Procrastinating Pothead's Guide to Colorado's Gubernatorial Candidates

There's been plenty of smoke blown during this campaign season.
There's been plenty of smoke blown during this campaign season. thedenverchannel.com
Election Day is almost here, and you've had your ballot for a couple of weeks. No procrastinating, you kept telling yourself, promising to research candidates and issues in plenty of time to vote and mail in that ballot. But then that last episode of Last Week Tonight really spoke to you...and then you got high.

Don't feel too bad if that joint got in the way of exercising your democratic rights early. There's still time to...what's that? You haven't even started to study? Shame, shame, shame.

Fortunately, Westword has been covering the 2018 elections for months now, so go here if you need some last-minute information on ballot measures. You'll find only one cannabis-related item (a proposed amendment that would take industrial hemp out of the Colorado Constitution), but that doesn't mean this election won't affect the state's pot landscape. Things could definitely change depending on who's elected governor.

If you're even slightly familiar with Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Walker Stapleton, you can guess which one is friendlier to legal cannabis, but how deep do those feelings go? Here's what we know so far:

Walker Stapleton, Republican gubernatorial candidate. - FACEBOOK
Walker Stapleton, Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Walker Stapleton

In one of his lower moments during the campaign, Walker Stapleton accused opponent Jared Polis of being willing to let his two young children "smoke weed" for the benefit of public schools.

Still, anyone worried about a Republican shutting down Colorado's legal-cannabis industry can calm down: Walker Stapleton has never professed any desire to sweep out recreational pot. Medical marijuana users, however, might feel differently.

Since he became state treasurer, Stapleton has been clear about his dismay regarding Colorado's medical marijuana system, penning an op ed in 2017 about the "fraud and abuse around the issuance of medical marijuana cards," asserting that it's much too easy to get a medical marijuana card while taking issue with patients who "enjoy tax-free marijuana at a 30 percent discount." The piece concludes with Stapleton calling the medical system a "broken revenue model that must be fixed."

In a 2018 interview with Colorado Public Radio, Stapleton reaffirmed his feelings about the medical marijuana system, saying he would "absolutely" want to raise taxes on medical marijuana while voicing a desire to limit caregiver plant counts and make it harder for Coloradans to obtain a medical marijuana card, specifically for those under 21:
"..and the fact that it's easier for an 18-year-old kid to get a medical marijuana card than it is for him or her to get a six-pack of beer in today's Colorado. That makes absolutely no sense. Advil's taxed, some states tax prescription drugs, the fed taxes prescription drug imports. This is a billion-dollar-plus industry that has a big state regulatory problem, and I believe if we fix it, we will have significantly more revenue that we can apply to our transportation needs."
Colorado does not have a state sales tax on prescription drugs — though medical marijuana isn't technically prescribed by physicians, because it's federally illegal.

Stapleton has also said he'd veto bills that set up a regulated model for social pot consumption, as current Governor John Hickenlooper did after a bill allowing dispensary tasting rooms passed through the Colorado Legislature last session.

But if Stapleton is elected governor, the biggest concern for the cannabis industry might be his hurt feelings. Commercial pot has largely supported Polis during this campaign season, and some pot-company representatives are worried about a possible vendetta if Stapleton's elected. "Stapleton doesn't really care about weed, but he does remember who did and didn't support him," as one definitely-wants-to-remain-anonymous source puts it.

click to enlarge Jared Polis visits Bgood dispensary in Northglenn on April 20. - KENZIE BRUCE
Jared Polis visits Bgood dispensary in Northglenn on April 20.
Kenzie Bruce
Jared Polis
Legal cannabis has been a claim to fame for Congressman Jared Polis. Although he says he's never consumed pot, Polis has advocated for the legalization and regulation of the plant for some time, both in Denver and in Washington, D.C. On the state level, Polis says he would have signed all three cannabis bills that Hickenlooper vetoed last session, and has even called for a need to regulate social pot consumption — something most politicians don't want to touch.

At the federal level, Polis has introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act in hopes of legalizing the plant nationwide, and supported several other bills that would change the country's current policy on cannabis. He's defended Colorado's decision to legalize before his colleagues, and was one of the founding members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

On April 20, Polis toured a Northglenn dispensary and cannabis cultivation, calling out Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the AG's remarks criticizing legal cannabis. Polis also has the unique distinction of having a cannabis outreach coordinator on his campaign staff, and his Denver campaign headquarters are located on South Broadway, blocks away from rows of dispensaries where his staffers regularly stump for support.

Clear Difference
Based on actions and public comments, it's clear that Polis is far more marijuana-friendly than Stapleton. In fact, he's a champion of legalization. Is that the only thing to consider when voting? Light up that joint and think about it...you have until November 6.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell