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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.

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Kamala Harris Touts ‘Commitment’ To Marijuana Decriminalization And Expungements Under Biden Administration

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (D-CA) again pledged in a new interview that decriminalizing marijuana would be an administrative priority if she and Joe Biden are elected.

Speaking to The Grio on Saturday, the senator discussed the would-be Democratic administration’s criminal justice agenda, contrasting it with that of President Donald Trump. She reiterated the cannabis reform would be among their policy goals.

“We have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses,” Harris said. “When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits.”

Watch Harris discuss criminal justice and marijuana reform, starting around 12:00 into the video below: 

While reform advocates have appreciated the senator’s repeated calls for cannabis reform on the campaign trail, they’ve taken issue with her tendency to refer to the drug war in the past tense—as she did here by talking about the impact the policy “had”—as though those prosecutions and enforcement disparities haven’t persisted.

In fact, recently released FBI data shows that there were 1,558,862 drug-related arrests in the U.S. last year, about a third of which were for marijuana. That amounts to a new drug bust every 20 seconds on average.

There’s also some frustration that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization—a policy not supported by the former vice president despite its popularity among Democrats.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Top Senate Democrat Includes Marijuana Banking Protections In New Coronavirus Relief Bill

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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Top Senate Democrat Includes Marijuana Banking Protections In New Coronavirus Relief Bill

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The top Democrat in the Senate introduced a coronavirus relief bill on Monday that contains provisions to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

As Congress and the White House continue to negotiate details of a potential COVID-19 relief deal, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seemed to take a page from a recently passed House version that also includes language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.

It’s unclear whether the Trump administration or Republican-controlled Senate will be amenable to including cannabis provisions in any package that has a chance of being enacted, but advocates view Schumer’s move in the meantime as a positive signal that Democrats will continue to press the issue.

If lawmakers hope to pass the next round of coronavirus relief ahead of the election, Tuesday appears to be the last opportunity to strike a deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been actively attempting to find common ground on COVID-19 aid, but it remains to be seen whether they will reach an agreement that can be approved by both chambers and signed by the president.

The cannabis banking language has twice appeared in House-passed COVID-19 proposals, and the chamber has approved it both times. That said, it hasn’t advanced without controversy, as multiple Republican lawmakers and White House officials have criticized its inclusion, arguing that it is not germane to the issue at hand.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular has been a vocal opponent of the measure, though he’s largely tailored his criticism to certain provisions of the SAFE Banking Act that require industry diversity reporting.

Democrats and reform advocates have defended adding the marijuana-related components to a coronavirus bill, stressing that it would mitigate the spread of the virus by giving cannabis businesses access to the banking system and minimizing cash-only transactions. It could would also increase access to financial institutions in a way that could give small businesses access to needed capital, they say.

Senate Republicans did not add cannabis banking language to their own version of COVID relief legislation filed in July.

But Democratic leaders in both chambers are evidently willing to keep up the fight, and the House even highlighted the diversity component in a summary of its legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in July that she agrees that the banking measure is an appropriate component of the bill.

In July, bipartisan treasurers from 15 states and one territory sent a letter to congressional leadership, urging the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in any COVID-19 legislation that’s sent to the president’s desk. Following GOP attacks on the House proposal, a group of Democratic state treasurers renewed that call.

The House last year approved the standalone SAFE Banking Act. For months, the legislation has gone without action in the Senate Banking Committee, where negotiations have been ongoing.

Where the newly filed Senate COVID-19 bill goes from here is uncertain—but its introduction gives some reason to believe that Schumer sees a potential path forward. It also signals that the cannabis issue, including broader legislation to end federal prohibition, is poised to advance in 2021 if Democrats win control of the chamber in next month’s elections.

Pelosi has said that she will decide by the end of Tuesday whether the negotiations with the Trump administration can lead to a relief package that could be passed before Election Day.

Marijuana Legalization In Texas Would Generate Billions In Tax Revenue, New Economic Analysis Shows

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Marijuana Legalization In Texas Would Generate Billions In Tax Revenue, New Economic Analysis Shows

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Texas stands to generate billions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue and create tens of thousands of jobs if the plant is legalized, according to a new economic analysis.

While the legislature has been resistant to pursue the policy change, the report from Vicente Sederberg LLP makes a compelling case for legalizing and regulating cannabis sales in the state, at least from an economic perspective.

It finds that, given the estimated adult-use marijuana market, there would be $2.7 billion in cannabis sales annually in Texas. And if the state followed Colorado’s tax model, it could bring in more than $1.1 billion in marijuana tax dollars per biennium.

Further, the comparative analysis projects that 20,000-40,000 jobs would be directly created in the legal industry, in addition to ancillary positions for “contractors and construction firms, electrical and water service providers, HVAC manufacturers and installers, processing equipment producers and retailers, and other professionals.”

“We also expect it would bolster the hospitality industry, which would benefit communities that rely on tourism; especially those that have recently been severely impacted by the novel coronavirus, such as San Antonio, Houston, and Corpus Christi,” the report states.

Beyond tax revenue from cannabis sales, Texas could also see an extra $10 million annually if business licensing fees are set at $5,000.

“In addition to generating revenue and creating jobs, regulating cannabis for adult use would also realize significant criminal justice savings,” the report says, adding that Texas would save an estimated $311 million per year in criminal justice resources if marijuana was legalized.

“States across the country are seeing the benefits of legalizing and regulating cannabis,” Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente Sederberg, said in a press release. “It is inspiring lawmakers in prohibition states to reexamine the efficacy and costs of their current policies and take a closer look at the alternatives.”

“A regulated cannabis market would be an economic boon for the Lonestar State,” she said. “Hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and tens of thousands of new jobs would be especially helpful in overcoming the losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas is leaving an enormous amount of money on the table by keeping cannabis illegal.”

Marijuana reform could also potentially clear up regulatory complications that have resulted from the state’s legalization of the plant’s non-intoxicating cousin, hemp.

Because the crops are virtually indistinguishable, it appears that hemp’s new legal status has made it difficult for police to determine whether a given seized substance is allowable hemp or still-illegal marijuana, and that has led to fewer cannabis cases overall.

Prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of low-level cannabis cases since hemp was legalized. And state officials announced in February that labs wouldn’t be performing testing in misdemeanor cases, with the Texas Department of Public Safety saying it “will not have the capacity to accept those.”

Marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, according to state data released last month.

The Texas House speaker in July acknowledged that legalizing cannabis could help resolve the state’s budget shortfall—but he doesn’t support the policy change regardless.

“Repealing marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a reasonably regulated market is a win-win for Texas,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Even with modest taxation, legal cannabis for adult use would bring in much needed revenue and free up valuable public safety resources.”

“Considering our projected budget shortfall, Texas lawmakers should consider this a big opportunity for our pro-business state,” she said. “The people of Texas will also benefit when we are no longer saddling responsible cannabis consumers with criminal records that often keep them from accessing education and employment.”

Last year, the House voted to approve a decriminalization bill that would’ve made possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, but it failed to advance to a Senate floor vote by the end of the session.

Meanwhile, the state’s Department of State Health Services attempted to impose a ban on the sale of smokeable hemp, but they were sued and a judge gave the plaintiffs a procedural victory in July, temporarily lifting the prohibition. The judge said last month that the ban can’t be enforced until the case is heard in court in 2021.

Read Vicente Sederberg’s report on the economic impact of legalization in Texas below: 

Economic Benefits of Regula… by Marijuana Moment

Legalizing Marijuana Is Risky, Trump-Appointed Prosecutor Warns Montana Voters Ahead Of Election

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