, citing the “historic drug epidemic” to justify this request.
A minor detail was left out: the “historic drug epidemic” Sessions refers to involves opiates, not cannabis. Cannabis actually helps curb opiate use: states with medical marijuana laws have less opiate-related deaths and overdoses. But never mind any of that.
Hickenlooper and Coffman’s response cited Colorado’s robust regulatory model and addressed each of Sessions’ claims. They discussed preventing marijuana use by those under age, car accidents, ER visits, and people taking marijuana across state lines.
The letter stated, in part, “We take seriously our duty to create a robust marijuana regulatory and enforcement system. Our agencies have consulted with countless jurisdictions around the world as they work to construct a comprehensive and effective regulatory framework. We stand ready to work with our federal partners to fortify what we have built. We are confident that if we work together, we can maintain a responsible regulatory and enforcement model that protects public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests.
We believe the objective underlying our regulatory and enforcement system are aligned with the federal government’s desire to control the production and sale of marijuana and to protect public safety and public health.
We are committed to working with you to strengthen our system and are prepared to continue engaging in collaborative enforcement efforts.”
Hickenlooper and Pot
Despite being the governor of the first state to legalize weed recreationally, Hickenlooper isn’t a hugger of the herb. In fact, he was one of the vocalist critics against legalization back in 2012. According to the La Times, he was once quoted as saying if he could “wave a magic wand” to reverse the decision (to legalize) he would. He also called voters “reckless” (as one of those voters, I’d just like to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones but weed will never hurt me”). To be fair, he did advocate for democracy and promised to uphold the will of the people (which he did).
But he still fretted. He viewed legalization as a national experiment (in a sense, it was) and worried about rising drug use among kids. He also worried about conflicting with federal law, a law that puts cannabis in a category worse than cocaine.
Some people saw a hypocritical nature in his opposition: Hickenlooper is a beer guy, having spearheaded one of the most popular breweries in Denver
Alcohol, though federally legal, has proven much more dangerous than cannabis – not only do people “overdose” but it’s a catalyst for all kinds of disease (it’s the fourth leading cause of preventable death, behind tobacco use, medical errors, and obesity). And, naturally, it’s something plenty of people do when they’re underage.
Thankfully, Hickenlooper’s stance has changed over the years – his tune has softened, going from Metallica to Manilow. He told 60 Minutes that he thought Colorado created a system that “could work.” For many, this is proof that the laws are succeeding: legalization didn’t have Hickenlooper’s approval and now it does.
This may grow in importance three years from now if Hickenlooper does indeed make a run at the White House. It’s way too soon to say what that could mean for pot on the federal level, but, when it comes to the cannabis industry, anyone is better than Jeff Sessions.