Each Saturday, we have been running a series of blog posts that take a close look at each of the Democratic Party candidates for President in 2020. We examine each candidate’s historic approach to marijuana law and policy, and we also canvas their current respective stances on marijuana.
Over the past six weeks, we covered Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg and Corey Booker. Today, we turn to former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
Stance on marijuana: Beto O’Rourke has advocated for legalization of marijuana for almost a decade. As stated on O’Rourke’s website, if elected, he would end cannabis prohibition and expunge the arrest records of those incarcerated for possessing it. O’Rourke has criticized the War on Drugs for fueling violence at the border and, more recently, for disproportionately harming people of color.
History: O’Rourke first started his advocacy for marijuana legalization while on the El Paso City Council. In 2009, O’Rourke called for an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics” as a possible solution to the violence at the US-Mexico border. Later, O’Rourke clarified that he had intended to start a discussion about marijuana which he now knows is not a narcotic. Aside from his misinformation, O’Rourke’s openness to legalizing marijuana in 2009 is impressive, especially considering most of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates only just came out in support of legalization within the past couple of years. In 2011, O’Rourke followed up by publishing a book about the failure of the War on Drugs in which he explained why the cannabis conversation was necessary:
I knew we were addressing a taboo topic, one that conventional wisdom dictated that only potheads, hard-core libertarians and political suicides ever brought up. But I also knew that Juarez [Mexican city directly South of El Paso] had gone beyond the pale and it was time to place all options on the table, even those that had been unthinkable, for me as well as others, just a year ago.
In 2014, O’Rourke kicked off his career in the House with a letter asking President Obama to deschedule, or at least reschedule, cannabis. In the same year, he expressed support for the regulation and taxation of marijuana as a means of eliminating the dangerous black market. Over the course of his career in the House, O’Rourke went on to cosponsor six bills that if passed would have legalized marijuana at the federal level. He also cosponsored bills intended to protect legalization states, help cannabis businesses access banks, and allow students to keep federal aid despite a cannabis possession conviction.
Conclusion: O’Rourke receives an “A+” grade because he has been dedicated to legalizing marijuana and ending the War on Drugs since long before he ran for president. His call for a discussion of marijuana in 2009 clearly shows O’Rourke is not simply pro-legalization to win over voters. O’Rourke genuinely believes in legalizing marijuana because he saw the consequences of its prohibition in his hometown of El Paso. We are confident that a President O’Rourke would fight hard to legalize cannabis and for that we give him an A+.