Last updated on May 24, 2020
Politico has a great piece out today how U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R. CO), who is absolutely one of the most vulnerable incumbent GOP Senators this election cycle, used to have the cannabis industry’s support in the U.S. Senate. But thanks to U.S. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R. KY) and his fellow anti-marijuana Senate Republican colleagues, they have caused Gardner to become an ineffective ally for the cannabis industry:
If the election comes down to a tight race in November — as many think it will — the politically active cannabis industry could prove to be a kingmaker.
Colorado strategists say a cannabis win would give Gardner’s campaign a much-needed boost and activate the political arm of the state’s influential cannabis industry, which came out strong for now-Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, in the 2018 election. The industry is a political powerhouse: Its lack of party alignment makes it a coveted ally for politicians on both sides of the aisle who want to show they can bring jobs and tax revenue to the state.
But so far, the GOP’s most ardent promoter of cannabis in Congress hasn’t delivered any legislative wins for the state’s $1.7 billion, rapidly growing cannabis industry, where marijuana was legalized in 2012. The two major cannabis bills Gardner sponsors — one to increase access to banking and capital for the cannabis industry and one to codify federal protections for states that choose to legalize marijuana — have not advanced in the Senate at all, despite the banking bill passing the House with a bipartisan majority last fall. Gardner does not support any bill that would legalize cannabis nationwide.
“At some point, I have to go to Cory Gardner and say, ‘Why should the industry continue to support you?’” said Marijuana Policy Project’s Don Murphy, a former Republican lawmaker in Maryland. “I know you’re trying, but you’re not getting anything.”
Gardner has one major opportunity left to prove he can bring cannabis legislation home for Coloradans: He needs to add language that would give marijuana companies access to financial services — the industry’s No. 1 legislative priority — into a coronavirus aid package. Cannabis banking language was included in the House’s $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, but that proposal has been dismissed by Senate Republicans, and the cannabis provision ridiculed by McConnell.
Gardner was noticeably silent on the subject until this week, when he broke with Senate leaders to call for a new coronavirus relief package that includes cannabis banking. Despite the resistance from within his own caucus, many lawmakers, advocates and strategists say Gardner continues to work behind the scenes to rally support for the banking legislation. Last week, he met with top White House adviser Jared Kushner to tout cannabis banking as a tool for economic recovery, said a friend of Gardner’s and two lobbyists.
“I think it’s dangerous if the narrative is out there that Gardner is bad on cannabis, because it would turn cannabis into a partisan issue. And it isn’t right now,” said Sal Pace, former Colorado House Democratic leader and board member of the Cannabis Voter Project. Polling data shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization, including a majority of Republicans.
More than a dozen Democratic legislators and several progressive organizations on Tuesday demanded that Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner pledge he won’t vote for Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader after the fall election.
The left-leaning Coloradans cited McConnell’s support for business interests and his recent suggestion that local governments should “take the bankruptcy route” in the face of a fiscal crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic as reasons they think Gardner should repudiate the Kentucky Republican.
“When you were first elected to the Senate, it was on a pledge to be an independent voice for Coloradans.,” wrote the group in a one-page letter delivered to Gardner’s office. “Now, keeping your word means making a different pledge: that if re-elected, you will not vote for Mitch McConnell as your party’s leader in the Senate.”
The Politico article notes that Hickenlooper vetoed three bills as Governor to legalize marijuana in the state leaving it up to the voters to legalize it at the polls. Hickenlooper has changed his viewpoint on marijuana legalization and is even making the argument that he can be a more effective leader on this issue than Gardner:
Hickenlooper’s campaign said as governor, he helped Colorado become a model for marijuana legalization, and he would be a friend to the industry going forward.
“As senator, John will fight for federal decriminalization, to declassify cannabis from Schedule I, and actually pass banking reform — something Sen. Gardner has failed to get through Mitch McConnell’s Senate,” Deputy Communications Director Alyssa Roberts said. Removing cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act would lift the federal ban on marijuana.
Of course Hickenlooper still has to win the primary against Andrew Romanoff (D. CO) but Hickenlooper picked up some big endorsements this week:
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a trio of former City Council members were among several African American leaders Friday to back John Hickenlooper’s bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Hickenlooper, a former Colorado governor and a predecessor of Hancock’s as mayor, is competing against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the June 30 primary. The winner will take on first-term Sen. Cory Gardner in November.
Hancock was joined in endorsing Hickenlooper by former Councilman Albus Brooks and former Councilwomen Alegra “Happy” Haynes — the current Denver parks director and a former Denver Public Schools board member — and Elbra Wedgeworth, who retired last year from an executive position at Denver Health.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to see (Hickenlooper’s) work up close, uniting mayors across the Denver metro area to make FasTracks a reality, deliver affordable health care for people across the state and rebuild Colorado’s economy while honoring every Coloradan,” Hancock said in a news release. “We need more leaders with strong executive experience who know how to get things done, and John is definitely that kind of leader.”
Friday afternoon, Romanoff’s campaign removed an outdated listing of Haynes’ earlier support, prior to Hickenlooper’s entry into the race.
The other supporters announced Friday by Hickenlooper’s campaign are state Rep. James Coleman of Denver and three school board members: Angela Garland in Cherry Creek, Stephanie Mason in Aurora and Margaret Wright in Pueblo.
The political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday endorsed former two-term Gov. John Hickenlooper in the Democrat’s bid for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Cory Gardner.
“John Hickenlooper has been a long-standing advocate for all people from his time as mayor of Denver to his time as governor of Colorado,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the New York Democrat who chairs the CBCPAC, in a statement. “I am proud to announce the Congressional Black Caucus PAC’s support for John’s campaign for U.S. Senate.”
Added Meeks: “John has proven he will stand up for the communities that he represents, and the people of Colorado will have no better champion in the United States Senate than him. We look forward to working with John in the Senate to advance our shared values.”
Calling him a “bold, progressive leader,” the local chapter of an organization spun off from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is throwing its support behind Andrew Romanoff in Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary.
In its endorsement, announced Wednesday, Our Revolution Metro Denver said it found Romanoff’s progressive bona fides “unmatched among Colorado candidate for U.S. Senate,” citing his advocacy for “addressing the climate crisis, rebuilding our broken healthcare system, and getting big money out of politics at every level.”
The group also pointed to Romanoff’s “unique blending of a progressive vision for our country with his extensive legislative experience,” noting the former speaker of the Colorado House won national recognition as a top public official.
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