Like most leaders of big cities in states where voters did not go for Donald Trump, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has a lot to lose.
Denver’s population is one-third Latino, with as possibly as many as 130,000 undocumented immigrants in the greater Denver metro area. Following ICE raids in other metro areas in February, fears of mass immigration raids are so palpable that Hancock has had to spend time reassuring residents that even though Denver is not a sanctuary city, immigrants and their families can go about their lives feeling safe (even as Hancock himself admits he has no idea what Trump and his gang of documented ideologues plan to do, even as they telegraph their xenophobic intentions).
Hancock is also mayor of America’s current capital for legal adult-use marijuana. Cannabis rescued Denver’s real-estate sector, cannabis is keeping cities in the Denver area solvent, cannabis is keeping people employed and also competitive in a tightening housing market.
So Hancock has more to lose than most—including the marijuana sector he once opposed that he’s come to embrace, if as timidly as possible, and only when it would be political suicide to do otherwise.
Legalization “certainly has been beneficial” to Denver and the surrounding areas, Hancock told local Next 9News in a recent interview. (Which: duh.)
And, if Trump and his people are smart about it, they won’t crack down on legalized cannabis in Colorado or anywhere else, but let the states do as they please—while using Denver as a national model for how to do things right.
“Quite frankly, [Denver] is a model for the rest of the world,” Hancock said during a wide-ranging interview in which he opined on Trump, immigration, controversial education Secretary Betsy DeVos (who Hancock thinks deserves a chance to “settle in” before judgment is cast) and his local cannabis sector, which he views now as a selling point.
“I’m proud of the state of Colorado,” he told 9News. “I’m proud of the industry, quite frankly, who have done a good job of partnering.”
Keep in mind this is part of a near-total turnaround for Hancock, who opposed Amendment 64 back in 2012 and predicted—wrongly—that legal marijuana would kill Colorado tourism and that becoming known as a national epicenter for legal weed would be a bad thing for Denver.
Since Hancock was colossally wrong on that point and is now talking about a business that recorded $1.3 billion in sales last year, supports tens of thousands of jobs and brings in his city more than $30 million in sales tax revenue every year, it would have been a shock if he said anything else.
If left unchecked by federal interference, marijuana legalization will be seen throughout the country within “the next decade,” Hancock said. And it may end up that way, even if the Justice Department does get involved.
“The reality is, it is moving so swiftly throughout this country,” he said.
So what’s next?
Hancock has not had a face-to-face talk with Donald Trump, so he doesn’t know. He guesses, however, that the feds will “try to put their imprint” on marijuana in some way, perhaps with an eye toward getting involved in regulation—possibly with regard to allowing marijuana businesses the ability to bank normally. Ultimately, he said, threats from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be brought to heel by the language Trump knows best: a deal.
“We’re gonna have to make deals with him. He is the president of the United States,” Hancock said early in the interview. “And the reality is, we need to stop talking about the election and move on to making sure this country moves smoothly.”
What would a deal between Denver and the feds on weed look like?
If anything, it might be a slowdown. Other top Colorado elected officials who also opposed legalization more than four years ago, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, have indicated that planned expansions of the industry may have to go on indefinite hold while the signals from Washington are sorted out.
If Hancock’s “support” for his city’s cannabis industry seems like the classic milquetoast nothings politicians emit on a daily basis, it’s because it is. But considering where he started and where Denver’s marijuana economy could go, even this is progress.