Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) highlighted his decade-long history of advocating for marijuana reform in a campaign video released on Saturday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who recently released a comprehensive cannabis legalization plan that includes reparations for those impacted by the drug war, has been talking about ending prohibition since his days as a city councilman in El Paso.
In the video, O’Rourke is seen asking his Council colleagues in 2009 to add language to a resolution that would “include advocating or looking at rethinking our war on drugs, which by any measure I’ve looked at has been an abject failure.”
“The issue at least deserves an honest airing and an intelligent debate,” he said.
Since my time on the El Paso City Council, I've been advocating for legalizing marijuana. We will never erase the damage done by the War on Drugs—the lives lost, the years spent behind bars—but we can end the cruelty today and begin to right the wrongs of our past. pic.twitter.com/Ho5gO6kUJ5
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 21, 2019
While the panel unanimously approved his amendment, O’Rourke said the body received “a lot of pressure” from outside, particularly from the district’s congressman, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), to kill it. The mayor vetoed the measure, Reyes threatened to pull federal funds if the Council persisted and an override vote narrowly failed.
As the video details, however, the experience motivated O’Rourke to mount a primary challenge against Reyes, which he won in 2012.
“There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come, and I think the idea, it’s time had come in El Paso and there was nothing that was going to stop it,” he said.
The video also includes clips of O’Rourke on the 2020 campaign trail, revealing an evolution in how he discussed the issue. Initially, he emphasized how legalization could offset the illicit drug trafficking. But more recently, he’s focused on racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and the medical potential of cannabis as an alternative to opioid painkillers.
That evolution comes across clearly in the wide-ranging legalization proposal the candidate released last week. Beside legalizing marijuana, the plan also calls for expunging prior cannabis convictions, ensuring that marijuana offenses are not grounds for deportation and setting aside tax revenue from cannabis sales for a “Drug War Justice Grant” program involving monthly payments to people who’ve been incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
Even as marijuana has been legalized in states across our country, inequities have persisted—as white communities have benefited from new business opportunities, while communities of color still face over-policing and criminalization.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 19, 2019
“We need to not only end the prohibition on marijuana, but also repair the damage done to the communities of color disproportionately locked up in our criminal justice system or locked out of opportunity because of the War on Drugs,” O’Rourke said.
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Circa.