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Governors urge caution on legalized pot

A worker cultivates a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web near Colorado Springs, Colo. Increasing evidence that the pot strain is helping some children with epilepsy has led more than 100 families to relocate to Colorado for treatment since last summer, when success stories about Charlotte’s Web began circulating via social media.

Associated Press

A worker cultivates a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web near Colorado Springs, Colo. Increasing evidence that the pot strain is helping some children with epilepsy has led more than 100 families to relocate to Colorado for treatment since last summer, when success stories about Charlotte’s Web began circulating via social media.

WASHINGTON — All the buzz at the National Governors Association meeting over legalizing pot, some say, is just smoke.

Nearly three months after Colorado began selling recreational marijuana, the nation's governors are taking a cautious approach to loosening their drug laws despite growing support for legalization.

Republican and Democratic state chief executives meeting in Washington this weekend expressed broad concern for children and public safety should recreational marijuana use spread. At the same time, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is warning other governors against rushing to follow his lead.

He said he has spoken to "half a dozen" governors with questions about his state's experience, including some who "felt this was a wave" headed to their states.

"When governors have asked me, and several have, I say that we don't have the facts. We don't know what the unintended consequences are going to be," Hickenlooper said. "I urge caution."

The Democrat continued: "I say, if it was me, I'd wait a couple of years."

States are watching closely as Colorado and Washington state establish themselves as pioneers after becoming the first states to approve recreational marijuana use in 2012. A group is hoping to add Alaska as the third state.

Colorado became the first to allow legal retail sales of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, and Washington state is expected to launch its marketplace soon.

Hickenlooper confirmed that early tax revenue collections on Colorado pot sales have exceeded projections but cautioned that tax revenue "is absolutely the wrong reason to even think about legalizing recreational marijuana."

Medical marijuana, meanwhile, is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Florida voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in November.

Recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans support efforts to legalize the drug. The issue cuts across party lines as liberals and libertarian-minded Republicans favor the shift.

But governors gathered in Washington this weekend had a more cautious approach.

"I just had a long-standing belief that legalizing marijuana would not be in the interest of our youth or our people," said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican.

New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said she's opposed to legalization because her state already struggles with high rates of youth substance abuse. But, she said, "I don't think we should be sending young people to jail or have a criminal record for a first offense."

Governors urge caution on legalized pot 02/22/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 22, 2014 9:42pm]
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