Marijuana, Drilling Keep Governor Busy

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In the months leading up to the election, Governor John Hickenlooper was vocally opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana. But the passage of Amendment 64 puts him at the heart of figuring out how to make it happen, especially all the regulations that will govern this new industry. At the same time, the governor is trying to work with Front Range communities unsatisfied with how the state is handling oil and gas development.

Hickenlooper talks with host Ryan Warner about marijuana, drilling, constitutional reform, and being named one of this year's "Top Americans" by Esquire Magazine.

[Photo: CPR News/Verlee]

Esquire's article: "John Hickenlooper's Long, Hot Summer"


Ryan Warner: Governor, thanks for being with us again.

Gov. Hickenlooper: Delighted to be back.

Ryan Warner: And we’ll talk about regulating recreational pot in a moment but I’ve heard very little about the opportunities here to fill the state’s coffers. Pot will be taxed. The first $40 million each year goes to school construction and facilities, after that it’s up to the state to decide how to spend it. Acknowledging that there are a lot of steps between here and actually bringing in that revenue, are you salivating just a little bit at the prospect?

Gov. Hickenlooper: It’s a goldmine. No, it’s actually anything but a goldmine. There is no tax passed yet. If you look at way the language of the initiative was set up, it advises, it compels the legislature to propose another initiative for the next election that will actually set in place the taxing activity. Again, this is all hypothetical, dependant upon what the federal government does.

Ryan Warner: Well on the subject, I want to play a clip from a listener who contacted us with a question for you.

Gov. Hickenlooper: Okay.

Ryan Warner: This is Jessica LaRue of Denver.

Jessica LaRue: Governor Hickenlooper, you had a phone meeting earlier this month with Department of Justices’ Eric Holder in regards to Amendment 64. Will the state government officially ask for federal changes to marijuana policy to support the will of the voters?

Ryan Warner: Just a little bit of background here, marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. Will your administration ask Eric Holder or ask members of the congressional delegation, some of whom are already moving on this front, to somehow amend that law to allow states that choose to legalize marijuana to do so?

Gov. Hickenlooper: So Congresswoman DeGette has already moved forward and is posing legislation that would allow states to “opt-out.” That gets Holder out of his bind. The problem with Eric Holder, the Attorney General, is his job is to enforce the laws of the United States so when we talked to him we said “This is what our voters have said. We are bound to try and implement the will of the voters so if there’s any way within the legal system that this can happen, we want to encourage it.” So to your listener, we have made that request in so many words.

Ryan Warner: You have not gotten an answer yet.

Gov. Hickenlooper: We have not gotten answered. But there’s a huge gray area in how the Justice Department enforces the “law of the land.” Certainly with medical marijuana they have, as long as the scale and the impact was not perceived as overly large, they seemed to have looked the other way. That doesn’t appear as easy to do when you get to the scale of marijuana, cultivation, commerce, the consumption that the scale that our voters have supported. That’s going to make it very hard for the US Justice Department to look the other way.

Ryan Warner: You mentioned congressional action from Congresswoman Diana DeGette. It also has support from Republican Mike Coffman and Democrats Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis. Do you like the idea of pursuing a change to the Controlled Substances Act? Do you like that congressional push?

Gov. Hickenlooper: Like is that magical word. Do I like it? No. I don’t like it. I don’t think this is a great thing for our kids but I do have total respect for the will of the voters.

Ryan Warner: So is that congressional move, does that have your backing?

Gov. Hickenlooper: Yeah. Absolutely.

Ryan Warner: On Tuesday your office formally announced that it’s taking part in a task force to draw up regulations for recreational marijuana stores. From where you’re sitting right now, do you imagine that those rules will end up looking generally like the ones currently in place for medical marijuana storefronts or do you think the state will head in a different direction?

Gov. Hickenlooper: It’s a little too early to tell. My guess is they’ll be relatively similar. I’m sure there’ll be some differences, we already heard some differences being discussed but I want to let that process work its way independently.

Ryan Warner: What safeguards would you like to see in place? For instance, medical marijuana shops have to have this kind of constant video feed, there’s a lot of monitoring in place of their activities. Is that the kind of thing you’d like to see in these retail pot shops?

Gov. Hickenlooper: Well I think that the issues around not just the video surveillance, but also location, geography, is it going to be close to schools? I continue to be very concerned about the effect of high THC marijuana on developing minds. Kids that are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, who, there are a number of people who feel that this is going to open the floodgates, that these kids are going to think well if mom and dad voted for it and it’s legal, it isn’t going to hurt us. And there are some studies that suggest that’s not the case.

Ryan Warner: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner and we’re at the Capitol for our regular discussion with Governor John Hickenlooper. Governor, tensions continue to simmer between the state and local communities over oil and gas development. Earlier this month, Longmont voters passed a ban on fracking in city limits. Separately you’re suing Longmont over rules it developed prior. You met with Boulder County commissioners to air concerns over regulations they’re drafting. Here’s how Kim Sanchez from that county’s planning department describes Boulder’s focus.

Kim Sanchez: We’re trying to enact the most protective land use regulations that govern new oil and gas operations while at the same time recognizing the existence and extent of state authority over those operations. Our intent is to try to harmonize the application of our local regulations with the state.

Ryan Warner: You can almost hear her trying to avoid being sued by the state.

