Former Congressman and Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo was arguably the most prominent Colorado Republican to publicly back Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act -- and even after voters approved it, few GOP members are rushing to laud it. Should they? Yes, Tancredo believes, but because it fits their values, and not to shore up demographics that hurt the party during the election earlier this month.
"If you really believe what conservatives say they believe -- in less government -- this is a perfect way to express that belief," Tancredo maintains. "To say, 'I don't think the government has any right to tell me what I should ingest.'"
This logic didn't result in a great deal of support for Amendment 64 among Republican office holders in Colorado before the election. Tancredo was pretty much the only major pro-64 advocate from his party -- which explains why he debated Weld County District Attorney (and former Republican senatorial hopeful) Ken Buck, a vocal opponent of the act, on public television, and recorded a radio commercial for the Amendment 64 campaign.
Here's a video version of that spot.
Amendment 64's passage hasn't spurred many changes of heart among the GOP. Thus far, the only Republican member of the state's congressional delegation to sign on to Democratic Representative Diana DeGette's bill that would exempt Colorado from federal marijuana policy is Mike Coffman. But in backing the measure, he made it clear that his support was unenthusiastic. His statement about the proposal reads, "I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation."
Granted, Coffman's words represent a ringing endorsement compared to the views of many fellow Republicans, as Tancredo knows personally. "I remember a phone message I got from a woman who has been a quote-unquote friend for forty years -- and I say 'quote-unquote' because she said this [his endorsement of Amendment 64] ended the friendship. And I thought, if this ended it, we didn't have much of a friendship. But she considers herself a strong Christian conservative, and she couldn't believe I'd support it. And this wasn't unique. I got that from a lot of people."
Not that this rejection shook Tancredo's certainty that he'd chosen the proper path.
"It's like that story about Henry David Thoreau. He was thrown in jail at some point in time for civil disobedience of some sort, and he had these friends come and visit -- and one of them said, 'Thoreau, what are you doing in there?' And he said, 'The real question is, why aren't you in here with me?' When my conservative friends attacked me for doing this, I asked, 'Why aren't you here with me?'
"They rail against New York nanny-state activities like telling people what size soft drinks they can sell and how much people can imbibe. They talk about it being ridiculous, and I say, 'You're right. But what the hell do you think is different about the government telling you that you can't smoke dope?'"
Granted, Tancredo isn't interested in doing so personally.
"I've never had a marijuana cigarette, and I really don't have any plans on smoking one," he says. "I might, but it's not something on my agenda. I tell people al the time that the only bright spot in the whole election was the passage of 64, because now I can get high for the next four years -- but I'm joking."
Despite his delight over 64's approval, though, he doesn't believe Republicans could take a major chunk out of the Democrats victorious coalition in Colorado and beyond by suddenly getting behind marijuana legalization. True, young voters who backed Amendment 64 overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Democrats, but Tancredo doesn't see their numbers as decisive.
"The bigger problem we face is the fact that the country, and certainly Colorado, has changed over the past fifty years as a result of massive immigration and a public school system that is ideologically tilted to the left," he says. "We've created what's essentially a new sort of political demographic profile of people who believe that government has a greater role to play in their daily life than it used to."
By this measure, Tancredo sees a contradiction in Amendment 64 support among progressives. "Many liberals didn't vote for this because they wanted more freedom from government. They voted for it because they wanted to smoke it. Otherwise, they don't mind having a government that takes away more of their money and their freedom. So there's hypocrisy on both sides.
"I would like to be able to say, 'I showed the Republican party the way to capture the youth vote,' but I don't think that's true," he goes on. "If I ran for governor again, let's say, I wonder to what extent this would have any impact on the outcome -- and I don't think it would. I think it would probably end up the same way it did," with Tancredo finishing well behind Democrat John Hickenlooper in the 2010 election.
In his view, the Republicans' demographic issues come down to a simple fact: "The party is completely bereft of ideology. It is simply a mechanism. It's not like the Libertarian party or the Constitution party or even, I think, the Democratic party, whose goal is more government. Instead of having a distinct ideology, the Republicans try to cobble together little segments of society. That's why there's always a big fight over whether we should take out all of the references to abortion in the party platform -- and then you say, 'If you do, will you lose all the anti-abortion parts of the party?' It's a loose confederation of people who come together periodically, hoping their side will win the ideological battle within the party."
As Tancredo sees it, Republicans could correct this problem by jointly embracing genuine conservatism -- and if that happens, members of the GOP will realize measures like Amendment 64 are a perfect fit.
"If you're a true conservative," he says, "this kind of an issue is a no-brainer."
Look below to see two more videos: Tancredo's Amendment 64 debate with Ken Buck on KBDI/Channel 12 and a CBS4 report about his endorsement of the measure.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Susan Sarandon voicing robocalls for Amendment 64."