Hickenlooper: I hate this experiment

In Durango, governor talks marijuana and business

Gov. John Hickenlooper answered questions about airport issues and attracting business investment during a visit Friday to the Durango Discovery Museum. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Gov. John Hickenlooper answered questions about airport issues and attracting business investment during a visit Friday to the Durango Discovery Museum.

As legal recreational marijuana settles in across Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he isn’t about to lead the way in promoting marijuana business.

“I hate Colorado having to be the experiment,” he said Friday in an interview with The Durango Herald editorial board.

Colorado has gained international attention for legalizing recreational marijuana sales Jan. 1. Some communities, including Durango, have moratoriums or bans in place.

Hickenlooper said he wants to reduce youth marijuana use, an ambitious goal in a time of greater availability. Hickenlooper pointed to evidence that smoking marijuana harms long-term memory.

“We should not try to get people to do more of what is not a healthy thing,” he said.

Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state. Now that it’s on the books, Hickenlooper said he’s committed to regulating it more strenuously than alcohol.

“We are going to regulate the living daylights out of it,” he said.

Hickenlooper nevertheless called the war on drugs a “dismal failure.”

The Democrat from Denver, entering the final year of his four-year term, covered a range of topics in his visit to Durango fresh off delivering the State of the State address to the Legislature on Thursday. He toured StoneAge Waterblast Tools and met with local business and government officials at the Durango Discovery Museum.

Hickenlooper touted the ability of state agencies to cut through red tape for businesses.

“Our goal here is to make sure we support the business community,” he said.

Julie Westendorff, chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners, asked Hickenlooper for help improving air service into Durango-La Plata County Airport.

“We can’t control that, but we can probably influence it,” Hickenlooper told her. Saying “the squeaky wheel gets the attention,” the governor urged local officials to continue to lobby for more flights.

Matt Taylor, CEO of Mercury, asked Hickenlooper how Colorado companies can get more attention from investors in other states.

“It’s a bigger challenge here to find money if you’re not in one of those areas where big money is” such as New York or San Francisco, Taylor said.

Hickenlooper said the state has worked to brand itself, and officials have reached out to venture capitalists in other states.

On education, Hickenlooper said he’ll work with the Legislature to pass education reform in “small bites” after voters trounced Amendment 66, which aimed to raise money for schools.

Hickenlooper mentioned measures such as posting school financial data online to provide transparency and boost confidence in education spending.

“People don’t trust the money in education is being spent wisely,” he said.

Hickenlooper also explored ideas for improving the state’s response to wildfires. He has asked the Western Governors Association, of which he is chairman, to study the feasibility of a regional air fleet.

Touching on the controversy over “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, a common drilling technique, Hickenlooper said there needs to be a way for local communities to negotiate with drillers to ensure the best possible environmental mitigation.

Anti-fracking activists are planning to bring a statewide ban to the ballot in 2014.

Hickenlooper will be on the ballot himself, running for re-election against one of a cast of several early Republican hopefuls.

cslothower@durangoherald.com

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