Marijuana: Ken Buck says Amendment 64 backers care more about profit than people

New update below: The campaign supporting Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, treated news that Weld County DA Ken Buck had taken a high-profile role with Smart Colorado, an organization devoted to defeating the measure, as a cause to celebrate, portraying him as a polarizing figure, particularly for women voters. In response, Buck suggests that the supporters of the measure are putting profits ahead of people.

Buck, who was narrowly defeated by Michael Bennet in the 2010 race for a U.S. Senate seat, has long denied that he's a warrior against women -- a narrative used by opponents to characterize his support of the so-called Personhood Amendment, his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and a joke about high heels that was taken the wrong way. But when it comes to marijuana regulation, he believes "voters are going to be able to distinguish personalities from issues -- and I think it's important that we focus on the safety of children and others in our community and not talk about distortions that arise out of past political campaigns. This is an issue-oriented campaign we're running, and I hope the other side does the same."

With this in mind, Buck directs his statements on the potential repercussions of making marijuana widely available for adult-recreational use. If Amendment 64 passes, he predicts that "we're going to see a proliferation of marijuana and a proliferation of young people using marijuana. We're going to see expulsion and dropout rates increase in our K-12 system. Really, I think this is a very simple equation: It is a profit-versus-people debate."

The Yes on 64 campaign has depicted Buck as the spokesman for Smart Colorado, but he feels that definition is premature. "I don't know what role I'm going to play," he says. "I just got involved a week ago, and I'm trying to help get the leadership group together. I'm happy to talk on the issue, and I will be speaking publicly on the issue as often as possible. But I imagine that when we get up and running, we will hire a spokesperson to deal with the media and other groups as it comes up."

In the meantime, there's a large disparity between the various camps when it comes to funds collected to date -- around $2 million for the pro-64 group as compared to approximately $15,000 for Smart Colorado. Buck doesn't expect this gap to linger over the long term. "I think the fundraising numbers will go up" for the No on 64 outfit, he maintains. "Ultimately, this will involve a lot of grassroots organizing around the state as well as a media buy close to the election -- but we can't get outspent and hope to get our message out on this issue."

Not that he begrudges advocates from out of state from contributing to either side. "I think it makes sense that there's going to be national money," he allows. However, he draws a contrast between "people who have a profit motive and a group that has a concern about the health of our children. That's the real difference on this issue. For people involved in the marijuana industry, this is an investment in their future. For people opposed, the investment is in our children."

Update, 10:02 a.m. June 12: After we posted the interview with Amendment 64 opponent Ken Buck above, Yes on 64 spokeswoman Betty Aldworth responded with these comments via e-mail:

"We are pleased to see Ken Buck calling for an issue-oriented campaign. We are completely on-board. We hope, however, that he develops a greater understanding of the issues involved as the campaign progresses. He suggests that he is on the side of children, while supporting the continuation of marijuana prohibition which makes unregulated marijuana widely available to teens on the streets. We noted in a release last week that teen use of cigarettes has dropped significantly in the U.S. since regulations on sales were enforced. We should be doing the same for marijuana.

With respect to profits, Mr. Buck is completely out of touch if he doesn't recognize that there are already huge profits associated with the sale of non-medical marijuana. But they are all going into the underground market, with a significant share of the profits ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. We want marijuana sold by taxed and regulated Colorado businesses. Mr. Buck prefers the drug cartel model."

Original item, June 11, followed by update: Why would the campaign supporting Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act celebrate the naming of an opponent to the measure, which has been approved for the November ballot?

Because said frontman is Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, whose attempt to unseat Senator Michael Bennet failed in large part because of poor support among women voters -- the very demographic the Yes on 64 camp sees as a key to victory.

As you'll recall, Buck was portrayed by opponents during the 2010 race against Bennet as anti-woman due to his support of the so-called Personhood Amendment, which held that life begins at the moment of conception, and his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. And then there was his assertion that one reason to vote for him was because "I do not wear high heels" -- a quip about then-Republican opponent Jane Norton that backfired.

Such gaffes helped Bennet become one of the few major national Democratic candidates in competitive races not to be swept under by the 2010 Republican tsunami. Meanwhile, it painted Buck with a reputation that pro-64 spokeswoman Betty Aldworth takes pleasure in spotlighting when referring to a Denver Post article that mentions Smart Colorado, a No on 64 outfit whose leadership group Buck is reportedly organizing.

