NORML's Jared Polis Endorsement and Growing Power of Marijuana Voters

Jared Polis's campaign for governor of Colorado has been endorsed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' political action committee.
Jared Polis's campaign for governor of Colorado has been endorsed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' political action committee. Facebook
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law's political action committee has endorsed Representative Jared Polis's 2018 campaign for governor of Colorado. And NORML executive director Erik Altieri is psyched that Polis, a Democrat, is as enthusiastic about this backing as the venerable cannabis advocacy group is with regard to his candidacy.

"Typically, a large percentage of our endorsements are at the federal level, for the House or the Senate," acknowledges Altieri, speaking from Aspen, where NORML is holding its annual legal seminar. "I believe we've only endorsed a handful of other gubernatorial candidates — and certainly no candidate I can think of has embraced that endorsement to the degree that Jared Polis has."

Indeed, the Polis campaign has shared news of NORML's blessings on Facebook and Twitter several times. One Polis tweet reads: "Honored to have the endorsement of @NORML! I'm proud to be the only #COGov candidate who supported the legalization of recreational #marijuana, and I will continue to be an unwavering champion for our thriving #cannabis industry!"

In addition, Altieri notes, Polis "has been putting information about the endorsement in email communication to his supporters, and he's shown up at a number of NORML marijuana-related events to really let people in Colorado who care about this issue know he's with them."

Polis spokeswoman Mara Sheldon reiterates these points. "Jared has always been very outspoken on cannabis," she says. "The industry has certainly evolved since the passage of Amendment 64," the 2012 ballot measure that legalized limited sale of recreational marijuana. "It's brought revenue into the state, it's created jobs — and these are voters. We're really starting to see a new voter bloc develop."

click to enlarge Phil Murphy, who was recently elected as New Jersey's governor, is a vocal advocate for marijuana legalization. - TWITTER
Phil Murphy, who was recently elected as New Jersey's governor, is a vocal advocate for marijuana legalization.
In Altieri's opinion, an example of this phenomenon "was the recent election of Phil Murphy as governor of New Jersey. He ran to replace Chris Christie, who was a noted marijuana opponent, and Phil Murphy was very up front about cannabis. One of his main campaign planks was that he was going to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. He was originally pushing to get it done during his first 100 days in office, and while it doesn't look like it's going to happen by then, he won in a landslide; he had over 60 percent of the vote. Almost every single voter in New Jersey knew where he stood on marijuana — and he got a not-insignificant number of votes just on that issue."

Just as important, Altieri believes, is that Murphy "is a traditional Democrat who wholeheartedly embraced marijuana legalization. And I certainly wouldn't call New Jersey a liberal hippie haven in the way people talk about California and the West Coast."

Murphy's position on cannabis is "a sign of the times," he goes on, "and we're seeing that play out in the mid-term elections in a lot of states — particularly with Democrats, but even some Republicans as well. We're seeing candidates for both parties talking about marijuana legalization or at least calling for federal decriminalization, and they include that in their general stump speech or campaign websites."

That goes for potential future presidential candidates, too. "Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act is one of the most far-reaching and liberal pieces of legislation ever introduced on this topic," Altieri maintains. "You also have Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris — all the people who are on the tip of pundits' tongues when they're talking about the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. And here in Colorado, you have someone who hasn't traditionally been thought of as being on the cutting edge, Cory Gardner, leading the fight for a states'-rights approach to marijuana from the Republican perspective."

click to enlarge NORML executive director Erik Altieri. - COURTESY OF NORML
NORML executive director Erik Altieri.
Courtesy of NORML
Once a fierce opponent of marijuana legalization, Gardner has been working with NORML on legislation to protect state-legal marijuana from federal interference. Altieri acknowledges that "it's been quite an extreme turn for him, but we're glad to have his support, particularly given the current makeup of Congress. We really need legislation to be a bipartisan effort for it to go anywhere on the federal level."

As for Polis, Altieri says that "from day one when he joined Congress, he's been an outspoken champion for ending federal marijuana prohibition. He's sponsored or co-sponsored nearly every piece of marijuana-reform legislation that's been introduced, and he was one of the lead founders of the Cannabis Caucus. He has been a true and vocal ally of ours ever since he came to Washington, and that's the kind of leadership we really need to see at the state level."

Governor John Hickenlooper has been "a bit wishy-washy when it comes to supporting legal marijuana here in Colorado," Altieri feels — a sense strengthened in recent days by his vetoes of bills allowing cannabis tasting rooms and adding autism to the list of conditions treatable by MMJ. "And given where we stand with the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it's more important than ever that we have someone in the governor's mansion who will not only defend the law as it stands, but really be a proponent to other states about why this works so well and why regulation and legalization is much preferred to prohibition."

Speaking of Trump, Polis recently took him on over this tweet, which refers to him:
Shortly after this salvo went live, Polis responded with several sharp Twitter comebacks of his own — but was he disappointed the president didn't use his name? "It was very clear he was singling out Jared," spokesperson Sheldon says. "And if the president is singling you out for something you're working on in Congress, you're probably doing something right. Jared has always pushed back against Donald Trump, and it's important to stand up to a bully, to somebody who doesn't seem to have the American people's best interests at heart. Jared does, and he will continue to push back when he sees injustices taking place."

That goes for marijuana, too, she emphasizes. "Jared was the only member of the Colorado congressional delegation to vote for Amendment 64, and he's presented a lot of different pieces of legislation in Congress about treating marijuana like alcohol and different amendments in the farm bill about hemp. This is an emerging industry in our state, and he supports it."

With that in mind, Altieri argues that "the election of Jared Polis as governor of Colorado would send a strong message to candidates of both parties in all states — and I think it's a testament to the power of the marijuana vote that he's in such strong competition for first place among Democratic candidates with [Cary] Kennedy. It's not as if any of the other Democratic challengers are taking a hard-line stance against marijuana. It wouldn't be as if you'd be revoking the right to use cannabis by choosing one of the other candidates. But I do believe part of the reason Jared is where he is, running neck and neck, is the support from marijuana advocates that he's built his base on in Colorado."
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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts