Education

Marijuana Business Owner Wanda James Running for CU Board of Regents

Marijuana business owner Wanda James is running for District 1's empty seat in CU's Board of Regents.
Marijuana business owner Wanda James is running for District 1's empty seat in CU's Board of Regents. Courtesy of Wanda James
A marijuana industry leader has joined next year's race for the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

She brings solid credentials to her campaign. Wanda James joined the Navy after graduating from CU Boulder with a sociology degree in 1986. She got into politics early on, working in Colorado on Barack Obama's presidential campaign; she managed one of Jared Polis's successful congressional campaigns in 2006. She also ran a Denver City Council bid in 2019 for her husband, Scott Durrah.

Although she's been active in local politics, the 57-year-old found herself at odds with the federal government in the late 2000s after she entered Colorado's medical marijuana space. Her edibles company, Simply Pure, has since transformed into a recreational dispensary in northwest Denver and a hemp-derived CBD brand, and James has become a recognizable force in the marijuana industry.

James will put her business and political experience to the test in her run for the regent seat representing Colorado Congressional District 1, a district primarily based in Denver.


Constitutionally charged with general supervision of CU and its funding and appropriations, the Board of Regents oversees tuition pricing as well as the hiring of senior school officials and the university president, a role that is open at present, after the current board paid former president Mark Kennedy $1.3 million to walk away.

In a November 8 statement announcing that she's entering the race, James says that she wants to focus on inclusivity and student rights.

“It’s time to restore balance to the CU Regents — not only in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, but also in the board’s priorities,” she says. “I am running to take back the power for students, staff and faculty, who for too long have taken a back seat to political deliberations and decisions. I intend to be a force for CU and deliver on the promises of higher education.”

James will be running for one of three available seats in the 2022 election; there are also openings in District 4 and an at-large seat that is expected to transition to Colorado's new congressional district in 2022.


Current at-large member Heidi Ganahl is a Republican candidate for governor; District 1 Regent Jack Kroll has announced he isn't seeking re-election. James will face at least two challengers in June's Democratic primary: technology professional Scott Mangino and attorney Johnnie Nguyen, according to Colorado Politics.

James doesn't just have behind-the-scenes political experience; she has experience on university boards, as well, having previously served on the CU Alumni Board of Directors. She's also a current gubernatorial appointee to the Colorado Tourism Board of Directors, and has been a regular face at local and state regulatory hearings for pot business practices. In 2019, she founded an industry lobbying group for Black and Brown marijuana business owners.

The marijuana business owner has made noteworthy connections during her political and entrepreneurial work. She's already scored endorsements from Dr. Angie Paccione, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, as well as former mayor Wellington Webb (a vocal opponent to marijuana legalization) and Congressman Joe Neguse.
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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