Pubdate: Tue, 05 Jun 2012
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2012 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt


BOULDER (AP) - Voters in this presidential battleground state won't 
just decide whether to go red or blue this fall but also green - as 
in weed or grass.

Whether to legalize marijuana will be on the Colorado ballot in 
November. President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee 
Mitt Romney have identical stances on pot legalization - they oppose 
it. And neither is comfortable talking about it.

Yet Obama and Romney find themselves unwittingly ensnared in the 
legalization debate - and both may want to take it more seriously if 
their race in Colorado is close.

With Colorado politically divided and home to a huge number of 
independent voters, Obama and Romney are devoting money and manpower 
to winning its nine electoral votes.

The November ballot question asking Coloradans to legalize marijuana 
cuts two ways for Obama. It could draw younger voters to the polls, 
boosting the president and down-ticket Democrats. It also highlights 
the Obama administration's conflicting signals on states that buck 
the federal marijuana ban.

Legalization activists are a small but passionate group, and there 
are signs that some who turned out in large numbers here to campaign 
for Obama in 2008 have soured on the president, in no small part 
because of dismal employment prospects for younger workers.

Obama ran into Colorado's roiling pot controversy in April, when he 
spoke at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He received 
thunderous cheers when he walked on stage, but when he started with 
an innocuous thanks to the university chancellor, many students 
booed. That's because a week before, the chancellor had shut down a 
large pro-marijuana protest on campus.

On a late-night television interview with Jimmy Fallon that aired the 
same night, Obama laughed off a question about marijuana 
legalization. "We're not going to be legalizing weed - or what - 
anytime soon," the president said.

Obama has conceded he used marijuana and cocaine while he was 
college-age and called their use "bad decisions." An Obama biography 
to be published this month from David Maraniss of The Washington Post 
says Obama used pot in high school too, smoking with basketball 
buddies in a group that called themselves the "Choom Gang."

Romney has never smoked pot or used illegal drugs, a campaign 
spokeswoman said, and he has called marijuana a "gateway drug." He 
recently stumbled into the marijuana debate when he visited an oil 
rig in northeast Colorado and was visibly taken aback when a Denver 
TV reporter asked him about marijuana.

"Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" 
Romney replied, his smile not hiding his annoyance.

Activists say the candidates are wrong to overlook the possible 
importance of marijuana on Colorado ballots.

"The cannabis supporters that I run into throughout the state are 
very active, they're enthused, they want to see change and they're 
willing to make it happen. And if I were the president, I'd really 
want that enthusiasm," said Boulder lawyer Lenny Frieling, chairman 
of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform 
of Marijuana Laws.

Frieling is a Democrat who supports Obama and donated to his campaign 
in 2008. But this time, Frieling says, he's sending his money to 
local candidates in Colorado and elsewhere who are firmly in the 
pro-legalization camp. He says he'll still vote for Obama - but he's 
not giving him more money.

"Obama is just troubling, his switching positions," Frieling said.

That was a reference to a 2009 letter from Obama's attorney general 
stating that federal law enforcement would generally ignore marijuana 
users who comply with state pot laws. Yet, in 2012 alone, federal 
authorities have shut down more than 40 Colorado marijuana 
dispensaries, even though the dispensaries were complying with state 
and local law.

Another activist who organizes campaigns on local marijuana ballot 
questions in Colorado, James McVaney of Larkspur, says he and 
like-minded young activists support Obama but are less willing to 
volunteer for his campaign this year, focusing their energies on the 
marijuana initiative instead.

"I'm for legalization over Obama," McVaney said.

Colorado's past suggests that in extremely close contests, Democrats 
could benefit when pot is on the ballot.

In 2006, voters overwhelmingly rejected pot legalization. But in the 
same election, Democrat Bill Ritter was elected after eight years of 
Republican rule in the governor's office, and a couple of narrow 
victories for Democrats to the state Legislature coincided with areas 
where pot activists registered dozens of young voters.

Washington and other states may see marijuana legalization on ballots 
this fall, but no other state considered a presidential battleground 
is likely to.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom