Colorado Governor Invokes States' Rights on Recreational Marijuana

By Susan Jones | February 27, 2017 | 7:00 AM EST

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) appears on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (Screen grab from "Meet the Press")

( - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, invoked states’ rights on Sunday, when he was asked if Attorney General Jeff Sessions might enforce federal law against the recreational use of marijuana.

Hickenlooper told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he opposed recreational marijuana in 2012, when 55 percent of Colorado voters approved a state constitutional amendment allowing personal use of the illegal drug for people over age 21.

"It's in our constitution," Hickenlooper said on Sunday. "I took a solemn oath to support our constitution. So, I am -- and it's interesting, it's the sovereignty -- the states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes, just like the federal government does. So, it's an interesting--"

"You don't think it's clear that the federal government could stop you? You don't think it's a clear-cut case?" host Chuck Todd interrupted.

"Exactly. I don't think it is," Hickenlooper replied.  "And I think it's certainly -- it's never my choice to be in conflict with federal law. Let's make that clear.

"That being said, so Senator (Cory) Gardner (R-Col.) had talked to Mr. Sessions before he was confirmed, Senator Sessions at that point, and was led to believe that Senator Sessions said, you know, enforcement of marijuana was not going to be their primary -- it wasn't worth rising to the top and becoming a priority. And the implication was you don't have to get -- don't go crazy on this.

"Now, obviously things might have changed, and we have to see what happens, but I mean, there are over 60 percent of American people are now in a state where either medical or recreational marijuana is legalized. This has become one of the great social experiments of our time."

Hickenlooper said he's "getting close" to supporting recreational marijuana. "I mean, I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress. We didn't see a spike in teenage use. If anything, it's come down in the last year.

"And we're getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers. I mean, that's -- if you get rid of that black market, you got tax revenues to deal with addictions and some of the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, maybe this system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with."

At the White House last week, spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, “I do believe you'll see greater enforcement" of federal marijuana laws.

He said there’s a “big difference” between medical marijuana and recreational use of the drug, “which is something the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into.”

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