DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday during a gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez that Colorado voters were “reckless” to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.
The Democratic governor’s opposition to marijuana legalization has hardly been a secret. But the statement is his clearest admonishment for 55 percent of the electorate that backed the initiative.
“To a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless because I get quoted everywhere. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it. I opposed it from the very beginning. What the hell. I’ll say it was reckless,” Hickenlooper said.
The debate was moderated by POLITICO reporter Manu Raju and hosted by business groups, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Some thought Hickenlooper might be warming to the cannabis industry after attending a fundraiser in August hosted by some of the biggest marijuana businesses in Colorado. But he made it clear on Monday that he remains committed to presenting a tough hand.
“We’re not only the first state to do this, we’re the first country,” Hickenlooper said. “There are serious challenges when you build something from scratch.”
There are few differences between Hickenlooper and Beauprez on the subject of marijuana. Beauprez also strongly opposed legalization.
“We have to regulate as tight as the law allows,” Beauprez said.
Beauprez and Hickenlooper truly tussled over public safety. Beauprez pointed to a Denver Post article published Monday which reported that dangerous criminals were being released from prison despite warning signs.
“These aren’t isolated incidents,” he said.
He added, “When people this violent that are sworn to, once they get out, to go commit mass murders ... this is a very serious public safety issue.”
Hickenlooper responded, “We have been addressing parole issues and the reform of things like solitary confinement more aggressively than any state in the country.”
The two candidates – locked in a nearly tied race – also went after each other on education, with Beauprez hitting Hickenlooper on declining reading and math scores among third-graders.
“That is a tragedy and a scandal, and one that, frankly, I will promise you today will be addressed on my watch,” Beauprez said of the slightly declining scores.
Hickenlooper said scores “deteriorated a very small amount.”
But he added the state still has “serious challenges in our education system.” And he noted action has been taken. “We passed the READ Act specifically to make sure that third-graders ... know how to read.”
The governor also defended Common Core education standards, but said he prefers to refer to the framework as “Colorado Core” because the state adopted standards specific to its needs.
“We need to know that an A in Alamosa is the same as an A in Grand Junction and an A in Denver,” Hickenlooper said.
Beauprez differed, suggesting that the federal standards are an insult to Coloradans.
“You start by understanding that nobody loves a child more than their mother and their dad,” he said. “Why in the world do we need a federal government intervention into how and where that child gets educated?”