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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 Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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