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Friday, April 11, 2014

Denver Mayor Visits Amsterdam Mayor

The neon sign of a coffee shop is pictured in Amsterdam, October 31, 2011. (Nathalie Magniez/AFP/Getty Images)

The neon sign of a coffee shop is pictured in Amsterdam, October 31, 2011. (Nathalie Magniez/AFP/Getty Images)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is in Amsterdam today, meeting with that city’s mayor, to discuss lessons learned in Amsterdam from its marijuana regulation, which paved the way for pot liberalization in the 1970s.

The Netherlands recently cracked down on marijuana use by tourists, banning them from coffee shops where pot is sold. In Colorado, specially licensed stores that sell marijuana to people over 21 opened on Jan. 1, mostly in Denver.

Mayor Hancock, who opposed legalized recreational marijuana in his city, worries about increased crime and health impacts on children and has said the city is in “uncharted territory” on how legalized marijuana impacts neighborhoods.

He speaks with Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer about the trip and his concerns.

Interview Highlights: Michael Hancock

On what he learned from Amsterdam’s industry and policy

“They clearly understand the marijuana industry. You certainly see the shops, you may even get a whiff of it every once in a while, but it’s not something that’s overwhelming. If a tourist doesn’t want to come in contact with it, they don’t have to, here in Amsterdam. So that’s, I think, very important. A lot of states and cities that may be looking to implement it would be wise to take time to understand what the impacts of legalized marijuana in Amsterdam have been. They understand it, they do a lot of analysis and studying of quantitative and qualitative data, and, quite frankly, they got it right with regards to zoning, how you kind of relegate the consumption of marijuana to the coffee shops, and some of the stuff we’ve tried to emulate there in Denver is to be very restrictive of where you can consume the product, as well as who sells it and those sort of things. But they’ve been doing this for 38 years, and they recognize they still have some things to learn and, you know, areas in which they can get better.”

On taking a cue from Amsterdam’s issues with legalized marijuana

“We entered the market very restrictive. What you see, kind of the rollback here in Amsterdam, I think, is directly related to the fact they think it may have got away from them a bit.”

“I think the proliferation of the number of stores here, the close proximity to the schools, was a challenge and is a challenge, and they’re dealing with it, it sounds as if, as well as, really, a desire to have, you know, a different perception of what Amsterdam is all about. And that’s been the issue in Denver, and Colorado, for that matter. Those of us who may have not supported the amendment when it was ultimately passed by the voters — it was really about, how do we protect the image of our state and our city, that we maintain the important industries, such as tourism, and that people feel safe and they don’t feel like they’re going to be inundated with marijuana, marijuana smell and things of that nature. So those are some of the lessons that they’ve picked up on, and certainly some of the lessons we came out of the box thinking about.”

On what remains to be seen in a post-legalization Denver

“We still don’t know what the impacts are to our police department, fire department, impact on our streets with regard to people driving under the influence, campaigns to keep kids away from drugs. There’s a lot that we have yet to figure into this, our health facilities and things of that nature, and we don’t know those yet. So while we may see or are able to calculate today the revenues that have been flowing into the city via tax, we still have yet to be able to calculate, really, what the impacts have been, and probably won’t know that for quite some time.”

Guest

Transcript

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Colorado, of course, recently legalized recreational marijuana, and today Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is in the Netherlands, talking with the mayor of Amsterdam about lessons learned from that city's famously liberal marijuana rules - rules, however, that recently got stricter.

The Netherlands, for example, now bans tourists from the so-called coffee shops where pot is sold, although that restriction doesn't apply in Amsterdam. But the city has forced coffee shops near schools to close during school hours. Mayor Michael Hancock joins us from the line from Amsterdam to tell us what he's seeing and hearing there. Mayor Hancock, welcome.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK: Thank you.

PFEIFFER: And we should note from the get-go that you opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana in Denver. But you're now having to implement it and deal with any intended or unintended consequences. So I assume this is a very important and interesting trip for you.

HANCOCK: Yes, it's very important given the recent decision by the voters of Colorado to legalize marijuana, and of course in Denver we began to implement it as of January 1st. So this is important. We're learning some lessons, as well as sharing some that we picked up.

PFEIFFER: So give us a sense of what you feel like the Dutch have gotten right, whether it's on the crime front, on the health front. What are they doing well?

