WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Coffman said he did not vote for or endorse the Colorado initiative that would legalize less than an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
But the Lone Tree Republican supports a proposal that would bar the federal government from prosecuting the residents of states that approve pot-friendly laws.
Why? As he said in a press release days after the Nov. 6 election, he has “an obligation to respect the will of voters given the passage of the initiative …”
Those are not just any voters either. Many are in his congressional district, the 6th, which encompasses many of Denver’s suburban neighborhoods.
Consider the returns from the largest county in Coffman’s district, Arapahoe, where the measure passed by a 20,000-vote margin (149,711 to 129,460).
Coffman won the race by fewer than 7,000 votes.
Coffman is not the only House Republican who has signed on to the measure, the Respect States’ and Citizen’s Rights Act of 2012. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is also a signatory.
But Paul has announced his plan to retire at the end of the congressional session in early January. Although Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver, the sponsor of the measure, said it enjoys bipartisan support, Coffman is the only Republican who has signed on to her proposal who will be in Congress next session.
The other supporters of the measure are Democrats. Some represent liberal-leaning districts, such as Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Sam Farr of California. Others represent big-city seats, such as Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Steve Cohen of Tennessee. And some represent Colorado, such as Jared Polis of Boulder and Ed Perlmutter of Lakewood.
Backers have cast their position as a response to an overweening federal government.
“In Colorado, we’ve witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government, in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens,” DeGette said.
Yet this leave-us-alone pitch has not won wide support among the Washington delegation.
Of the 18 congressmen currently listed as co-sponsors of DeGette’s measure, none represent Washington State, which joined Colorado earlier this month in legalizing marijuana possession for adults.
While Coffman’s Colorado district contains nearly an equal mix of registered Democrats and Republicans, his Republican colleagues in Washington State represent safer districts, even those in which drug legalization passed with majority support.
Rep. Dave Reichert, who represents Washington’s Pierce and King Counties, is a good example. Both counties supported Washington’s Measure 502 by large margins. Yet Reichert cruised to a 19-point victory over his Democratic opponent.
The other three House Republicans from Colorado — Scott Tipton of Cortez, Cory Gardner of Yuma, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs — have also so far declined to sign on to DeGette’s bill as co-sponsors.
Lawmakers hesitant about decrimalization efforts can find political cover for backing the federal policy of prohibition. National public opinion surveys on the issue suggest that voters remain closely divided on the issue of marijuana legalization. A post-election ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 48 percent supported and 50 percent opposed “the possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use.”
Advocates of treating marijuana like alcohol – allowing its regulated use by those over 21 – point to Amendment 64’s ten point victory in Colorado as evidence that public opinion on the issue is shifting. The legalization measure passed by a whopping 200,000 vote margin — some 50,000 more votes than Barack Obama received for president in the state.
With Republicans in control of the House, prospects for DeGette’s measure are uncertain at best. Its sponsors have not predicted that the measure will be approved this year.