As one of the architects of legalized marijuana in Colorado, Rob Corry has profound regrets. That’s clear from his extensive commentary published in today’s Sunday Perspective section. It is a recounting of dashed hopes; a confession of his own naïveté; an exposé by an insider — and a denunciation of the cynical industry that dominates today’s marijuana market (see: “A founding father of legal pot reveals regrets,” on page B1).

Corry’s change of heart is noteworthy because he has played a prominent role in Colorado’s legalization movement. The Stanford-trained lawyer helped draft groundbreaking Amendment 64, adopted by voters on the statewide ballot in 2012. The complicated measure’s many moving parts created the framework for the legal use, production, sales and taxation of marijuana statewide. Corry also designed and implemented the dispensary framework for patients and caregivers under Amendment 20, enacted by the state’s voters in 2000 to allow medical use of marijuana. He has extensive experience representing clients accused of marijuana-related offenses, and he has been involved in litigation and administrative actions concerning the implementation of Amendment 64.

Nearly a decade after Colorado voters bought into legalization, Corry now says he is deeply dismayed by the results. While he continues to support legalization in itself, he acknowledge the reality is not at all what he envisioned and has left him with wide-ranging misgivings.

His original vision as one of the framers of legalization strikes us in hindsight as having been doomed from the start. He writes in today’s commentary that he had sought to “protect individual rights to grow and distribute on a personal level,” and to, “focus limited police resources against real crime with actual victims.” He had wanted to, “create a free-enterprise system, taxed and regulated similar to alcohol for commercial sales,” and, “to allow for true competition and innovation by upstanding business people.”

Once the genie was out of the bottle, those like Corry who had let it loose had little hope of reining it in. It wound up answering to a far more formidable master — notably, a big industry Corry now sees as an “oligopoly of crony capitalists” that he likens to a “criminal cabal.”

Corry’s jaundiced view of pot’s latter-day purveyors is in fact one of at least three important takeaways from his eye-opening commentary:

  • Big Marijuana is reckless, greedy and ruthless. He observes, “No true free enterprise exists in this regulated industry, but rather a small oligopoly of crony capitalists who are given privileged government licenses. Licenses are capped, and new entry is nearly impossible. Extreme regulations are created and supported by the big players, and benefit these big players over smaller competitors. The regulators themselves daily pass through an unrestrained revolving door between government and the industry they supposedly regulate. True competition is lacking. Industry exploits its centrally-planned regulatory system to fix inflated prices, and government chips in extreme taxes at levels imposed on no other product. Regressive pricing disproportionately harms the poor. And the quality of this overpriced commercialized product is awful, and actually harmful to both adults and children alike.”
  • State and local policy makers pander to the industry. Corry reveals, “… the inmates are running Colorado’s marijuana asylum. Amendment 64 created a corporate lobby that punches far above its actual weight. To demonstrate this industry’s unjustified political clout, even during a pandemic, the governor and the Denver mayor deemed marijuana businesses ‘essential,’ while schools, churches, gyms and most other non-big box stores were shut. So, it was not ‘essential’ to educate our children — our future — but it was ‘essential’ to maintain those children’s access to high-potency corporate marijuana. And access it they surely do. …The fawning that legislators and executive branch officials bestow on this criminal cabal is mystifying.”
  • Big Marijuana is a big polluter. He writes, “On a proportional basis, corporate marijuana is Colorado’s worst environmental polluter. It pumps chemicals and carbon greenhouse gases into our air, uses tons of energy, harms our climate, dirties our drinking water, and ruins our environment. It stinks, literally and figuratively. Most of the foul-smelling warehouses are next door to a poor or minority neighborhood, whose children grow up smelling the skunky chemical stench.”

Also worth noting are Corry’s harsh words for high-potency pot concentrates that weren’t envisioned a decade ago. He unwaveringly supports pending legislation by Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo to cap pot potency.

All in all, not an outright repudiation — as noted, Cory still supports legalization — yet a remarkable turnabout in its own right. As he puts it, “What I have changed my mind on … is the wisdom of a commercialized, for-profit, elitist, government-protected, privileged, monopolistic industry that perpetuates itself and its obscene profits, to the detriment of the public good and the planet earth.”