"Ken Buck has demonstrated over and over again that he's disconnected from the concerns of women in this state," Aldworth says. "And what we've been talking about from the beginning of this campaign -- ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition -- is going to rest on the shoulders of women in Colorado. And women are concerned about this issue."

They're not alone. A new Rasmussen poll shows 61 percent of those surveyed back either legalizing or regulating marijuana. And while it's unclear from information released to date how the totals break down gender-wise, the Yes on 64 crowd has been working hard to make marijuana regulation attractive to women. Here, for example is the art for a billboard erected near Mile High stadium in April:

Aldworth acknowledges that fewer women use marijuana medically or recreationally than do men. However, she adds, "we also know marijuana prohibition impacts families and communities in ways women are very connected to. This is as much a women's issue as any other family, community or health-care-related issue -- and you don't have to be a marijuana user to understand that marijuana prohibition harms families and communities."

The aforementioned Post article also points out the extreme disparity between the amount of money raised to date in favor of 64 (nearly $2 million, most of it from out of state) and against it (about $15,000). But Aldworth notes that "while our campaign is more well-funded to this point, we've been running for a very long time, and Smart Colorado incorporated not very long ago. They took their first donations just over a month ago."

Moreover, she continues, "our government has spent billions of dollars demonizing marijuana over the past 75 years in order to maintain the status quo of marijuana prohibition. And now we see our opposition employing high-profile professional 'volunteer' staff members to continue pushing the same, antiquated messages.

"We are working with a drop in the bucket compared to what has been spent to keep marijuana illegal, but the people are clearly on our side," and "despite the overwhelming support we are receiving from Colorado and beyond, we cannot -- and will not -- become complacent."

The same thinking applies to Buck's role. Yet Aldworth concedes that his "selection as spokesperson for the No on 64 campaign comforts us, because we know that if as many women support 64 as opposed Mr. Buck in 2010, we will certainly end marijuana prohibition in Colorado in November."

Update, 12:17 p.m. June 11: The folks at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) just shared demographic information about the newly released Rasmussen survey showing 61 percent of respondents favored regulation or decriminalization of marijuana. According to the info outlined in more detail below, 65 percent of men support the legalization and regulation of cannabis, while 57 percent of women feel likewise. Those numbers are a bit lower when specifics are included -- like, for instance, selling marijuana from a pharmacy as opposed to another retail location. And it wins big among supporters of President Barack Obama, but is rejected by most proponents of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Just as important is the amount of movement on the issue that's taken place over the past two years or so. In May 2010, according to Rasmussen, only 49 percent of those surveyed supported the taxation and regulation of marijuana.

Here's an excerpt from a Rasmussen release:

The survey of 500 Likely Voters in Colorado was conducted on June 6, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) in Colorado favor legalizing pot if it can only be sold in pharmacies, while 29% are opposed. Fourteen percent (14%) are not sure. Support for this measure is similar to that measured on the national level.

However, while 43% in the state believe legalizing the drug and restricting sale to pharmacies would reduce the amount of drug dealers in America, just as many (41%) disagree. Seventeen percent (17%) more are not sure. This shows slightly less optimism in Colorado than voters express nationally.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of male voters in Colorado favor the legalization and regulation of pot, as do 57% of female voters.

Voters under 40 (69%) show the greatest support for the measure, though 59% of those between the ages of 40 and 64 also are in favor. Those over 65 are evenly divided.

Most Democrats (75%) and voters not affiliated with either major political party (69%) favor legalizing and regulating pot, but just 39% of Republicans agree.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of voters who favor legalizing the drug if it is only sold in pharmacies support President Obama in the presidential election, while 36% of those voters back Mitt Romney. Romney leads among those who oppose such a measure by a 63% to 29% margin. The two men are now tied among all voters in the state.

Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper was the mayor of Denver when the city approved legalizing possession of marijuana under one ounce, making it the first major U.S. city to do so. Fifty-six percent (56%) approve of the job Hickenlooper has been doing as governor, while 36% disapprove.

In May 2010, 49% of the state's voters favored legalizing and taxing marijuana.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Colorado Democratic Party convention supports Amendment 64."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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