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Cannabist: Special Interests Threaten Cannabis Industry

Colorado illustrates how special interests and establishment politics threaten cannabis industry

Denver Post op-ed by Kayvan Khalatbari and Emmett Reistroffer

The 2016 election brought watershed changes to the social and political landscape of America, through the election of a new and highly controversial president, and through an even greater show of widespread demand for ending cannabis prohibition. A total of eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of cannabis, and 28 have approved some form of medical use. This increasing support is fueled by frustration with failed prohibition policies, and grassroots efforts to reverse the historically damaging effects of the drug war. Yet, regardless of the support of the populous, implementation of these reforms has run into a new set of problems, subjugated by special interests and establishment politics.

In Colorado that primary special interest is the alcohol industry, which is often backed by top leaders, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, through their steadfast acceptance of alcohol and ongoing reluctance to embrace the burgeoning cannabis industry. Most recently these efforts were applied through various alcohol, restaurant and lodging associations to stymie implementation of I-300 in Denver, a voter-approved initiative that will provide places for adults to socially consume cannabis, as well as opposing similar legislation at the state capitol. An example of this is the Liquor Enforcement Division (“LED”), which passed a rule to ban the consumption of cannabis at any business that holds a liquor license. Even though the Colorado General Assembly Office of Legislative Legal Services determined the LED implemented this ban without any statutory authority, a legislative committee allowed the rule change to stand by just one vote. Noticeably absent from this vote were two members of the legislature who before the meeting had verbally confirmed their votes to overturn the LED rule.

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