A sea change on pot in the GOP?

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Paul Danish/Sue France

Sea change alert.

According to a story by reporter Joey Bunch on the Colorado Politics website on Oct. 11, some Colorado marijuana businesses sponsored a fundraiser for some incumbent state senators running for re-election in 2018.

The event took place at the Cap City Tavern in Denver. Individual tickets were $250 each, and sponsorship levels started at $500. Sponsors included Good Chemistry Nurseries, Terrapin Care Station, LivWell Enriched Health and Native Roots Dispensaries, according to Bunch.

None of which is particularly surprising. All kinds of businesses raise dough to help elect candidates who are sympathetic to their interests.

What is surprising is the beneficiary of the fundraising: the Republicans’ Senate Majority Fund, which works on behalf of all the GOP members of the Colorado Senate.

What’s more, a couple of well-known conservative pols helped organize the fundraiser. They are Joe Megyesy, who is a former press secretary for Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and for Republicans in the Colorado Senate, and Monica Owens Beauprez, who is the daughter of former Colorado Governor Bill Owens and daughter-in-law of former Congressman and two-time gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Megyesy currently works for Good Chemistry Nurseries.

So what’s going on here? Scads of polls have shown that the only two demographics in the country who still oppose legalizing marijuana are geezers and Republicans. Chances are most of the country thinks that when it comes to pot, Jeff Sessions speaks for the whole Republican Party.

Well it turns out that he doesn’t, at least not in Colorado.

Earlier this year, three Colorado Republican state senators sent a letter to President Trump urging him to honor his pledge to allow states to set their own course on marijuana legalization. The signatories were Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, and Senators Tim Neville and Vicki Marbel.

Neville and Marbel were also sponsors or co-sponsors of a number of marijuana-friendly bills during the last session of the legislature.

They jointly sponsored a Senate bill that would have allowed the creation of clubs where people could legally smoke marijuana.

“The one thing we do not want in this state is for people to come on vacation and leave on probation,” Marbel said.

Republican Rep. Bob Gardner, who represents Colorado Springs, co-sponsored a similar bill in the House.

Neville also joined with Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont in sponsoring a bill that would allow dispensaries to make deliveries, and in sponsoring a bill that would have made it easier for medical marijuana dispensaries to buy and sell inventory from each other. (Hickenlooper vetoed it.)

Neville, who is best known for his fierce support of Second Amendment rights, didn’t support Amendment 64. But he thinks that since the voters decided to legalize marijuana and regulate it, it’s incumbent on elected officials to carry out the will of the people.

It’s in the state constitution, he says, and he takes his oath to uphold the constitution seriously.

“My real fear is that if we don’t allow [marijuana] businesses to operate as an industry, it’s just going to backslide into an area we can’t control, the gray market or black market,” Neville said.

A number of Republican state legislators evidently agree with him. According to Bunch, out of 23 pot-specific bills in the last session of the legislature, 19 had bipartisan support and 18 became law.

When businesses set out to contribute to campaigns, they are not trying to buy a politician’s vote. That is a myth commonly perpetrated by people who don’t know much about how politics works and try to disguise their ignorance with cynicism. If businesses are giving to candidates, it’s because they agree with the candidates’ stated positions and past actions, not because they think they can buy their loyalty.

The Colorado marijuana industry has discovered it has allies in both parties, and it isn’t about to turn away from the ones it has in the GOP.

It would not be at all surprising if marijuana businesses also contribute to pot-friendly Democratic state legislators. They would be fools to tie themselves to one party.

But the real news is that a number of influential Republicans are no longer stone-walling when it comes to marijuana legalization, and that probably represents the start of a sea change among ordinary Republicans as well.