Will Legal Pot Hurt Denver’s Chances Of Getting The Republican Convention?
Fears about convention goers taking advantage of Colorado's marijuana laws could harm Denver's chances of getting the GOP Convention.
There’s no escaping Colorado’s status as the poster child for legal recreational marijuana when visitors come to town, even — or especially — when Denver is trying to sell itself as the perfect site for a national political convention.
Take the initial site visit by Republican National Committee staffers in April, a precursor to a larger three-day scouting mission that starts Monday.
Over lunch, the topic turned to marijuana. The GOP visitors had plenty to ask.
But the questions didn’t leave bid boosters worried that legal pot might hurt Denver’s chances, even if Republicans are least likely to support such laws.
“They’re more curious about how this is going to play out in other places around the country,” said Pete Coors, chairman of the Denver bid committee. “We’re the first state, and we’re learning how to do it.”
Still, Colorado’s marijuana reputation isn’t the kind of international exposure Republican officials are hyping as they seek the party’s convention in 2016. Also in the running are Cleveland and Kansas City, Mo., which RNC officials and the Site Selection Committee visited last week, and Dallas, where they’ll head Wednesday after Denver.
Two years from now, it remains to be seen whether marijuana will be such a big issue. Would Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert make jokes on late-night TV about wayward or lost Republicans wandering into pot shops on the 16th Street Mall?
But interest from RNC scouts has been inescapable, even if Denver boosters, echoed by a national political analyst, think cannabis won’t play much of a factor in the RNC’s host city decision, to be made later this summer or fall.
“You can’t run from it, and we haven’t,” said Angela Lieurance, the bid committee’s executive director. “You cannot pretend that it’s not an issue or challenge for us.”
No doubt, Republicans have concerns about the party’s image, the probability that selecting Denver will lead to the inevitable jokes about marijuana, and, of course, the probability that convention attendees will avail themselves of the legal availability of something that most American now believe should be legal anyway. I suppose this is similar to the concerns that some expressed when Las Vegas was on the list of potential convention cities.
I suppose it’s true that the RNC might not want to project an image that ends up including news reports of convention delegates lighting it up at the local marijuana store, but I really have to wonder if this will be a big deal in 2016. We already have two states that have legalized marijuana, countless other states have legalized pot for medical use or decriminalized it to the point where it is essentially the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket. Thanks to changing public attitudes on the issue, many other states are considering changing the laws regarding marijuana, including several states that are considered predominantly Republican. If the GOP holds a convention in Denver in 2016 in this kind of political and cultural environment, it arguably wouldn’t be that big a deal.
Republicans could help themselves in this regard, of course, if the party abandoned the hard line stance it has taken regarding the War On Drugs. Obviously, there would be more of a story connected to a Republican convention in Denver if the GOP continued to side with the drug warriors. Beyond that shot at political hypocrisy, though, I”m not sure why this should even be a big deal. Denver would be as good a choice for a Republican Convention in 2016 as it was for the Democrats in 2008. The fact that marijuana is now legal there really shouldn’t be relevant.