On the subject of his state’s nation-leading experiment with legalized adult-use marijuana, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been reliably erratic.
Voter-approved legalization was “reckless…to a certain extent,” the governor once said, adding he wouldn’t do it again if he could, before coming around to say—hey!—legalization “might work” and that he wouldn’t change course if gifted a time machine and perfect foresight. (Amazing how a flood of tax revenue and a recovered real estate sector can change your outlook on things.)
But the winds have changed again for Hickenlooper, who on Monday declared that gray-market marijuana presents a “clear and present danger” to his state.
By “gray market,” Hickenlooper means any marijuana that’s grown legally—or at least with the appearance of legality—and then sold illegally.
To combat this scourge, Hickenlooper is asking state lawmakers for $16 million in marijuana taxes to fund “law enforcement investigations and prosecutions,” according to the Denver Post. That’s no small piece of the pie, as the state gleaned a total of $70 million in marijuana taxes during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30.
“I take this very seriously,” Hickenlooper told the Denver Post in an interview. “This is one of the things we worried about in the very beginning.”
Colorado medical-marijuana patients can cultivate up to 99 plants at home, and recreational users can grow up to six plants per person—and can join together with other users to “form vast marijuana cooperatives,” as the Denver Post put it.
Just how much marijuana is grown this way and then sold in other states where cannabis is entirely illegal is anyone’s guess. The federal government once suggested that as much as 79 percent of the nation’s weed came from California, where it’s grown under legal cover.
How much of that clandestine production has now shifted to Colorado is an academic question for the analysts. What’s important is that law enforcement and elected officials in Hickenlooper’s neighbor states are blaming Colorado for the weed in their communities—and, more importantly, the feds have taken notice.
Federal prosecutors have delivered indictments to several Colorado-based cannabis growers, following DEA busts in the spring.
Judging by the timing and the tone, Hickenlooper is almost certainly getting leaned on by federal law enforcement, which—considering who was just elected president of the United States—is likely to only get meaner on weed over the next few years.
Rather than pull a Jack Ryan, Hickenlooper is likely trying to get ahead of any problems that might arise from a Trump administration looking askance at the wild, weed-filled West. While Trump said on the campaign trail that he’d leave states with legal weed alone, he has also made it clear he has no problems cutting the purse strings of cities or states who displease him. And being the source of the western United States’s illegal reefer isn’t something likely to endear
“Colorado is known for many great things,” Hickenlooper once said. “Marijuana should not be one of them.”
It’s a little late for that, and Hickenlooper’s overcompensation for this suddenly uncomfortable jacket could prove dangerous indeed for the Colorado cannabis industry.
On second thought, let’s hope Hickenlooper was making a Tom Clancy reference, as the actual “clear and present danger” is a situation in which the Supreme Court says civil liberties can be curtailed. It may be far-fetched to imagine a police state brought about by pot growers, but this is Trump’s America.