Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Tom Tancredo wants to turn marijuana into the toke of the town

Pot Party

Tom Tancredo has never inhaled. In fact, he's never even tried pot. So when he says that marijuana should be legalized, there's no need to ask what he's been smoking.

Legalizing marijuana might seem an unlikely crusade for the controversial former congressman whose campaign against illegal immigration inspired a run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, but it's no pipe dream for Tancredo. "A lot of what pushed me into this position was watching what happened on the border," he explains. "The issue of violence that surrounds it — not just on the border — and the crime all over the place. The number of people in prison and the amount we spend to keep them there. The broken families."

When you add it all up, "when you put all the stuff on the scales" — so to speak — "there's no question," he says. "It tips automatically to the legalization side."

When Tancredo subbed as a talk-show host on KOA a week ago, "all anyone wanted to talk about was marijuana," he notes. The conversation started with a cop who lived in Aurora and said he'd "never been accosted on the scene by someone who'd smoked marijuana." After that, the phone never stopped ringing. "Every argument that's been given to me to keep drugs classified as illegal applies to alcohol," Tancredo continues. "I just don't see any great move for Prohibition anymore."

Although ending the War on Drugs was never the issue that got Tancredo the most attention during his ten years in Congress, never got him banned from the White House by Karl Rove as "a traitor to the president," as did his criticism of President George W. Bush's immigration policies in 2002, every year Tancredo would vote for an amendment to the Department of Justice funding bill, one that included language prohibiting any monies from being used to "enforce any drug laws in contradiction to state law."

Last week, the Barack Obama administration finally directed the Justice Department to stay away from prosecuting users and providers in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. That's led to a boom in dispensaries — and a parallel boom in municipalities trying to come up with their own laws to regulate them. "I worry that there will be a backlash that will not be helpful," Tancredo says. Legalizing marijuana, on the other hand, would remove the need to come up with such regulations.

Tancredo is now the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation. The nonprofit has three policy centers, including the Center for Energy Policy and the Center for Individual Liberty, which is pushing for an end to the War on Drugs. The third is the Center for Immigration and Citizenship. Not surprisingly, that's the issue that still has Tancredo crisscrossing the country for speaking engagements, including one at a Constitutional Party meeting in Phoenix last week. "They want me to run for president," says Tancredo.

But Tancredo's already done that, and he has a better idea: Maybe he'll run against John McCain for his Senate seat. There's the little matter of Tancredo living in Colorado and McCain in Arizona, but he knows just how easy it is to cross borders and break down barriers. "That would be a real way to rebrand the Republican Party," Tancredo says, and laughs.

"I can't smoke any dope at least while that's on the horizon."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun