Editor's Note: This story last updated at 3:15 p.m.
A state legislator is hoping to corner the market on medical marijuana by having Colorado State University oversee the cultivation of all pot used in the burgeoning industry.
It could give a new meaning to “higher education.” At least half of the revenue generated by the proposal would be used to fund the state’s colleges and universities.
Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, told Boulder Weekly that the state’s marijuana-growing operation should be handled by CSU because it is the state’s primary agricultural school. White says the operation could probably be accommodated with about 10 acres of land.
He says he has not yet discussed the issue with CSU or higher-ed leaders.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander told Boulder Weekly. He declined to comment on the substance of the proposal until after CSU officials discuss it with White and see some draft language.
“It’s going to spark some interesting conversation,” he says. “And that’s not a joke.”
White has proposed legislation that would effectively give the state complete control over the growth, sale and distribution of medical marijuana, possibly putting an end to the gold rush of dispensaries that has emerged in Boulder and around the state. He says the state would contract with “licensed pharmacists” to sell the marijuana, whether that pharmacist is based at an established pharmacy like Walgreens or a dispensary.
“It kind of throws that whole ‘caregiver’ thing out the window,” he says, acknowledging that “it would be a monopoly.”
Half of the money generated by the marijuana sales would be used to support higher education in the state, White says. The other half would be used to build up a “rainy-day” fund, and once that fund exceeds $1 billion, the remainder would be sent to higher-ed, which has been “taking it in the shorts” financially in recent years.
White told The Denver Post that the revenue generated by his proposal in the first year could reach $160 million, after overhead costs are taken out.
White told Boulder Weekly that the reasoning behind the bill is that there isn’t enough order or regulation in the medical marijuana industry, and that if the state were in charge, there would be some consistency in the quality of the pot being provided to patients. He describes the two extremes of marijuana quality now as everything from “ditch weed that’s really better suited for sandals or doormats” to “THC so strong it would make a rocket scientist a drooling cookie monster.”
He also expresses concern that demand seems to be outstripping supply right now, and that weed is being purchased on the black market. White attributes a degree of that black market to “Mexican drug cartels” and asks why the state should continue to support “narco-terrorist killers.”
Asked whether his plan flies in the face of the tradition Republican stance of less government and a free market, White replied, “This is more of a law-and-order deal, which Republicans are always about.”
He says no other state has approved such a plan, but several have similar controls over the liquor industry within their boundaries.
He says his bill would contain a five-year sunset provision in case it needs to be tweaked or discontinued at that point. White stops short of predicting whether pot could be legalized by that time, and he says his plan is not an effort to legalize the substance, but also says that “the feds may respond to what we’re doing in Colorado by moving it from a banned substance to a controlled substance.” The program would also undergo an annual audit under the legislation.
Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, who is proposing medical marijuana legislation of his own, told Boulder Weekly that he is not in favor of White’s plan, in part because of the damage it could do to the state’s reputation.
“I don’t think we want to be known as the state that is growing marijuana,” he says.
As for the idea of having CSU grow the marijuana, Romer says facetiously, “Every parent in America will want to have their kid going to ‘Pot U.’”
CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue told Boulder Weekly that CU officials had not yet heard about or discussed the proposed bill either, adding, “It’s not surprising, given the dire straits that higher ed is in.”