John Hickenlooper on legal cannabis, health care, and running for president

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper is known for his centrist views. During his tenure leading the purple state, he developed a reputation as someone who regularly reached across the aisle. He calls himself a pragmatic progressive.

"We've been able to bring people together -- nonprofits and businesses, Republicans and Democrats -- to get to near universal health care. We beat the NRA with some pretty tough gun laws. We've become the number one economy in the country. I've been able to achieve those big progressive things by bringing people together," he tells Press Play.

Health care: a public option and controlling costs

Hickenlooper says he wants the country to move toward a public option, which he envisions as a possible hybrid of Medicare and Medicare Advantage. He believes that if it's done properly, people would choose to migrate to this option from their private insurance, or if they couldn't afford health care coverage before.

"Essentially, we could in 10 or 20 years end up at a single payer system. But it would be an evolution, not a revolution," he says.

When it comes to cost control, he says hospitals must be more transparent, and that the drug industry must be re-regulated appropriately "so that people in the United States aren't paying 30 times more for insulin than what people pay in Canada." He also wants preventive health care to be taken seriously, and says it wouldn't hurt to have a President's Council on Physical Fitness.  

Hickenlooper is a geologist who worked for an oil and gas company years ago. Does that raise suspicions with environmentalists?

"Well, the oil and gas industry thinks I'm a raging environmentalist, but the environmental community does think I'm too close to the oil gas industry," he says. "My point is that you need to have both sides together to make these big changes if we're going to address climate change with the urgency that it demands."

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana around seven years ago, and the policy went into effect about five years ago. But Hickenlooper opposed its legalization at the time, calling it reckless and saying the matter needed to be studied. Now after it's been studied, how does he feel about the legalization?

Hickenlooper says his fears have not become reality. He hasn't seen a spike in teenage consumption or people driving while high, and he points out that the state's data is good because it surveys more than 20,000 people every two years.

Hickenlooper says the federal government shouldn't tell other states what to do on the issue.

"I think the federal government should leave it to states to make that decision. And first, the federal government should decriminalize marijuana so that those states that where they have legalized it, they're not in conflict with federal law," he says. "I think the federal government should delist marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic so we can do research on it. And let's get the FDA to actually do medical research so we can see what forms of seizures, what forms of autism, does marijuana or cannabinoids have maximum benefit, are there side effects?"

Hickenlooper also wants the Department of Agriculture to look at what pesticides might have harmful side effects when cultivating the plant.

"Some of the basic things that the federal government usually does aren't being done around marijuana…. The federal government should make sure the banking is legal for the marijuana industries in those states where it's been legalized," he says.

Hickenlooper says that like alcohol, marijuana is a challenge, adults have to make sure teenagers understand it's not good for them, and everyone must be warned of the harmful side effects and be careful about excess consumption.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy and Adriana Cargill