Gov. Hickenlooper: As I’ve said repeatedly, there’s nothing we want to avoid more than a lawsuit, right. For us to sue Longmont was a very very difficult decision and the last thing any governor wants to be is cross-wise with communities in the state. So we continue to reach out to Boulder and I’m going to go up and have a town hall meeting there.

Ryan Warner: Fundamentally here it seems like a growing number of local governments don’t feel that existing state protections are adequate.

Gov. Hickenlooper: Well that’s, but the real problem here is we have this split-estate, right. The people that own the surface land and build their house or business there, they don’t own the minerals underneath, in the vast majority of private land in Colorado. That’s a very difficult situation. So what’s happening is communities because of horizontal drilling and new unorthodox exploration methods, people are seeing the possibility of oil exploration coming into their counties that have never had it before. And now because the people that have the surface ownership, don’t have any mineral ownership, they see nothing but loss. But the fact remains that in our system, somebody owns those mineral rights under the ground and they’ve got every right to the traditional protections by law.

Ryan Warner: I mean the very nature of the name, “split-estate,” speaks so well to the split political views on this. Is there middle ground? Is there room for negotiation here?

Gov. Hickenlooper: No, yeah, I think it’s all about rolling up our sleeves and listening or presenting both sides. But this is something that a; the potential good. I mean really if people care about climate change and recognize that this is a legitimate, look at the Hurricane Sandy, look at the drought we’ve had, the extremes we’re seeing in our weather. We should be looking at it and horizontal drilling and inexpensive natural gas are a transitional way, obviously we’re going to have to rely eventually on renewable sources, wind, and solar and other energy sources. But in the meantime we’ve got to recognize that we need this transition fuel and how can we do it and make sure that we keep our communities safe.

Ryan Warner: I’m glad you brought up renewable energy because it fits in with something we heard from listener Larry Milosovitch [ph], who lives in Lafayette. He feels that your administration hasn’t made renewables the same priority as your predecessor Governor Bill Ritter did. And he asks, “Why not?”

Gov. Hickenlooper: Well we are implementing what Bill Ritter created and I think we have to give Bill Ritter a tremendous amount of credit. It’s really under his watch that so much of Colorado’s leadership in renewable energy was established.

Ryan Warner: Did you talk to him? Is he happy with where you’re headed on this?

Gov. Hickenlooper: Yeah I think so. I think that the challenge here is cost. We have to recognize it as we’re making a certain investment in renewables and that we all have to sign off on what the, on the scale of that investment. So we passed a renewable energy…

Ryan Warner: A standard, a minimum.

Gov. Hickenlooper: Yeah a rec standard so we have 30% renewable energy. We’re going to get there ahead of schedule on that. And those costs that we spend, because they’re not huge, but they are more to have renewable energy, do we want more of that? Do our citizens want more of that? Well, that’s the next step.

Ryan Warner: Earlier this month we finally got to see the conclusions of TBD. This is a task force you convened to get broad community input as to what people want from state governments. And one thing they touched on was constitutional reform. The idea of somehow solving the so-called “Gordian Knot” of financial restrictions in the state constitution. Are you going to act on that? And let me just say, I have to tell you that I have heard this call for change over and over again. And I sat here with your predecessor and talked to him over and over again about this.

Gov. Hickenlooper: It’s a “clarion call”, isn’t that what they say?

Ryan Warner: Is it?

Gov. Hickenlooper: It’s a “clarion call” for change.

Ryan Warner: And are you going to heed the call and do you think we might see something out of this legislation session that would refer a ballot measure?

Gov. Hickenlooper: Well, after you lay it out like that, that makes it so tantalizing and attractive that no one else has been able to do it. It’s been so impossible, it’s been this insurmountable hill.

Ryan Warner: I’m playing to your ego. Exactly now. I’m sliding closer to the microphone.

Gov. Hickenlooper: The reason no one’s acted on it is because it is so challenging but the wonderful thing about TBD is that we did begin to hear, on a statewide basis, a whole number of different suggestions and possibilities of what might a better change look like. And I don’t think it’s, I’m not committing myself to anything but I could imagine a ballot initiative that looks at modifications. I don’t think we, before, everyone’s always been saying, repeal,” what we heard in TBD is that people don’t like the way things affect each other.

Ryan Warner: We’re talking about things like Tabor, Amendment 23, the Gallagher amendment.

Gov. Hickenlooper: Those are the three, those are the trinity that people refer to relentlessly. And one possibility that I think we’re going to look at is how do you change those three things, not eliminate them, but change them in such a way that they had a more harmonizing effect on the state.

Ryan Warner: Could we see that this coming session?

Gov. Hickenlooper: I don’t know if we can go that fast but there’s a possibility.

Ryan Warner: To wrap up, this month Esquire magazine named you one of its “Americans of the Year.” What do you think about their choice?

Gov. Hickenlooper: A, I think it must have been a short number of people this year to be considered. I certainly think the people that should be celebrated are the firefighters that were out fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire, the High Park fire, all the couple dozen fires we had this summer. The police officers that were running the wounded from the movie theater to the hospitals. That’s really who this is, I’m receiving this kind of recognition for them.

Ryan Warner: Governor, thank you so much.

Gov. Hickenlooper: You bet.