HANCOCK: Well, they clearly understand the marijuana industry. You certainly see the shops, you may even get a whiff of it every once in a while, but it's not something that's overwhelming. If a tourist doesn't want to come in contact with it, they don't have to here in Amsterdam. So that's I think very important.

And a lot of states and cities that may be looking to implement it would be wise to take time to understand what the impacts of legalized marijuana in Amsterdam have been. They understand it. They do a lot of analysis and studying of quantitative and qualitative data. And, you know, quite frankly, they got it right with regards to zoning, how you kind of relegate the consumption of marijuana to the coffee shops.

And some of the stuff we've tried to emulate there in Denver is to be very restrictive of where you can consume this, the product, as well as who sells it and those sort of things. But they, you know, they've been doing this for 38 years, and they recognize they still have some things to learn and, you know, areas in which they can get better.

PFEIFFER: What kind of ways do they feel like they could get better?

HANCOCK: Well, I think not to allow the industry to get away from them. We entered the market restrictive. What you see kind of the rollback here in Amsterdam I think is directly related to the fact they think it may have got away from them a bit.

PFEIFFER: And that sounds like there may be a really key lesson there for Denver. So when you say it got away from them a little bit, and they have to kind of rein it is, what wasn't going well, and they felt like we need to reevaluate?

HANCOCK: I think you - the proliferation of the number of stores here, the close proximity to the schools was a challenge and is a challenge, and they're dealing with it, it sound as if, as well as really a desire to have a, you know, a different perception of what Amsterdam is all about.

And that's been the issue in Denver, and Colorado for the matter. Those of us who may have not supported the amendment when it was ultimately passed by voters, was really about how do we protect the image of our state and our cities, that we maintain the important industries such as tourism, and that people feel safe, and they don't feel like they're going to be inundated with marijuana, marijuana smell and things of that nature.

So those are some of the lessons they picked up on and certainly some of the lessons we came out of the box thinking about.

PFEIFFER: Mayor, on this trip to Amsterdam you're on, have you had a chance to actually go into a coffee shop?

HANCOCK: I did have a chance to visit with an owner-operator here, and we spent some time, quite a bit of time actually, in a great discussion about her role. She's been an operator for over 30 years, and she gave, she imparted some tremendous wisdom.

PFEIFFER: What kind of wisdom do you think you learned from that shop owner?

HANCOCK: She mentioned about the importance of a very close relationship between - and clear directives from the government to the operators, and, you know, being mindful of the taxation policies and making sure that you don't send the consumer back underground. These are things that - a couple of them that we had thought about, but certainly these operators become a player within your economy, and it's important to hear their voice.

PFEIFFER: You referenced the financial impact of recreational marijuana, and I believe that in the first quarter of this year, Denver brought in $700,000 in tax revenue from recreational marijuana.

HANCOCK: Yes, those are the initial forecasts at this point.

PFEIFFER: So how do you reconcile your concerns about recreational marijuana with the financial benefits it brings to your city?

HANCOCK: Well, you must also balance that with the increased regulatory framework that has to go in place in order to manage the industry. We're going to require new inspectors or additional inspectors. We still don't know what the impacts are with regards to our police department, fire department, impact on our streets with regards to people driving under the influence, campaigns to keep kids away from drugs.

There's a lot that we have yet to figure into this; our health facilities and things of that nature. So - and we don't know those yet. So while we may see and are able to calculate today the revenues that have been flowing into the city through - via tax, we still have yet to be able to calculate really what the impacts have been, and probably won't be able to know that for quite some time.

PFEIFFER: Does this still feel like uncharted territory to you?

HANCOCK: Listen, I'm very, very proud of my city. It's uncharted in that you only had Amsterdam out there, really, and as they were making changes, I think it was important to try to understand some of their lessons learned. We'll see how it goes. I still have a lot of concerns about our children and their access to this drug and making sure we properly educate them.

PFEIFFER: Michael Hancock is the mayor of Denver, Colorado. He's been speaking to us from Amsterdam, where he's meeting with city officials there about marijuana rules in the Netherlands. Mayor Hancock, thank you.

HANCOCK: Sacha, thank you so very much. Have a great day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PFEIFFER: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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