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Gazette Premium Content EDITORIAL: GOP's rejection may have link to legalized recreational pot

The Gazette editorial Published: July 2, 2014

Denver was the perfect location for the 2016 Republican National Convention. The city's flawless hosting of the 2008 Democratic convention - history's most flamboyant and successful - helped put President Barack Obama in the White House.

Denver's climate, hotels, venues, airport, mountain backdrop and mass transit system combine to offer an ideal setting for major conventions.

Despite all that, GOP leaders would prefer Dallas or Cleveland. Neither stacks up to Denver as a destination in July, not even close. So maybe it's what they don't offer that matters to people looking for a trouble free location.

A recent story in The Denver Post politely raised an issue few really care to discuss. The headline read: Is legal marijuana Denver's elephant in the room?

Of course it is. No single factor is likely to make or break a deal between a city and the GOP site selection committee. But a giant fly in the mix, regarding Denver, had to be legalized pot.

Once known for mountain air, outdoor sports and an above-average quality of life, Colorado is famous for a ganja orgy that's overblown by late-night comics and the National Geographic Channel's "Drugs, Inc." Even when the Broncos made the Super Bowl, social media were abuzz with jokes about legalized pot and the great Marijuana Bowl. Before and during a major political convention here, national dialogue would dwell on pot.

When GOP representatives came to check out Denver, they talked like most who visit our state. Visitors naturally have morbid curiosity about a state that has done more to facilitate widespread use of marijuana than any jurisdiction in modern history.

"We kept getting a lot of questions about recreational marijuana," said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call. "If it wasn't an issue, we would not have kept getting so many questions."

After all, it's not something out of sight and mind. Pot stores in Denver are like pubs in Dublin. They're everywhere.

"We had questions as to whether marijuana was likely to impact the delegate experience," Call said.

Some GOP staffers and site selection committee members wondered if pot would become a central policy issue at the convention, causing a wedge between libertarian and socially conservative factions of the party. It wasn't something they wanted as a possible centerpiece at a convention that should focus on Republican policies that result in jobs and economic growth.

The detrimental effect marijuana has on Colorado's image isn't just a stuffy old Republican concern. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a social liberal, has become an outspoken critic of the marijuana binge. He has expressed concern recreational sales will send the wrong message to children, and could discourage some businesses and conventions that might otherwise come here.

Hickenlooper isn't alone among liberal Democrats. California's Gov. Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) has joined other Democratic governors throughout the country in trying to stave off legalized pot.

"At a time of rapidly evolving attitudes toward marijuana legalization - a slight majority of Americans now support legalizing the drug - Democratic governors across the country, Mr. Brown among them, find themselves uncomfortably at odds with their own base," explained an April 5 story in the New York Times.

They're at odds because they are responsible for states that will be hurt if voters legalize pot. They fear businesses and major conventions will shun them.

We get that marijuana is nothing new. But the state's anything-goes attitude about a hallucinogenic drug - one that's clearly harmful to children - has created an image that's beginning to cost us big.

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