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May 10, 2013 11:14 AM Marijuana in Colorado: Bipartisan Agreement, but Partisan Voting

By Seth Masket

The Colorado state legislature adjourned for the year earlier in the week after passing a series of bills setting regulations for the legal sale of marijuana within the state. It was a pretty amazing moment, really. And even in a pretty divided legislature, members worked together across party lines to come up with some sensible regulations concerning where pot can be sold, how it can be advertised, how it can be taxed, how to determine if a driver is high, etc. But note how the Denver Post’s coverage ends:

The bills were written by a bipartisan committee and received support from both parties in the state Senate. 
But the final votes on the bills in the House on Wednesday split along party lines — Democrats voting for the measures and Republicans voting against. That division occurred even as Republicans grudgingly accepted that the last two bills needed to be passed. One of those bills, House Bill 1317, contained the most significant regulations for marijuana stores. The other, House Bill 1318, held the marijuana tax provisions.
“We do need to do something,” Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said. “And that something is House Bill 1317.”
But he joined his colleagues in voting against the bill’s repassage.

Why did Republicans, who had worked on the legislation and had spoken in support of it, ultimately vote against it?

As reporter John Ingold explained, this was partially their way of registering dissent with marijuana legalization, which Colorado’s voters as a whole approved last fall but most Republicans opposed. Some were also protesting taxing provisions in the new laws. And some may have just wanted to stick it to Democrats after a session of feeling marginalized and steamrolled

But there’s also a sense that these bills were going to pass the Democrat-controlled chambers anyway; why should Republicans help? As we learned in Frances Lee’s excellent book Beyond Ideology, divisive legislative voting behavior has a way of bleeding from ideological issues to non-ideological ones. This seems like a perfect case for such voting. After all, as with any piece of consequential legislation, this one will have victims. Some business that had planned to sell marijuana will not be able to. Someone will be improperly detained for driving while high. Some parents will come home to find their kid smoking weed she obtained from a store on the way home from school. There may as well be a party that stands to benefit from this sort of outrage in the future, and for now, that would be the Republicans.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.