Yesterday, the first cannabis stores opened for business in Colorado, the first visible impact of Amendment 64, passed on November 6th, 2012, regulating marijuana similar to alcohol sales. Adults 21 years or older can possess 3 mature and 3 immature cannabis plants and can carry up to one ounce while traveling in Colorado. One ounce can also be gifted to other 21 and older individuals. Individuals from out-of-state can purchase one quarter of an ounce.
While the numbers will not be official until February, the state estimates that it profited over $1 million in taxes just on opening sales on January 1st. Economically, marijuana sales could effectively erase Colorado’s debt and fund educational, environmental, and energy programs that have been in the queue for some time, but the repercussions to the unique political climate of Colorado may never recover and may push conservative Coloradans to strengthen their resolve on their threats to secede and become a 51st state.
Colorado is a uniquely purple state, issues such as gun control, same sex marriage, the death penalty and the legalization of marijuana threaten to tear Colorado into two states. In the most recent November elections, 11 counties cited grievances of Denver-led politics being at odds with the most fundamental issues of rural livelihood, such as water, oil, hunting, and agriculture. The proposal would create “New Colorado” or “North Colorado” out of the 11 counties, all of which are located in the Northern region of Colorado. the new capital would be Greeley known for its meat packing industries.
When asked about the divide spurring the secessionist movement, most indicated that Coloradans do not draw the line between Republicans and Democrats, but rather with the clash of the urbanite yuppy Hickenlooper and his city folk and the rural concerns of the boonies. Issues such as gun control and water regulations have a different definition to rural and urban residents, a common theme when discussing shootings in Columbine and Aurora and rights to bear arms. Such disparities cannot be overcome and must be taken into careful consideration when developing state-wide policies.
While Colorado technically loses money on most rural areas of Colorado, such as the 11 secessionist counties due to them paying less in taxes than their state-funded benefits cost, Hickenlooper states that he does not want to lose the valuable diversity that the complete state of Colorado provides. Secession would only be achieved if the counties’ vote were to be followed by a positive result in both houses as well as a state-wide vote. In November, out of the 11 counties that proposed secession, 6 of them voted down the proposal indicating that the largely symbolic movement is more of a push towards moderate governing and legislation that is not the product of the dominantly democratic government in Denver, but rather policies which reflect the diverse populace in Colorado.
For many Coloradans this movement brought a moment of realization; politics are different in Colorado than in Washington, the word moderate means something here. Republicans are concerned about conservation of the environment and often view social issues in libertarian terms and Democrats are cautious of gun control and water issues that threaten the livelihood of agricultural practices and hunting rights.
Gov. Hickenlooper stated that he believes that this movement has opened up debates regarding the fragile balance of liberal and conservative ideals in Colorado. He believes that the state will be stronger as a result. Colorado will only be stronger if Democrats and Republicans compromise within the context of Colorado politics, leaving national discords aside.
Colorado has the unique opportunity to move the nation, combining interests, traditionally party line breaker issues, such as legalization of marijuana, gay marriage and gun control in order to produce effective legislation representative of our diverse nation. If Colorado can come to terms with these difficult balances, perhaps it can set the example for Washington, D.C. and other purple states to follow. If compromise and unity is achieved in Colorado, these politicians can take lessons learned back to Washington to help negotiate compromise across the aisle on seemingly deal-breaker basic issues that hinder our government from effectively functioning. The potential is there to impact resolution in a less than optimistic political environment.