DENVER – It’s no secret that Gov. John Hickenlooper isn’t exactly high on marijuana legalization.
The former brewpub owner opposed the constitutional amendment that legalized retail marijuana in Colorado. He secured more than $16 million for anti-cannabis education campaigns. And he has called legalization “one of the great social experiments of the 21st century.”
But on Tuesday night, the same cannabis industry leaders who Hickenlooper has, at times, found himself at odds with, were scheduled to host a fundraiser for the Democratic governor at a private residence at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in Denver. The governor is expected to attend.
“While he may have personal opinions about legalization, and people can theorize whether that’s due to his background in the alcohol business ... he still enabled and was the leader in place at the very foundation of adult-use regulation here in the state of Colorado. There’s definitely credit that needs to be given there,” said Joe Hodas, spokesman for Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, one of the larger marijuana-infused products manufacturers in the state.
Dixie Elixirs’ founder, Tripp Keber, is one of the primary hosts of the re-election fundraiser, which costs $1,100 to host, $550 to co-host and $250 to be a guest.
But not everyone in the marijuana industry agrees that Hickenlooper should be applauded. They point out that in opposing Amendment 64, Hickenlooper said, “Colorado is known for many great things – marijuana should not be one of them.”
When voters surprised the governor and backed legalization in 2012, Hickenlooper said, “Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
Most recently, the governor has been criticized for supporting a nearly $2 million anti-cannabis campaign that cautions adolescents against being a “lab rat.” The campaign uses human-sized rat cages as well as television and movie-theater ads.
A handful of cannabis advocates and business owners are expected to gather Tuesday at the same Four Seasons for a competing meet-and-greet with Libertarian mayor of Glendale and unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunafon. He has established himself as the pro-marijuana choice in the race.
“They have forgotten what he did and what he stood for just months ago,” Dunafon said. “Now they’re going to raise money for him? They’re hypocrites.
“Ignorance is very frustrating; hypocrisy is very frustrating,” Dunafon said. “These people are fresh off the battlefield. Normally, people fresh off the battlefield remember the war a little better.”
Kayvan Khalatbari, a high-profile marijuana industry leader who co-owns Denver Relief dispensary and operates a consulting firm, joined in the opposition.
Khalatbari recently dusted off a chicken costume he calls “Chickenlooper that he wears to protest the governor.”
“Since his days as mayor, Hickenlooper has shown complete disdain for cannabis, its users and its responsible, tax-paying businesses,” Khalatbari said.
Hodas called the rift in the cannabis world “unfortunate.”
“I’d like to see less infighting so that there wasn’t this sort of us-against-them mentality,” he said.
Eddie Stern, a Hickenlooper campaign spokesman, said the governor opposed legalization primarily because of his concerns about how it could impact children’s health.
“Ultimately, he respects the will of the voters,” Stern said. “He believes we need to implement this amendment in a way that will make Colorado a model for safe, smart and effective enforcement and regulation of this industry.”
The campaign for Republican gubernatorial opponent Beauprez called the Hickenlooper fundraiser “consistently inconsistent.” Beauprez also opposed legalization.
Spokesman Allen Fuller said Beauprez would not try to roll back legalization through burdensome regulation.
“Bob’s focus will be on enforcing the law, creating effective and robust regulations, and providing extensive education for young people,” Fuller said.