By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Gov. John Hickenlooper told a room of health journalists from around the country that he “did inhale,” but not since it’s been legal.
“As George W. Bush said, ‘When I was younger, I did many ill-advised things’ and I did inhale. I have not inhaled or smoked pot since it’s been legalized. I’ve got other things I can do that make me equally stupid,” Hickenlooper said in response to a question Thursday evening as he spoke to scores of journalists gathering in Denver for the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Along with marijuana, the governor talked about other controversial topics including guns and fracking. Loose and funny, Hickenlooper ingratiated himself with the crowd by talking about the new beer taps in the governor’s mansion and how he always gave free beers to reporters when he owned the Wynkoop Brewing Company because reporters were so efficient at sharing news. When one journalist introduced a question by saying that he owned land near Walsenberg in southern Colorado, the governor returned to the omnipresent weed theme and joked: “You wanna grow?”
One reporter asked about Hickenlooper’s aspirations for higher office. The governor insisted he’s merely trying to get re-elected this year so he can be governor for another four years. He insisted he has no plans to seek higher office, including president or vice-president.
When he got serious about pot, Hickenlooper confided his worries about legalization and urged other states to be cautious and watch for unintended consequences in Colorado.
“We are very worried about kids,” Hickenlooper said, noting that friends with 11-year-olds — the same age as his son, Teddy — have had to deal with edibles that appeal to children like marijuana-infused gummy bears.
He hopes new legislation requiring child-proof packaging will help keep edibles out of the hands of kids.
Hickenlooper also wants to use pot taxes to educate teens about potential harms.
“There are no long term studies, but for kids and teenagers whose brains are still maturing….frequent consumption could permanently damage their long-term memories. (Yet) they don’t feel there’s a risk.
“We are going to focus very rigorously on keeping it out of the hands of kids.”
Hickenlooper said that he, like many leaders, thinks the war on drugs “was a dismal failure,’’ that sent thousands of people unnecessarily to prison.
“It was a disaster, but you don’t want to be the test tube. Even Copenhagen, when they decriminalized marijuana, never legalized it. That’s what Colorado voters decided to do,” Hickenlooper said.
It’s tough on the state’s “branding” when Jimmy Fallon is joking that after legalization “those folks in Colorado can’t even spell Hickenlooper anymore.”
But the governor is determined to try to create a tightly regulated market with a high priority on public health.
Asked about his controversial decision last year to support tough background checks on gun sales, Hickenlooper said he would do it again even if that choice means he gets ejected from office in November.
“There are rumors that the NRA is going to put a bunch of money in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said. “It will be no fun.”
He called negative ads “a cancer on democracy,” but insisted he’ll try to use his standard trick of combating harsh ads with humor.
And he said criminal background checks have worked.
People always presume criminals won’t be dumb enough to try to buy a gun when they have something to hide. In fact, out of 343,000 criminal background checks in 2012, Hickenlooper said the system netted 38 people convicted of homicide, 133 pedophiles, 620 burglars and 1380 people convicted of felony menacing. He said some criminals were “so stupid” that they even tried to buy a gun when they had an outstanding warrant and were arrested in the process.
Altogether, state officials say the checks led to 7,362 denials in 2012.
“If they’re going to come at me for that, so be it,” Hickenlooper said.
On fracking, Hickenlooper praised the gas extraction technique for bringing the U.S. closer to energy independence.
Cheaper access to natural gas is allowing utility companies to switch from dirty coal to cleaner-burning gas.
“It’s a godsend in terms of environmental quality,” Hickenlooper said.
At least in Colorado, Hickenlooper insisted fracking fluids can’t get into ground water. He conceded that methane emissions cause air pollution problems and he highlighted Colorado as the first state in the country to regulate those emissions.
While fracking remains controversial, Hickenlooper affirmed his faith in the technology.
“Nothing is perfect,” Hickenlooper said. “I get ripped up one side and down the other, but I think it’s the right thing for the country.”