Victor Mitchell, an entrepreneur businessman, says he would study the idea of decriminalizing the possession and use of a range of drugs if he becomes governor of Colorado— but might also consider supporting a potential repeal of legalized recreational marijuana under certain circumstances.
The Republican, who served a term in the state legislature a decade ago, made the separate comments during a pair of televised debates and in an interview with The Colorado Independent this week.
“We shouldn’t be criminalizing any recreational marijuana or other type of drug use,” Mitchell said in a Wednesday debate on Colorado Public Television. “That should be a monetary penalty, a civil penalty, but not criminalized. We have a great deal of brown and black people in prison today for, frankly, petty recreational use.”
Mitchell said drug dealers and “pushers” should still be sent to jail, but, “We should not be criminalizing recreational-type drug use.” (The comment is at the 31-minute mark.)
Asked via email by The Colorado Independent on Friday to clarify what he meant by “other” types of drugs, noting the spectrum is broad, from heroin, meth and cocaine to MDMA, LSD and magic mushrooms, Mitchell didn’t backpedal.
“Common, everyday drugs from cocaine on up,” Mitchell said. “We simply shouldn’t be sending people away for recreational drug use provided they’re not distributing.” Later, in a phone interview, he qualified his remarks, saying he wouldn’t push for such a policy as governor, but is philosophically open to it and would like to study the idea. In the context of criminal justice reform, “it’s something we should have a discussion about,” he said, adding that he’s not an expert in the area but does have a libertarian bend to his beliefs.
If such a policy were to come about it would be a major shift in Colorado— and unique in the nation— says Maureen Cain, policy director of the Colorado Criminal Defense Institute.
“Last year, 30 percent of the felony criminal filings in this state were for drugs, which is the highest it’s been in the last two decades,” she says. “And most of those criminal filings were for drug possession, not drug manufacturing or distribution.”
By far and away the most common drug of choice is methamphetamine, Cain added. She said she didn’t know of another state where possession and recreational use would be a civil monetary penalty for a hard drug like cocaine. Some states make it a misdemeanor, she said, but that could still carry possible county jail time up to 18 to 24 months and would create a criminal record for an offender that could potentially impact jobs or housing.
During a different debate on Denver’s KUSA 9News, Mitchell joined with his three Republican rivals— State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, businessman Doug Robinson, and former Parker Mayor Geg Lopez— in opposition to a proposed federal law by Colorado GOP U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren that would force the feds to respect state laws on marijuana.
He also said if an effort to repeal the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado materialized, he might support it if there is “strong public awareness that, longterm, recreational marijuana is in the detriment of our kids.”