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.

Marijuana Plant

The Denver Post wonders if Colorado will lose out on the Republican National Convention in 2016 because of the state’s law legalizing marijuana:

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.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    No more than legalized prostitution hurts Nevada’s chances…

  2. grumpy realist says:

    So Las Vegas is out (hookers), Denver is out (weed), can’t go to those bastions of EEEEVIL liberalism (San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, oh the hell with it, I guess we’ll have to get rid of New Orleans, Los Angelos, San Diego, NYC….)

    What’s a poor conservative to do? I guess there’s always “Meet me in St. Louis”…?

  3. Davebo says:

    @grumpy realist:

    They had no problem with Tampa (titty bars) so I see no real issue here.

    Republicans are nothing if not hypocritical.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    Would make for some great comedy. I bet SNL is already getting scripts written.

  5. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? Why is anyone care what the Republicans do in 2016 since they have zero chance of winning the White House. Maybe everyone who wants to be a wonk, pundit, or political writer should just swear off the irrelevant Republicans until the Republicans demonstrate that they are still relevant to policy and governance to the U.S. Why is anyone worrying about what city an irrelevant convention is held in and why impact it will have on a party that is on the downslope to total irrelevancy.

    Maybe everyone would be better off discussing when the Democrats will regain control of the House and what kind of policies will the Clinton II Administration implement.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    The major reason prohibition of alcohol was repealed because the Federal, State and local municipalities needed the tax revenues. That will also be the case for marijuana,. In California all you need is $100 to pay a physician to write you a prescription. In Oregon it has been a violation like a parking ticket for decades and full legalization will be on the ballot in November and pass.

  7. Hal_10000 says:

    I think that both parties should have their conventions in Denver and the candidates, delegates, speakers and press should be *required* to get baked. It would be like four days of the Clint Eastwood speech. Best political season ever!

  8. Grewgills says:

    Vegas doesn’t have legal prostitution, they would have to drive to a neighboring town.

  9. James Pearce says:

    Local news says it’s not a factor:

    RNC Chairman Reince Priebus says that logistics are more important than local marijuana laws. He said he’s “not a big fan” of legal marijuana but that party officials aren’t considering it in their decision.

    I personally think a stoned GOP convention would be just what this country needs.

    If only Hunter Thompson were around to cover it.

  10. JWH says:

    Holding the GOP convention in Denver could seriously damage their reputation and be completely unfair to them.

    Forcing honest pot smokers to associate with Republicans is just wrong.

  11. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Strangely while voters have moved this state in a more liberal direction with legal marijuana, Republican state legislators attempted a party line effort this past year to crack down on pornography in the state, but failed as it required a 2/3 vote in the legislature. – However, none of the few Colorado based pornography companies would likely be in violation of a stricter standard of obscenity in the state. Real Colorado Girls is sexually explicit, but not legally obscene. Real Spankings is a strange company that specializes in softcore spanking porn, none of the material legally obscene. Gaining Gabi is just plain weird, featuring very heavy young women, but is not obscene either, so it is a question what exactly Republican legislators hoped to achieve here as tightening up the state’s obscenity laws probably would not have prosecuted a single business in the state, and simply seemed like a political gimmick as a favor to the political right.