Pot industry to hold political fundraiser for party in opposition

All the progress that legalized marijuana has made in Colorado is nothing compared to what is about to happen on Wednesday.

That’s when the marijuana industry will hold a political fundraiser for Republicans, many of whom opposed the legalization of personal use and retail sales of the drug five years ago.

Just like any industry that operates in the state, from oil and gas to home builders, those who run retail marijuana stores have banded together and learned the value of maintaining good relationships with elected officials.

For the industry, it marks an evolving sophistication of political realities and a point of pride that they are a business force to be reckoned with, one that pumps billions of dollars into the Colorado economy and provides thousands of jobs in the state, said Chuck Smith, board president of Colorado Leads, a newly formed coalition of Colorado cannabis business leaders.

Smith said staging a fundraiser for a group of politicians who initially opposed everything they are about and might well shut them down if they could is more than just an encouraging sign for the industry.

“Am I encouraged because the Republicans are allowing us to hold a fundraiser for them so they can take our money?” Smith said. “No. I’m encouraged because we’re actually able to sit down with them and have a good conversation. And with that, we’re happy to give them our money.”

The Republican group co-hosting the event at Denver’s Capitol Hill Tavern is the Senate Majority Fund, a political group that uses its money to support GOP candidates for the Colorado Senate, primarily through advertising.

The group’s aim is to make sure Republicans maintain their majority in the 35-member Senate, even if it’s only the one-vote lead it currently holds.

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said while he opposed Amendment 64, which legalized retail pot in 2012, it’s in the Colorado Constitution now and it’s his job to support everything voters put in that document.

Besides, it’s also helpful to have a working relationship with people in the industry when issues arise that the Colorado Legislature needs to deal with, Holbert said.

“Even if we opposed the ballot question, this is now a regulated, legal industry in Colorado, and we would be wise to treat it like other regulated industries,” he said. “I’ve also come to understand if bad things happen, if marijuana is leaving Colorado to other states for instance, it’s less likely to be from the licensed regulated people, who have everything on the line, than it would be from the gray or black market.”

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, agrees, saying despite initial concerns with the amendment, the law is the law and it’s the Legislature’s job to make sure it is carried out as the voters intended.

Neville also said it’s clear the marijuana industry wants Republican backing as any other business industry would, and that it wants to make sure it’s regulated only as much as is needed and protected from Democratic meddling.

“What we’re seeing now is a push from the left, where the industry is seeing their taxes increase,” Neville said. “We look at it as a liberty issue. We have a responsibility to treat businesses with fairness under the Constitution.”

Democrats see the fundraiser as more than just hypocritical, saying it’s come about only because the money is flowing.

Still, Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, a left-leaning group that supports Democrats, said it’s about time some Republicans are taking the industry seriously.

He said there still are many others who don’t and would prefer to shut it down, such as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Jeff Hunt, director of the right-leaning Centennial Institute, which held a conference in Denver on Friday claiming that retail marijuana is destroying the state.

“It’s good that Colorado Republicans now agree marijuana is a legitimate business, and just like the tobacco and alcohol industries, Coloradans expect the pot industry to pay their fair share,” Silverii said. “I hope the Colorado Republicans raising funds from the marijuana industry tell Jeff Sessions, Jeff Hunt, and other backwards thinkers how this event goes, assuming they can remember any of it.”


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