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Beto O’Rourke Rallies Support Around Marijuana Reform Ahead Of Potential 2020 Run

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Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is asking his supporters to join him in calling for marijuana legalization just as many political observers expect he may be about to launch a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The former congressman, who galvanized Democrats in the conservative stronghold of Texas during his failed 2018 Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), sent out an email blast to his supporters on Monday with the subject line, “End the prohibition on marijuana.”

The message outlines how drug policy fits within a broader criminal justice reform agenda, which also involves ending cash bail and eliminating private prisons.

The email includes a link to a petition that lists five “ideas for reforming our justice system.” The first item on the list reads, “End the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who are locked away for possessing it.”

It seems O’Rourke has identified the value of embracing cannabis reform—which polls show that voters, especially Democratic ones, increasingly support. If he does decide to toss his hat into the presidential ring, he will be able to leverage the email addresses of those who sign his new petition for fundraising in support of his candidacy.

“I am more convinced than ever that we can and must build a criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law,” O’Rourke said in the email.

“First, we need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people. Who is going to be the last man—more likely than not a black man—to languish behind bars for possessing or using marijuana when it is legal in some form in more than half of the states in this country? We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country.”

While cannabis legalization didn’t play a central role during O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, he has been a vocal supporter of marijuana reform since his days as an El Paso city councilman in 2009.

That year, he proposed an amendment saying that the federal government should consider ending the prohibition of all drugs, for example. Later, in Congress, he introduced and cosponsored several cannabis reform bills.

Whether or not O’Rourke runs in 2020, it’s increasingly clear that marijuana will be front-and-center as candidates compete for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Some candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) even incorporated ending the drug war into their announcements.

And last week, five competing Democratic presidential candidates teamed up to cosponsor legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition and punish states that have discriminatory cannabis enforcement rates.

Read O’Rourke’s full email blast below:

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Beto O’Rourke <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 3:44 PM
Subject: End the prohibition on marijuana

It’s unacceptable that our country has the world’s largest prison population, disproportionately comprised of people of color. One-third of that prison population is there for nonviolent drug crimes, and though we know that people of all races use illegal drugs at roughly the same rate, some are being locked away for it more than others.

Many have called this part of the New Jim Crow, and for good reason.

One in four black children have had a parent in the criminal justice system, compared to just four percent of white children. That rate is nearly two times what it was in the 1980s. And it begins with a school-to-prison pipeline that starts as early as kindergarten, where a black child is four to five times as likely to be suspended or expelled as a white child.

I am more convinced than ever that we can and must build a criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law.

This is how I propose we do it.

First, we need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people. Who is going to be the last man — more likely than not a black man — to languish behind bars for possessing or using marijuana when it is legal in some form in more than half of the states in this country? We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country.

Second, we end the broken system of cash bail that punishes people for being poor. This is a tactic that wastes resources on incarcerating those who are not a threat to anyone, not a flight risk, not likely to be repeat offenders. In the Harris County Jail alone, it’s estimated that 500 to 600 of the inmates at any given time fit this description. And that’s not an outlier — 75% of people in Texas jails have not been convicted of any crime but many can’t afford bail.

Third, we should eliminate private, for-profit prisons from our justice system to ensure we’re always putting people before profits. Locking someone up is a power that should be reserved for our government — the people, not outsourced to corporations that have the perverse incentive of getting more men and women behind bars so that there are more profits for their shareholders.

Fourth, we must stop using mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses — a practice that costs taxpayers dearly and destroys lives in the process by locking up people who could safely re-enter society. And we replace this practice with policies that begin treating addiction like the public health concern it is.

Finally, we should provide meaningful reentry to help people who have been incarcerated resume their lives and contribute to their full potential. That starts with strong rehabilitation services, counseling and access to preventative health care. It continues by banning the box on job applications so those formerly incarcerated can work and pay taxes, returning drivers licenses so they can get to that place of employment, allowing them to apply for loans that can unlock skills trainings, and ensuring their constitutional right to participate in civic life by voting is protected.

