When Colorado Representative Jared Polis vacates his congressional seat after his run for governor, he'll be taking his pro-cannabis mindset with him. But cannabis policy could become an even bigger focus if Todd Mitchem takes his place in the 2nd Congressional District.
Mitchem, an established cannabis-industry veteran with ventures in motivational speaking, writing and regulatory consulting, announced his intent to run for the United States House of Representatives through his Twitter account on Thursday, August 24. He's running as a Libertarian.
The co-founder of TMC Partners Government Affairs, a consulting agency for regulatory issues, Mitchem has a wide range of experience in the cannabis industry. As chief revenue officer and head of public and government relations for O.pen VAPE, he helped the vaporizer company become one of the largest in its field before he founded High There!, a social-networking app for cannabis users. Working with the industry in the early days of marijuana legalization has prepared him for government hurdles that few politicians have had to deal with, Mitchem says.
"Since I have come into the marijuana industry, I've realized it's one of the most exciting while also the most challenging industries I've ever been a part of," Mitchem explains. "It makes you have to learn how to work with the government day in and day out in a bipartisan way."
Although Mitchem's political platform includes more than cannabis, it's definitely a focus. In fact, threats by President Donald Trump's administration against Colorado's legal pot industry pushed him to the point of running for Congress.
"I've done a lot for work in the [marijuana] industry, but when Trump was elected and I saw the mess around Jeff Sessions and the pushback against the industry, it just showed how much of a mess the federal government is," Mitchem says. "But what's really motivating me isn't just marijuana issues. It's all these issues impacting our community. What's affected me the most is health care. My family's premiums have risen about $700."
Sessions, the United States Attorney General appointed by Trump, has raised questions about states with regulated adult-use marijuana businesses, maintaining the Drug Enforcement Administration's stance that it's a Schedule I substance; the AG hasn't ruled out federal intervention. In an op-ed published by Westword in June, Mitchem publicly disagreed with Sessions's stance that legalized marijuana had helped fuel larger black-market sales, arguing that a regulated system was responsible for a decrease in illegal transactions.
Polis hopes to be Colorado's next governor after the November 2018 election; for that reason, he's not running again for Congress. During his stint in Washington, D.C., Polis has developed a reputation for his progressive takes on cannabis policy, aggressively defending a federal amendment in 2015 that would have protected recreational marijuana businesses from possible federal prosecution. With 2nd District constituents already accustomed to someone who doesn't fit the traditional stereotypes of D.C. politics, Mitchem hopes to build on what Polis started; he was at a Polis fundraiser when a friend suggested that he run.
"He tends to be more of a Libertarian-leaning Democratic. For me, it really primed the move," Mitchem says of Polis. "I think it's a good opportunity to step in."
Mitchem's recently published book, You, Disrupted, focuses on what he calls the "disruption effect," or the theory that creating new routines can bring progress. In November 2018, he hopes to apply that theory to politics.
"The disruption effect is something our government can learn from. The way I define disruption is not destruction – it's breaking or changing something to make it better. If you're looking at our government lately, what they're doing isn't disruptive, it's destructive. They're not fixing anything," he says. "Marijuana's important, but it's not the most important issue of every American, and certainly not the citizens of C2. Certainly, we have bigger problems, like health care and everything from Charlottesville to the climate."
The 2nd Congressional District includes Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Larimer and Summit counties. Although a handful of Colorado figures and politicians such as Gino Campana, Shannon Watts and Ken Toltz have shown interest in running for the seat, Democrats Joe Neguse and Howard Dotson and Independent Nick Thomas were the only candidates to have officially entered the race before Mitchem threw his hat in the ring.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.