03/29/2013 12:00 EDT

Marijuana Legalization Canada: John Hickenlooper, Colorado Governor, Says It's Inevitable


Marijuana legalization in Canada is inevitable, says the governor of a U.S. state that last fall voted to legalize pot.

John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, was in Alberta this week to talk Keystone pipeline politics but took time from his schedule to address the debate about weed legalization.

It’s going to happen here, it’s going to happen everywhere,” Hickenlooper said, as quoted by the Calgary Sun. “Both countries are becoming more progressive every year, you see it in every social arena.”

Colorado voters last fall approved a ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of less than one ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana for persons aged 21 or older. Growing six or fewer marijuana plants for personal use is also legal, as is selling marijuana in stores that have obtained a licence.

Colorado was one of two states to legalize weed in last fall’s U.S. elections, along with Washington.

However, Canada’s federal government has been going in the other direction, recently tightening marijuana laws as part of the omnibus crime bill, which included Canada’s first-ever mandatory minimum sentences for growing pot.

The Liberal Party of Canada last year made marijuana legalization a part of its official platform, and a policy paper from the party’s B.C. division laid out a plan for the establishment of a network of licenced marijuana outlets across Canada.

A poll last fall found 65 per cent of Canadians support marijuana decriminalization in some form, although the numbers were a decline from the previous year’s poll.

In Alberta Thursday, Hickenlooper -- who opposed Colorado's marijuana legalization campaign -- warned that marijuana is not without its hazards, noting that “high octane” strains of weed are suspected to impair memory.

Your memory’s such a huge part of your existence so we have to make sure we regulate it very tightly and keep it out of the hands of kids,” the Sun quoted Hickenlooper as saying.

Some economists argue legalizing marijuana would have a positive impact on taxpayers. A paper from Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron argues the U.S. could save $13.7 billion by legalizing marijuana -- $7.7 billion in money saved on drug enforcement, and $6 billion earned if marijuana were taxed at similar rates to cigarettes and alcohol.

A coalition of British Columbia activists recently argued legalizing marijuana could bring $2.5 billion into the province’s economy over five years.

CORRECTION:An earlier version of this article identified Oregon as the second state, other than Colorado, to legalize marijuana last fall. In fast, it was Washington state that passed a measure to legalize pot.

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