In debate Thursday at the student center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, former Congressman Bob Beauprez, the conservative Republican running to unseat Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper this November, said that as governor he would work to undo the 2012 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in Colorado.
He rolled out the position just a week before county clerks across the state are set to send out the state’s new universal mail ballots.
It didn’t seem like a move he had planned for the night. Beauprez was asked about Colorado’s pathbreaking first-in-the-world experiment in legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He paused before answering and said he had recently talked to a doctor about how dangerous pot could be.
Then he said he believed Coloradans “didn’t fully think through the consequences of the liberty they were seeking” when they legalized pot.
In past debates, Beauprez made his opposition to the new law known, but he said he would respect the will of the people the initiative process had made clear.
“I was not in favor of the legalization of marijuana, but as governor I will ensure that Colorado implements the law as safely and as responsibly as possible,” he said at a June forum. “Our primary concern should be to keep it out of the hands of our kids and to make sure law enforcement has the tools they need to successfully deal with the law.”
Hickenlooper is no fan of the marijuana law or the grand legalization experiment he has had to steer through the regulatory process and over the hurdles that come of the drug’s remaining illegal on the federal level. He strongly opposed the initiative when it was introduced and in a debate on Monday he called the vote in favor of legalization “reckless,” because he thought it came ahead of further research into the effects of pot use, especially on young people. But on Thursday he disagreed with Beauprez’s approach.
He said he would not lead an effort to make it illegal. “I wouldn’t go that far,” he said.
In answer to a follow up question, the governor stressed the need to come to agreement with federal authorities so that pot businesses could benefit from regular banking. “Otherwise, it’s a recipe for crime and gang involvement,” he said.
Beauprez, who has railed against “job-killing regulation” and vowed to strip every regulation from the books that “doesn’t enhance freedom, liberty and opportunity,” took an opposite tack with marijuana. He said all the regulations on pot commerce and use must be enforced as strictly as possible.
His comments on marijuana are sure to concern moderate voters in the state who in recent years have steered away from Republican candidates who hold conservative views on social issues.
Beauprez has had to walk a thin line in the race to reassure voters that his longtime strongly held pro-life positions will not become policy.
Colorado is a solidly pro-choice state. Beauprez has sought to tamp down concerns that as governor he would move to put in place some of the hardline anti-abortion measures introduced by Republican governors around the country over the last half decade — laws that shutter abortion clinics, force women to undergo invasive ultrasounds, extend wait times for abortion procedures, put in place anti-science scripts for doctors to read to their patients on the affects of abortion, and so on.
“I’m Catholic,” he says, explaining that his anti-abortion views are his own and he realizes public opinion is far more liberal than his on the matter.
Still, in debate last week he sparked a small firestorm in the media when he said he opposed the state’s mostly privately funded long-acting IUD contraception teen program, which has driven down teen pregnancy rates by a historic 40 percent in some Colorado counties and teen abortion rates by similarly high percentages. He said he believed IUDs act as abortifacients and so should not be a part of any public program that would draw on tax money, even apparently if the program is simply administered through public facilities.