Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has a word of warning for states considering marijuana legalization.
"I urge caution," Hickenlooper said at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Saying that pot "doesn't make people smarter, doesn't make people healthier," Hickenlooper added that state governments "don't know what the unintended consequences are going to be" if they legalize the drug.
"I don't think governors should be [in] the position of promoting things that are inherently not good for people," he said, noting that Colorado has implemented a robust regulatory system for marijuana, which the state recently legalized for recreational use. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has been a vocal opponent of pot legalization from the start, going so far as to say that he "hates" his state's legal weed "experiment." (He did say on Friday, however, that he thinks the drug war has been a "disaster.")
Since Colorado began recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1, dispensaries have generated soaring amounts of revenue for the state. In the first week alone, Colorado pot shops took in more than $5 million in sales, with approximately $1.2 million of that going to state coffers.
As a result, Hickenlooper announced last week that the state's total pot sales for the next fiscal year are now expected to reach about $610 million -- that's up more than $200 million from the cannabis industry's earlier projections of approximately $400 million for the year.
But the governor said that the appeal of added tax revenue "is absolutely the wrong reason [for other states] to even think about legalizing recreational marijuana."
Though the first $40 million in tax revenue from legal weed sales in Colorado is flagged for school construction, Hickenlooper has proposed that the state use what is expected to be nearly $100 million in annual pot sales taxes for a statewide media campaign that would address substance abuse treatment and highlight the risks associated with drug use.
With more than a dozen states expected to follow Colorado's lead and legalize marijuana in the coming years, the revenue from the drug could have a major impact around the country. Lincoln Chafee, the Independent governor of Rhode Island, recently said on HuffPost Live that "the revenue [from legal marijuana sales] is enticing for all governors."
"With all the bad weather we've had back home and all the potholes, we ought to have the revenue go to infrastructure -- 'pot for potholes,'" Chafee said.
Nationwide, one recent study projected a possible $10 billion legal marijuana industry by 2018.
Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project and a key backer of Colorado's legalization bill, didn't miss an opportunity to point out the irony of Hickenlooper, a former beer brewer, fretting over the proliferation of potentially harmful substances.
"For many people, such as those suffering from various medical conditions, marijuana is inherently good for them," Tvert told The Huffington Post. "For others, marijuana is just something that causes far less harm than the substance [Hickenlooper] spent years hawking to Coloradans."
Tvert also said that Hickenlooper was right about one thing: Marijuana should not be legalized solely because of the possible tax revenue.
"We should legalize marijuana because it is less harmful than alcohol, and regulating it will generate revenue for the state that would otherwise be lost into the underground market," he said.