Tom Tancredo is many things to many people: a conservative firebrand, staunch anti-immigration activist, a 2010 Colorado gubernatorial candidate, a former Republican congressman, but last week he took on another provocative title -- marijuana legalization advocate.
Tancredo, a surprising ally of the progressive movement to legalize marijuana, wrote a column for The Gazette on the "pro" side of a marijuana legalization debate. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers served as the "con" point of view for the piece. Tancredo writes:
I am endorsing Amendment 64 not despite my conservative beliefs, but because of them.
Throughout my career in public policy and in public office, I have fought to reform or eliminate wasteful and ineffective government programs. There is no government program or policy I can think of that has failed in such a unique way as marijuana prohibition.
Our nation is spending tens of billions of dollars annually in an attempt to prohibit adults from using a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol.
Yet marijuana is still widely available in our society. We are not preventing its use; we are merely ensuring that all of the profits from the sale of marijuana (outside the medical marijuana system) flow to the criminal underground.
"Congressman Tancredo's endorsement proves that Amendment 64 isn't a Republican or Democratic issue -– it's an issue of common sense, and doing what's best for the State of Colorado," Mason Tvert, co-director of the group behind Amendment 64 -- the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol -- said to The Huffington Post. "Many people are familiar with Congressman Tancredo and appreciate his opinions. In this case, his opinion is that marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that wastes taxpayer dollars."
Tvert added: "We are excited to have the support of someone who received more than 650,000 votes in the 2010 Colorado race for governor. Regardless of whether you agree with him on other political issues, it is clearly beneficial to have his endorsement."
Tancredo, who ran for governor of Colorado in 2010 as a Constitution party candiate and was defeated by Democrat John Hickenlooper, finds himself once again on opposite sides of the philosophical spectrum of Gov. Hickenlooper who came out against Amendment 64 earlier this month.
“Colorado is known for many great things –- marijuana should not be one of them," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK."
To which Tvert had strong words for the governor. "Governor Hickenlooper's statement today ranks as one of the most hypocritical statements in the history of politics," Tvert said. "After building a personal fortune by selling alcohol to Coloradans, he is now basing his opposition to this measure on concerns about the health of his citizens and the message being sent to children. We certainly hope he is aware that alcohol actually kills people. Marijuana use does not. The public health costs of alcohol use overall are approximately eight times greater per person than those associated with marijuana. And alcohol use is associated with violent crime. Marijuana use is not."
Tancredo, who says he doesn't use marijuana but says that it is "objectively less harmful than alcohol," also drew comparisons to marijuana and alcohol prohibition in his column for The Gazette, saying that 80 years ago Colorado ended the "misguided" policy of alcohol prohibition and now, this November, have the chance to repeat history by ending marijuana prohibition.
Hickenlooper's statement that Amendment 64 has the "potential to increase the number of children using drugs" is debatable at best. A recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that marijuana use among Colorado minors is going down, while it is simultaneously going up nationally. The drop in usage by Colorado teens as seen in the CDC data -- a drop below the national average -- coincides with the same period that the medical marijuana industry developed in the state, between 2009 and 2011.
Marijuana legalization advocates point to the data as sign that regulation is helping reduce marijuana use amongst minors. Tvert told The Huffington Post "that even the partial regulation of marijuana can make it harder for young people to get their hands on marijuana. By regulating all marijuana sales, we can further reduce teen access and use."
And a 2011 study from economists at University of Colorado Denver and Montana State University may backs that claim up. "Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption" by Daniel I. Rees, from UCD, and D. Mark Anderson, from MSU looked at state level data from the more than a dozen states that had passed medical marijuana laws at the time of the study. Rees and Anderson found that there was no evidence of an increase in marijuana usage among minors in the states surveyed.
Tancredo is not alone among conservatives in his support for marijuana legalization. Back in July, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol ran a billboard in Colorado featuring conservative evangelical leader Pat Robertson who has become another surprising voice calling for an end to marijuana prohibition.
Tancredo also told The Denver Post's Lynn Bartells that other conservative leaders like "William F. Buckley Jr., George Will, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Milton Friedman" have also voiced support for pot legalization.
Amendment 64 has received support from both Democrats and Republicans in Colorado, the NAACP, former cops and other members of the law enforcement community as well as more than 100 professors from around the nation. The measure appears to be popular among Colorado voters with several recent state polls showing wide support.
If marijuana is legalized in Colorado it would be taxed and regulated similar to alcohol and tobacco. It would give state and local governments the ability to control and tax the sale of small amounts of marijuana to adults age 21 and older. According to the Associated Press, analysts project that that tax revenue could generate somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year in the state. An economist whose study was funded by a pro-pot group projects as much as a $60 million boost by 2017 -- a study which Tancredo cites in his piece for The Gazette.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state will all be considering whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use this November. This is the second time that Colorado voters will decide on pot legislation -- state voters considered and rejected a similar recreational pot legalization initiative in 2006.