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El Paso County commissioners challenge governor on marijuana

Governor speaks at county commissioners conference

Governor challenged in Colorado Springs about marijuana

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper found himself taken to task over marijuana Tuesday by three El Paso County commissioners.

Longinos Gonzalez, Jr., Mark Waller and Stan VanderWerf are among more than 200 county commissioners attending the annual statewide Colorado Counties, Inc. conference, taking place in Colorado Springs.

The trio of commissioners expressed concern about recent statements attributed to Hickenlooper that crime, abuse and other negative aspects of marijuana have been overstated or are not supported by adequate data.

Gonzalez addressed the governor directly during a question-and-answer session that followed a 30-minute speech by Hickenlooper.

"I think the state has minimized a lot of these issues because, honestly, (marijuana) brings in tax revenue," Gonzalez said.  "So my question is, do you believe that a lot of these negative trends are due to the legalization of recreational marijuana?" 

The governor took issue with the question.

"In terms of the state glossing over any of the consequences of marijuana just to get tax money, that's just nonsense," Hickenlooper said.  "And we have been absolutely rigorous, to the best of our capability, in keeping the marijuana money and using it for the unintended consequences of drug use."

Waller responded to another comment attributed to the governor.

"I recently heard him say he thinks there are fewer drug dealers in Colorado now, as the result of the legalization of marijuana," Waller said.  "That seems to fly in the face of what we've seen here in El Paso County."

VanderWerf said the state isn't doing enough to provide resources to shut down an estimated 500 illegal marijuana grows in the county.

"We don't have the resources for it," he said.  "It's something that usually takes large teams.  The governor stated that he's providing resources to the counties to deal with these issues, but I'm not aware of (any) being sent to (us)."

Hickenlooper said counties must follow a process that takes time.

"We allocated $10 million last year for that purpose," he said.  "I don't know how much El Paso County gets, but I'm sure they'll get some of it.  I'm sure you have to allocate it based on which counties need it the most."

The governor received support from Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart.

"Critics have to remember the governor wasn't in favor of legalization to begin with," Hart said. "They're treating him like the issues are his fault.  People are saying he doesn't recognize the problem.  I think he does.  We need not just state help, but federal help because many of the issues are caused by people coming here from other states."

During hs 30-minute speech, Hickenlooper discussed a variety of topics, with business being a primary focus.'

"We're one of the five best states for starting a new business," he said.  "But we should be more pro-business.  We should be known more for that, than tourism.  There should be less red tape, more access to capital, more innovation, and technology."

The governor said there should be more room for the state's booming housing industry to build more units of affordable housing.

"I think there are ways to do it," he said.  "What we're looking at now is trying to find sources of revenue -- not to pay for it all, but to provide an incentive to the private market.  

"As an example, last year we allocated $16 million in marijuana tax revenue that we didn't expect to get, to building housing for the chronically homeless -- which is among the most expensive kinds of housing to provide."

Hickenlooper also discussed increasing the availability of broadband across the state and increasing the quality of workforce training.

"Right now, we have 9,000 job openings in cybersecurity," he said.  "And you don't necessarily need college degrees for those jobs.  You just need the skills.  

"One thing we're looking at is having high school students work a few days a week in the profession they may choose later.  Then they're not just wasting time, bored and wondering what they'll do for a living." 

The conference started Monday and continues through Wednesday morning.

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