Marijuana: Could Amendment 64's success hurt Barack Obama in Colorado?

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The presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will likely be very tight in Colorado, a key swing state -- and a close vote is also expected for Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. But could a big turnout for the latter undermine Obama in the state? This theory is being floated by at least one major political website, and proponent Mason Tvert thinks one race could wind up impacting the other.

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo published an item entitled "Poll: Colorado Pot Amendment Could Pass -- and Hurt Obama."

The item notes a recent poll showing that 47 percent of likely voters surveyed by Public Policy Polling supported Amendment 64, a one point uptick from the previous report, while opposition dropped from 42 percent to 38 percent.

Enthusiasm for 64 could prompt more young people to show up at the polls this November, TPM surmises -- but given that the Obama administration has been tougher on marijuana than many anticipated, such voters might not automatically cast their ballot for the president. Instead, a sizable number could line up for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and running mate Judge Jim Gray, who are presently polling at around 6 percent in Colorado, according to the site. And since these votes would mainly come at Obama's expense, Romney is the probable beneficiary.

Johnson, by the way, is the candidate most associated with marijuana reform -- and he traveled to Colorado in February specifically to express his support for Amendment 64, as he told us in the post linked here.

Gray is expected to formally endorse Amendment 64 as well. Indeed, he was originally slated to do so at 11:45 a.m. today at the City and County Building in Denver, but that event has been postponed. Instead, Gray will take part in a meet-and-greet at 6:45 p.m. tonight at Chopper's Sports Grill.

Given Johnson's endorsement of Amendment 64, why doesn't the campaign return the favor? Tvert says he's not sure that's possible under current election law, and even if it is, "we're focused on passing our initiative. So we have no position on a presidential candidate. We're not supporting or opposing any of them. We have our eyes on our race."

At the same time, Tvert notes that the decision to push the Regulate act in 2012 has a presidential component.

"We know turnout is far greater in presidential election years than it is in off years," he says, "and we do expect that will benefit our initiative. Typically, the more people who vote, the more support that's expressed for ending marijuana prohibition."

Page down for more about Amendment 64's possible impact on the presidential race. Examples? After Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization effort in California, fell short in 2010, Tvert says a post-election analysis suggested that the measure would likely have gained another couple of percentage points if the vote had taken place in a presidential year. In all likelihood, the initiative would have still been defeated, Tvert concedes, but the margin would have been much narrower.

Additionally, Tvert points out that "in every case there's been a marijuana initiative on the ballot in a presidential year, they've passed." Granted, "there have only been three" -- medical marijuana proposals in Montana and Michigan circa 2004 and 2008, respectively, and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts in 2008. "But all of them won."

Regarding turnout, Tvert expects 64's presence to boost it. "There are a lot of people who are passionate about this issue and will make it a point to vote, whereas they might otherwise have been a little less excited. So I think some people will vote just because of it -- and people who might have showed up definitely will because of this."

Are such people apt to have a more negative impression of Obama in 2012 because of stricter federal marijuana policies, exemplified in Colorado by U.S. Attorney John Walsh's closure-threat letters sent to dispensaries near schools? After all, a new billboard outside of Grand Junction reminds Obama that there are 100,000 medical marijuana patients in the state -- the implication being that they might vote against him if the crackdowns continue.

Tvert, who notes that the billboard is not associated with the Amendment 64 effort even though it's in the same spot as an earlier pro-Regulate message featuring televangelist Pat Robertson, thinks some backlash is possible.

"In the past couple of years, medical marijuana has been a big issue in the state," he points out. "There's more support for our state's medical marijuana laws and establishing a regulated system than there's ever been. And the consistent news coverage of the administration's interference in the state's medical marijuana laws stands to turn people off. They could be passionate marijuana advocates or people on the fence who don't want to see federal interference here, or maybe family members of medical marijuana patients whose nearest center was closed down, making their life harder.

"Who knows what kind of effect that could have," he goes on. "Ultimately, this is going to be a very close race, and we all know how big an impact 10,000 senior citizen voters in Florida had on the 2000 race. 100,000 medical marijuana patients in Colorado could have just as big an impact on the presidential election."

Whatever the case, Tvert says he's happy to highlight an Amendment 64 endorsement from any presidential candidate, be it Johnson or Obama or Romney. But he believes "there's a lot of ingrained support in the state for Libertarian candidates. Colorado is the birthplace of the Libertarian Party, and Johnson is an attractive candidate for a lot of voters regardless of this initiative. For someone who's not sure if they want to vote for Obama, and they're not interested in Romney, they have an alternative."

And that alternative could tilt the final results one way or the other.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Pat Robertson asks for Amendment 64 billboard featuring him to come down."

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