Can you sign your name today to say you agree that we need to make these meaningful reforms to our broken justice system?

As a congressman, I worked with colleagues across the aisle to introduce legislation that aims to do these things, to achieve real reforms. I know we can get this done but only if we all work towards these goals together.

At the end of the day, this is about ensuring that every single one of us can live to our full potential and contribute to our maximum capacity. Giving low-level offenders a second chance no matter the color of their skin or the economic status they hold can create opportunity for all of us.

It will help build a future that is more just, more fair, and more prosperous for every single person in this state and this country.

Add your name to say you support the points below:

We imprison more of our own people than any other country on the planet, disproportionately African Americans and Latinos. Let’s build a criminal justice system Americans can trust and that puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law.

1. End the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it.

2. End the current system of cash bail that punishes people for being poor.

3. Eliminate private, for-profit prisons from our justice system.

4. End the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses.

5. Provide meaningful reentry to help people who have been incarcerated resume their lives and contribute to their full potential.

After you’re done signing your name, make sure to share this email with friends and family so we can get more people on board with this forward thinking, equitable vision for reforming our country’s justice system.

– Beto

Where Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Stands On Marijuana

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Beto O’Rourke.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote

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A Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday that would make simple possession punishable by a fine, with no jail time, and without having to go on an individual’s criminal record.

The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and now heads to a separate panel responsible for placing bills on the calendar for floor debates.

Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis would be punished with a $250 fine for the first two offenses. After that, possession would be considered a class C misdemeanor, which is still a lesser penalty compared to current law. As it stands, possession of two ounces or less is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail as well as a permanent criminal record, which carries steep collateral consequences.

Earlier this month, the committee held a hearing on the legislation and heard testimony about the long-term impacts of having a low-level cannabis conviction on a person’s record and how removing criminal penalties for possession can free up law enforcement resources so that officers can tackle more serious crimes.

Advocates are hopeful that the full House will embrace the modest reform measure, even as the legislature contemplates other cannabis policies such as expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

While medical cannabis expansion, to say nothing of adult-use legalization, remains a dubious prospect in the conservative stronghold, removing the threat of jail time for possession has gained popularity among Texas Republicans. Delegates for the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank last year that endorses marijuana decriminalization, for example.

“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.

What’s more, the policy has even received a tentative green light from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has said he is open to legislation that would reduce penalties for simple possession.

During a gubernatorial debate last year, Abbot said he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and floated the idea of reducing the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.

According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, the legislation currently has 32 authors or co-authors.

Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Connecticut Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Key Committee

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A key committee in the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to legalize marijuana on Monday.

The General Law Committee, which is one of two panels that heard testimony about legalization legislation last week, voted 10 to 8 to advance the bill.

Beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, the legislation also includes a number of social equity provisions aimed at encouraging participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war. A governor-appointed commission would be charged with giving such individuals advance time to apply for a marijuana business license and promote diversity in hiring.

“At the end of the day, if we’re moving, it’s not about revenue. It’s about equity,” Rep. Juan Candelaria (D) said at the meeting. “It’s about ensuring that these communities that have been impacted, that we say we’re not going to stay idle anymore.”

The commission would also be required to study the potential impacts of allowing cannabis microbusinesses and a home cultivation option, which are not currently included in the bill. Delivery would be permitted, however.

While advocates generally support the bill, there are some outstanding concerns about the lack of a home grow option. The lack of specific licenses for delivery services and on-site consumption facilities is another sticking point.

“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said at last week’s hearing.

It’s not yet clear whether the legislature will ultimately pass this proposal or a separate bill in the Senate, but if either does end up on the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont (D), he’s expected to sign. The governor called legalization one of his “priorities” last year and also discussed the issue during a budget speech last month.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on legalization legislation on Thursday.

A separate bill to revise the state’s medical cannabis program by adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions and eliminating a registration certification fee for patients and caregivers was also approved by the General Law Committee on Monday.

Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Two Simultaneous Hearings On Marijuana Legalization Bills

This story was updated to note the committee’s vote tally.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Marijuana Legalization Vote Cancelled Due To Lack of Support In New Jersey Senate

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Marijuana reform advocates experienced a setback on Monday after bill to legalize cannabis in New Jersey was pulled from the agenda due to a lack of votes to pass the legislation in the Senate.

The proposal would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. It included a number of social equity provisions meant to encourage participation in the industry by individuals from communities most harmed by the war on drugs, and it also would’ve created a pathway for expedited expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

Two committees—the Assembly Appropriations Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee—approved companion cannabis legalization bills last week.

But while Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and leading lawmakers reached a compromise on certain details on how to carry out legalization earlier this month, the legislation faced resistance and was taken off the table hours before scheduled votes in the Senate and Assembly.

“History is rarely made on the first try,” Murphy said in a press conference. “Certainly I’m disappointed but we are not defeated… We all remain committed to passing this bill and making our state a national model for justice and opportunity because ultimately this is the right thing to do for New Jersey, and we know the people of New Jersey are on our side.”

“While we are all disappointed that we did not secure enough votes to ensure legislative approval of the adult use cannabis bill today, we made substantial progress on a plan that would make significant changes in social policy,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) said in a statement. “This fight is not over. We need to learn from this experience and continue to move forward. While this legislation is not advancing today, I remain committed to its passage.”

“The legalization of adult-use marijuana will get passed in the state of New Jersey, one way or another,” he added at a press conference. “Anybody who thinks this is dead, they’re wrong.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) echoed those sentiments.

“Today we may not be able to get a bill over the finish line but I’m proud of the effort we made and the discussions we had. It’s a big and complicated issue,” he said in a press conference. “We all remain committed to enacting fair and responsible legislation that will be groundbreaking and a national model.”

According to a whip count tracking tool for the legislation that was created by NJ.com, a majority of senators (23) planned to vote “no” as of Monday morning, compared to just eight who said they’d vote in favor of the bill, with nine others undetermined. Other sources indicated that 18 senators planned to vote “yes.”

In the days leading up to the Monday session, the legislation received a number of high-profile endorsements, including from 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rev. Al Sharpton and CNN host Van Jones. The governor’s office also released a list of quotes supporting the bill from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders.

“With this bill, New Jersey legislators can send a strong message to the country that marijuana legalization and social justice must be inextricably linked,” Booker said last week. “I’m hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”

Those endorsements were ultimately not enough to convince a sufficient number of on-the-fence state senators, some of whom raised concerns about the potential public health and safety impacts of legalization.

“This is a tragedy for social and racial justice in New Jersey. This legislation was supported by a broad coalition of civil rights, advocacy and faith organizations across the state and the majority of New Jersey voters,” Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “But, we will not give up. We will continue to fight for marijuana legalization legislation centered on racial and social justice. It is only a matter of time before this legislation is enacted and all New Jerseyans can share in the benefits it will create.”

Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana described the news as a “huge victory for us.”

“They told us legalization was inevitable, and this action proves them wrong, Kevin Sabet, the group’s president, said in a press release.

With the cancellation of the vote, it may be months before lawmakers take up the idea again.

“Voters and lawmakers both agree that the practice of treating marijuana consumers as second-class citizens must end. Unfortunately, legislative intransigence regarding how best to create a regulatory framework has resulted in, at least for now, a continuation of the failed policy of marijuana criminalization in the Garden State,” NORML Political Associate Tyler McFadden said in a press release.

“[I]t should be acknowledged that, to date, no state has taken legislative action to regulate the adult use marijuana market,” she said. “In every jurisdiction where regulations exist, they were enacted by a direct vote of the citizenry. Based on current polling in New Jersey, we have little doubt that, if provided the opportunity, Garden State voters would take similar action.”

A poll last month found that New Jersey adults support legalizing marijuana, 62 percent to 32 percent.

Diversity Provisions Added To Marijuana Banking Bill Up For Congressional Vote This Week

This story was updated to add comment from Sweeney, DPA, NORML and SAM.

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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