Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was unquestionably pro-green on Sunday when he spoke at a sustainability fair near the famously environment-friendly New Belgium Brewery – but not necessarily the same kind of green that nearly 60 percent of young adults have tried.
When asked by Collegian reporters about his stance on Amendment 44, a statewide initiative that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, he said that staking a claim on the matter would be counter-productive.
“I’ll stay out of it,” he said after his speech. “It’s like the war in Iraq. You don’t need some mayor talking about it.”
The law enforcement community contends that pot is a gateway drug, Hickenlooper said, and that’s a group he needs to work with daily. But he said that scientific evidence shows marijuana might not be a gateway drug, and that could change the face of the legalization debate.
Hickenlooper, owner of Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, compared marijuana to alcohol. There are recreational users, and then there are addicts and abusers.
“Alcohol’s been having this battle for generations,” he said.
The battle for prohibition began in the 1820s, he said, and it took legislators 100 years to realize they made a “terrible mistake.”
“I think this process is going on again with marijuana,” he said.
During his speech at the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Fair, Hickenlooper told his audience of more than 200 that he hopes to see the rise of more environmentally sustainable businesses and the “green-collar worker.”
Boasting the energy-saving accomplishments of Denver and other Colorado cities, he called sustainability a “three-legged stool.” To stand, it requires an economy that can grow, businesses that are beneficial to the environment and social justice.
The crowd, seated on bundles of hay in a field across the street from New Belgium Brewery, applauded Hickenlooper often, and many gave a standing ovation when he finished.
“The good thing about Fort Collins is that (the city) has the ability to do it all,” the Denver mayor said. “It lacks the (unsolvable) challenges bigger cities have,” but doesn’t lack the economic opportunities.
Mason Tvert, campaign director for SAFER – the group that’s responsible for Denver’s pot ordinance and pushing for the state-wide measure – said that despite some conflict in past years, he likes Hickenlooper.
“On a personal level, I think he’s a great guy,” he said. “I agree with him on a majority, if not a supermajority, of his priorities when it comes to city government.”
Tvert criticized the philosophy that many politicians have adopted: that law enforcement policy should be left to law enforcement agencies. He said city officials should wield that power.
He also lamented that opponents of his campaign have “been lied to, to believe marijuana will lead to harder drugs when there’s no data to support it.”
Some of the scientific evidence stating marijuana may not necessarily lead to harder drugs comes from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.
“Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter,” a 1999 report on effects of marijuana concluded. “Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana – usually before they are of legal age.”
“There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs,” the report continued.
Students at CSU have varying views on whether the weed should be freed.
“I’m for legalization of marijuana,” said Joel Sears, a senior chemistry major. “I think it’s a safer alternative to alcohol. In fact, I would say I know it’s a safer than alcohol from experience.”
Josi Sutton, a second bachelor’s candidate for construction management, disagreed.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing,” she said. “I don’t see anything good coming out of it. . Alcohol can be just as bad, but I don’t think that legalizing pot is the answer.”
Tvert said that he has faith in Mayor Hickenlooper.
“He’s a cool guy,” Tvert added. “If he wasn’t currently the mayor, he’d probably be standing here with us.”
Staff writer Kevin Johnson contributed to this story.
Editors Brandon Lowrey and Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.