Sen. Rand Paul, GOP presidential candidate addresses his supporters during a campaign event June 29, 2015 at Chopper's Sports Grill in Denver. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Sen. Rand Paul raises marijuana money in Denver for GOP bid

Sen. Rand Paul, on Colorado pot: "I think I see it just more from a federal perspective. ... And I think the federal government ought to stay out."

For the first time ever, on Tuesday a major party candidate for President of the United States raised money from the legal weed industry.

Rand Paul, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky running for the Republican nomination for president, raked in thousands of dollars when he held a fundraiser in conjunction with the Cannabis Business Summit at the Denver Convention Center.

Later in the day he rallied with supporters and held a private fundraiser at the Denver Athletic Club.

“We have to be a more diverse party, we have to bring new people in,” Paul told a rambunctious crowd of over 200 supporters at Chopper’s Sports Grill in Denver. “If we become the party of the entire Bill of Rights, if we become the party that believes in the Sixth Amendment as much as the Second Amendment, we are going to win every election.”

He called for a more diverse party, cutting taxes and protecting privacy in a wide-ranging speech in which he also took shots at Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender, and Jeb Bush, the presumed Republican front-runner.

Before the rally at Chopper’s, Paul hosted the private fundraiser at the Convention Center, with a minimum donation of $2,700 to attend. The summit was put on by the National Cannabis Industry Association, though Paul’s fundraiser was not affiliated with the summit. Paul received a $5,000 contribution from NCIA’s Political Action Committee. This is the first time the PAC has donated to a presidential campaign.

“We are simply showing support for Senator Paul because he has shown support for us,” said Taylor West, deputy director of NCIA.

“It’s an untapped market which is awash in cash,” said Kenneth Bickers, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado, who noted Paul is unlikely to have much competition within his party for marijuana money.

In the Senate, Paul joined with Democrats to sponsor a bill that would loosen federal restrictions on medical marijuana in states where it is legal and open access to banking for medical and recreational marijuana businesses alike.

Paul declined to answer whether he would have voted in favor of Colorado’s recreational marijuna legalization, saying, “I think I see it just more from a federal perspective. … And I think the federal government ought to stay out.”

Rand Paul marijuana fundraiser in Denver
Sen. Rand Paul, GOP presidential candidate addresses his supporters during a campaign event June 29, 2015 at Chopper’s Sports Grill in Denver. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Paul is likely to enjoy better support in Colorado than in much of the country because of the state’s strong libertarian streak and its caucus system, which plays to the strengths of Paul’s young and enthusiastic supporters, analysts said.

“Much to his credit, he does have a certain appeal among young, libertarian-minded Republicans,” said Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the Colorado GOP. “He does set himself apart on so many levels.”

But Paul could struggle to broaden his appeal, especially with social conservatives and defense hawks. Wadhams described Paul’s foreign policy positions as “almost isolationist.” Paul touched on foreign policy at the rally, saying the U.S. never should have invaded Iraq.

After the rally, Paul spoke about his appeal in Colorado.

“Well I think the West, in general, people came out here to get away from government. They’re very independent minded and independent spirited,” he said. “I think I’m their candidate.”

Matthew Nussbaum: 303-954-1666, mnussbaum@denverpost.com or twitter.com/MatthewNussbaum

This story was first published on DenverPost.com