Israel could be a key partner in the recreational marijuana revolution Colorado is leading and benefit from the huge revenues the industry is bringing in, said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who headed a visiting business delegation from his state over the past week.
“We are reaching out. You guys have some of the top resources in the world on some of these effects, and we have resource money now, so we are looking for partners,” Hickenlooper told The Jerusalem Post in Tel Aviv on Monday night, at the tail end of the delegation’s visit.
Federal laws in the United States make research on marijuana use difficult, and Israeli companies and academics have taken a leading role in studying the effects of the plant’s chemicals. Building on Israel’s experience in agricultural technology, local startups have seen the rise of medical and recreational cannabis as an exciting opportunity.
The fact that the state has $100 million in additional tax revenue to put toward research and regulation, Hickenlooper says, is a serious upside that offers a path for Israeli cooperation.
Research on medical marijuana is legal in Israel, though Israel’s pro-legalization Green Leaf party has never managed to overcome the minimum electoral threshold in an election.
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid has said he would consider changing his stance on recreational pot use if experiments in places like Colorado turned out well.
Cooperating with Israel on marijuana research, Hickenlooper said, is just part of a plan he and his delegation are working on to boost economic ties in shared strength areas such as agriculture and cyber security.
Colorado State University has a reputation as “the Silicon Valley of agriculture,” and the US military’s centers in charge of cyber security have bases in the state, as well, the governor said.
The new revenue, and the possibilities it opens up, is one reason Hickenlooper, who opposed the referendum decriminalizing recreational marijuana use in his state in late 2012, has begun to change his views.
“If, after the election, I had a magic wand and could have waved it once and reversed the election, I would have done it,” he said.
“If you gave me that same magic wand today, I’d put it in a drawer for a year.”
New revenues put toward regulation, eliminating the black market and preventing minors from using marijuana have given Hickenlooper hope.
“I’m evolving. We’re looking at it as something that seemed like there was too much risk even just three years ago, and now we’re saying ‘Huh, we’ve made a lot of progress, and maybe this is going to work,’” he said.
Although the main focus of the trip was to strengthen business ties, the uptick in violence that coincided with the visit led to a slight change in plans.
“We wanted to go and be more public in demonstrating the depth and the commitment, so we went down to the Western Wall, wrote our notes, made our prayers,” Hickenlooper said. “I think it’s a very powerful way to express solidarity.”
One thing that surprised the governor, however, was the extent to which the attacks dominated the media.
“When we put the television on after 9/11, and for seven days all we did was watch the towers fall, we were doing the work of the terrorists. I guess I was just surprised by how much the media was dominated by these attacks, which admittedly are alarming,” he said.
“I don’t want to diminish it in any way.
This kind of violence is disturbing, but I think historically, Israel’s response to terror has been more measured, and it seems to be everywhere, and relative to when suicide bombers were blowing up and going into crowds, this violence, you wouldn’t think it would get the same sensational headlines,” he continued.
Given the role that guns have played in neutralizing some of the terrorists, and the greater damage terrorists could cause with firearms, shades of the American gun control debate have slipped into the Israeli discourse.
The Post asked Hickenlooper, whose own state experienced a mass casualty shooting in 2012 when a gunman opened fire at a movie theater, how the issue compares.
“I’m not anti-gun. I think there are some evil people out there, and there are also some people who are crazy, who are seriously disturbed, and you need weapons that are lethal, unfortunately,” he said. “There should be universal background checks – if you want to have a gun, you need to demonstrate that you’re not evil, that you don’t have a criminal record, that you are mentally stable.”
It is probably easier to obtain a gun in Colorado than in Israel, he surmised.
Hickenlooper said in his hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two discussed how to boost cooperation, particularly in the aftermath of the Iran deal.
“Now that the political decision made on Iranian agreement, how can the US congress make sure has Israel has the resources to defend itself?” Hickenlooper asked.
He also promised to act against attempts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, and said he would work with governors across the US, seeking commitments to veto any BDS legislation.
“If you can get 40 governors to sign a letter like that, it essentially kills the movement,” he said.
Turning to US politics, the Democrat said former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was the only presidential candidate on either side who was prepared to lead on her first day in office.
“There’s no candidate, nor has there ever been a candidate, that’s perfect, but she certainly brings a level of experience that nobody else can match,” he said.
As for the Republicans, whose next debate will be held in Boulder, Colorado, on October 28, Hickenlooper expressed concern at the possibility of businessman Donald Trump winning the nomination.
“If you had told me that Donald Trump would continue to maintain double-digit leads, I would have asked what level of cannabis you were smoking,” he said.