Marijuana backers courting Colorado conservatives

DENVER — It’s not all hippies backing November’s marijuana legalization votes in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Appealing to Western individualism and a mistrust of federal government, activists have lined up some prominent conservatives, from one-time presidential hopefuls Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul to Republican-turned-Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

“This is truly a nonpartisan issue,” said Mark Slaugh, a volunteer for the Colorado initiative who is based in Colorado Springs, which has more Republicans than anywhere else in the state.

“States’ rights! States’ rights!” Slaugh cried as he handed out flyers about the state’s pot measure outside a rally last month by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Quite a few passing Republicans took the flyer.

“It’s fiscally prudent. It would be taxed, regulated, monitored. It makes a lot of sense to Republicans,” he said.

Most Republicans still oppose legalization. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney vows to enforce federal law. When Ryan told a Colorado Springs TV station in September that medical marijuana was “up to Coloradans to decide,” his campaign quickly backtracked and said he agreed with Romney.

When activists make their appeal, it goes like this: States should dictate drug law. Decades of federal prohibition have failed where personal responsibility and old-fashioned parenting will succeed. Politicians back East have no business dictating what the states do.

“What is the law against marijuana if it isn’t the Nanny State telling you what you can do and what you can’t do to your body and with your body?” asked Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from suburban Denver who briefly ran for president in 2008 and endorsed the measure on the steps of the state capitol. He compared federal law to New York City’s ban on sugary sodas.

Tancredo launched a radio ad this week in which he compares marijuana prohibition to alcohol prohibition as a “failed government program” that, in this case, “steers Colorado money to criminals in Mexico.”

“Proponents of big government have duped us into supporting a similar prohibition of marijuana — even though it can be used safely and responsibly by adults,” Tancredo said.


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