Colorado Christian University calls on legislators to reject campaign donations from marijuana industry

Author: Ernest Luning - October 13, 2017 - Updated: October 14, 2017

Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt introduces U.S. Rep. Ken Buck to discuss his book "Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse than You Think" on April 10, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt introduces U.S. Rep. Ken Buck to discuss his book “Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse than You Think” on April 10, 2017, at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

In a stern letter to state lawmakers, the president of Colorado Christian University and the director of the school’s conservative think tank on Thursday called on legislators to refuse campaign donations from the marijuana industry, saying the legalized drug “has devastated Colorado by nearly every metric.”

“It has come to our attention that state legislators are accepting campaign donations from the marijuana industry. As educators and researchers, we hope this is not the case. Marijuana has devastated Colorado by nearly every metric and we are particularly concerned about marijuana’s health impact on youth,” CCU President Dr. Donald Sweeting and Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt wrote.

“Colorado Christian University asks that you audit your donations for any money given by the marijuana industry and donate those funds to marijuana youth prevention and recovery organizations. We are happy to meet with you to discuss marijuana’s devastating impacts on Colorado. We look forward to your leadership on this issue and your work to make Colorado a better state for its citizens and especially its young people,” they concluded.

The letter cited news stories and reports by government officials and health organizations that paint an alarming picture of marijuana’s health effects and its impact on young Colorado residents.

Marijuana industry representatives, however, dismissed CCU’s demands as “a PR stunt” and “fundraising ploy,” while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the pot industry — authorized by a constitutional amendment approved by voters five years ago — should have its voice heard at the Capitol.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that a legitimate, legal industry that is so highly taxed and so highly regulated wants to have a voice in government,” Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican, told Colorado Politics. “We are the majority in the state Senate, and they want to make sure they’re being heard. That’s an opportunity all businesses have in Colorado. That’s an opportunity all individuals have in Colorado. We can’t ignore it — it is part of the state constitution, and it does require certain regulation and certain taxation, and we have to pay attention to it.”

Grantham noted the Centennial Institute has been among the more prominent critics of legalized marijuana in Colorado and said no one should be surprised by the letter.

“More power to them,” Grantham said. “I think they will continue to be a good friend to us while continuing to lead that charge against some of the more destructive qualities of marijuana in Colorado. But as far as the other aspects of this, the donations, etc., that will be up to individual members what they want to do.”

Regardless, Grantham said, the industry has a right to make campaign contributions.

“They donate to all four caucuses, which is kind of what you expect in this world from a legitimate, legal industry that is arguably the most heavily regulated and heavily taxed in the entire state,” he said. “They are looking to make sure that they have a voice in the Capitol, and to find that they donate to Republicans and Democrats and senators and representative across the board and across the spectrum should not surprise anyone.”

The spotlight landed on the pot industry’s support for politicians earlier this week when industry leaders threw a joint fundraiser with the Senate Majority Fund, an operation devoted to electing Republican senators.

Hunt told Colorado Politics the fundraiser isn’t what prompted the letter.

“Marijuana industry campaign donations are becoming more prevalent and accepted by political parties in Colorado. For the future of young people in Colorado, we think all political parties should choose not to accept marijuana industry campaign donations,” he said.

“Marijuana millionaires seeking to influence the political process is not good for Colorado. We don’t want public policy determined in closed-door, marijuana smoke-filled rooms. For the past three and half years, the marijuana industry demonstrated they have one goal: hook as many people as they can on this dangerous drug. We don’t want their drug money influencing politics,” Hunt added.

Dan Anglin, chairman of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce board of directors, rejected Hunt’s argument and applauded the lawmakers working with the industry.

“It would seem that Jeff Hunt’s threatening letter is not much more than a PR stunt — a fundraising ploy for the wealthy and well-connected to influence government on how to rollback freedoms already established in the Colorado constitution,” Anglin told Colorado Politics.

“How encouraging to see our most stalwart conservatives all the way across the aisle to our progressive legislators building relationships and dialoguing with Colorado’s fastest-growing industry,” he said. “They continue to work together on the best cannabis regulatory structure in the country while maintaining a true commitment to the people of Colorado. Bravo legislators, and keep up the good work.”

State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat and candidate for state treasurer, denounced Hunt and Sweeting’s demand in strong terms.

“Marijuana literally saves lives,” Lebsock told Colorado Politics. “We have families in Colorado who use medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, arthritis, glaucoma, chrinic pain, cancer, epilepsy. People who are anti-marijuana are literally advocating against PTSD treatment for veterans and first responders. The anti-marijuana crowd is deliberatly and blatantly advocating against our Colorado state constitution.”

Ian Silverii, executive director of left-leaning advocacy organization ProgressNow Colorado and a regular Hunt sparring partner, rebuffed CCU’s letter with a demand of his own.

“I think it’s terrific that Jeff Hunt is being consistent in his disdain for marijuana and the commerce it brings to Colorado and, apparently, Republican campaign coffers as well,” Silverii said. “However, I suppose if he’s truly concerned with the ill effects certain industries have on the good people of our state, he should demand that all politicians return all of the money they get from firearms, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and any other industry that produces a product that someone, somewhere deems dangerous. It’s the only way to be truly consistent, after all.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.