- - Monday, June 30, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Republican National Committee has announced that Colorado’s bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention has failed.

Less-publicly announced, however, is the proverbial elephant in the room: Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana, which may have just cost the battleground state a whopping $250 million in revenue stemming from the event. Ironically, the windfall from hosting a national Republican convention during a presidential election year would have been three times the amount state officials estimate will come from marijuana revenues to the state’s coffers in the course of a year.

While late-night talk-show hosts would have had a field day with the Mile-“High” city as the site of the Republican convention, it appears the RNC has nipped that idea in the bud.

Although RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said openly that he is personally not a fan of Colorado’s new pot law, sources I spoke with at the RNC insist that dropping Denver from the list of host cities was strictly a nuts-and-bolts business decision. Denver’s NBC-TV affiliate news reporter Brandon Rittiman also reports that the Denver effort had difficulty raising private funds and that the city was unable to offer matching public funds with which to entice the RNC — funds with which other sites, such as Dallas, were able to use to sweeten the pot.

Even if the RNC’s decision was influenced primarily by the “other” green — cold, hard cash — political onlookers agree it is likely that pot legalization did play at least some role in the decision. I was in Colorado for the RNC’s official site visit, and there was a noticeable shifting in seats and pulling of collars when the question of legalization was brought up not once — but twice — by reporters during the visit.

There were plenty of reasons to be nervous.

Colorado’s pot legalization has been in the news lately, and not in the best light. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s once-lofty projections on tax revenues from marijuana sales had to be slashed in half this spring by his own Democrat-controlled Colorado legislature when those projections fell woefully short. There was an Easter Sunday pot rally that rapidly spiraled out of control.

Problems have also arisen with pot edibles — marijuana that is mixed into edible goods such as cookies, brownies and candy — so much so that minor children have been rushed to emergency rooms after munching on edibles discovered around their homes. In one incident, a teenager who imbibed a pot edible while partying at a local hotel overdosed and jumped from a hotel balcony to his death. The public risk to minors has become so serious that the Colorado legislature rushed this summer to introduce legislation to mandate precisely how much marijuana can be baked into a pot edible — surely not our forefathers’ idea of governing’s highest purpose.

Lastly, it is hard to ignore on-the-ground, eyewitness intel that could have influenced the decision. During my visit to the battleground state this month, I walked the downtown area where the convention would have been held and noticed a marked change to Denver’s downtown area from just one year ago — most notably, Denver’s famous 16th Street Mall. Once filled with families and tourists, the main drag downtown is now filled with panhandlers and people who presumably have come into the area for Colorado’s pot trade. Add this new mix of proprietors to the nearly 100,000 Republicans who would converge on the city, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Methinks the RNC did not want to engage in a roundup of pot dealers in the days and weeks leading up to the convention.

Now, with an estimated $250 million in revenue now lost along with the Denver bid, officials in Colorado must ask themselves: Is the risk to public safety, the risk to minor children, and the loss of a quarter-billion dollars of convention and tourism revenue worth its new marijuana law?

Jennifer Kerns served as communications director for last fall’s successful Colorado recall elections and is a former spokesman for the California Republican Party.

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