Forty years ago when he was graduating from Wesleyan University, John Hickenlooper couldn’t have imagined that he’d be back on campus giving advice to the state of Connecticut on how to run a vast marijuana retail network.
Or maybe he could imagine it. As a full participant in that time and place, Hickenlooper, class of ’74, now says, “I’m way past any point of saying I didn’t inhale.”
Either way, he was back at Wesleyan in Middletown over the holiday weekend, breathing the cleaner air of an honored alumnus as governor of Colorado, which fully authorized pot sales for recreational use at the start of this year.
“So far we’ve rolled it out pretty well,” Hickenlooper said in a talk he gave about legalization Saturday — not, apparently, aware of his pun. “The industry so far recognizes, they’ve got to behave responsibly.”
Colorado, which previously sanctioned marijuana for medical use, now has 250 licensed retail locations, with 100 up and running, along with 61 heavily regulated “manufacturing” sites, mostly growers, and two testing facilities. Connecticut legalized pot for medical use in 2012 and we expect to see some or all of the six licensed dispensaries open this summer.
“My advice to Connecticut would be to go slow on the recreational,” said Hickenlooper, 62, in response to a question I asked. “I tell all the governors to go slow. We don’t know what the implications are going to be for our kids.”
Now they’re finally worried about the kids? Hickenlooper, in fact, has been hesitant all along. He initially opposed legalization but now has the job of making it happen smoothly.
Full disclosure here, I’m on the advisory committee at Wesleyan that helps the administration organize on-campus seminars and discussions, though I wasn’t involved in Hickenlooper’s visit.
“You don’t realize until you’re trying to create a regulatory framework how complicated it is to make everything work,” he said.
That includes walking a line between marijuana advocates and the business community, making sure motorists aren’t driving stoned and working around the fact that possessing the drug is still a federal crime are all issues. The feds have told Colorado they’ll “find other things to prosecute” as long as the state keeps pot out of the hands of kids and organized crime.
The issues are endless. “Edibles have become a big deal,” he said, but what is a dose? One man who ate too much ended up killing his wife. As a result, the legislature passed a law requiring clear labeling right on the edible product itself — not just the packaging.
Full legalization is coming everywhere, sooner or later, so Connecticut clearly can’t stay put with its small handful of growers and stores. And since we’re a state that loves our sin taxes, it’s a way to pad the coffers.
Hickenlooper isn’t comfortable with that. “I don’t think state revenues should be dependent on something that’s not good for your citizens,” he said.
We ought to get past that guilt trip easily. To borrow the Colorado governor’s phrase, Connecticut is way past any point of saying we don’t tax vices and addictions.