Pro-marijuana candidate Miguel Lopez to challenge John Hickenlooper for Democratic guv nomination

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Yesterday, we pointed out that the Mile High NORML Cannabis Rally, slated to begin at 11:30 a.m. this morning across the street from the west steps of the capitol, would feature a special blessing by Reverend James Marks of the THC Ministry.

But that's hardly the only noteworthy event on the agenda. At approximately 12:30 p.m., Miguel Lopez, a boardmember of Mile High NORML and the organizer of the assembly, will announce his candidacy for governor. "I will be running as a Democrat," Lopez says. "But I'll also be promoting the ideas and beliefs of the U.S. Marijuana Party," whose motto is, "A vote you can smoke."

Lopez, a Colorado native who graduated from North High School and attended Metro State, describes himself as a lifelong Democrat. But he's best known in these parts as the director of the Denver 420 Rally, whose third iteration will take place on, naturally, April 20. Lopez says he's already received a city permit for the bash.

Regarding his platform for governor, Lopez -- the first pot advocate to run since the late Ken Gorman, who was a write-in candidate in 1994 and 1998 -- espouses a number of policies that initially seem unrelated to marijuana, although he gives most of them a weed-friendly spin. For instance, he plans to balance the state's budget in part through "economic and job growth from the booming marijuana industry." In the short term, he'd like to see "fair, reasonable and common-sense regulation" of medical marijuana, although his eventual goal is to see "full decriminalization for responsible adults."

He's also a strong advocate of medical marijuana patient-rights as well as an improved relationship between law enforcement and weed backers. "I want to push for higher morale in the police department by offering a pay increase at the same time we ask for greater accountability and professionalism," he says. The idea is to squelch "the animosity of law enforcement, which has argued against marijuana decriminalization, and nurture respect between them and the marijuana community."

Why run? In part because Lopez believes most current officeholders either don't understand marijuana or approach the issue with hypocrisy. "I worked at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House as a bartender for a while, and I'd serve Councilman [Charlie] Brown and the mayor [John Hickenlooper] their liquor and watch them drink. And yet they want to put all of these limits on us."

Clearly, Lopez's bid represents the longest of shots -- but he's enthusiastic about raising awareness of marijuana-related issues at events like today's rally, which he's hoping will emphasize the credibility of the pro-weed faction.

Not everyone's convinced that will happen: Lopez confirms that Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, who was previously announced as a speaker, will not attend because of his suspicion that some attendees will be smoking marijuana at the rally, potentially trivializing the proceedings. Lopez, too, stresses that "this is a serious thing, not a NORML pot-smoking social circle." But, he adds, "We believe in the fundamentals of this country of people speaking out, and if people over the age of eighteen choose to engage in a form of civil disobedience, we want them to do it for a purpose.

"I think the marijuana community can come forward with the proper direction to be a positive and productive influence on the community," he declares. And his gubernatorial candidacy is intended as a step in that direction.

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