Beto O’Rourke announced that he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 14, 2019, and quickly signaled that marijuana reform would be a main feature of his campaign.
The former congressman, who dropped out of the race on November 1, has been a critic of the war on drugs for much of his political career, going back to his tenure on the El Paso City Council, and he’s spoken about the issue earlier and more often than many of his Democratic opponents.
This piece was last updated on November 5, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
During his time in Congress, O’Rourke was the chief sponsor of one piece of drug reform legislation and cosponsored several others.
He introduced a bill that would have prohibited the federal government from withholding a state’s apportionment of federal funds for highway infrastructure if the state failed to enact and enforce laws requiring that individuals with drug convictions have their licenses revoked or suspended.
“Finding employment and earning legal income is crucial for people trying to stay out of the criminal justice system,” he said in a Medium post about the legislation. “Further, we know that license suspensions undermine recovery efforts for those with drug use problems and the formerly incarcerated.”
O’Rourke also cosponsored about two dozen drug reform bills focusing on federal cannabis and hemp laws.
He signed onto legislation to end marijuana prohibition and, on six occasions, to protect states that have legalized marijuana from federal intervention. He also cosponsored a bill that would automatically seal the criminal records of individuals convicted for non-violent federal marijuana offenses and another that would allow students to maintain their federal financial aid if they have a cannabis possession conviction.
“We stand a better chance of keeping kids from using marijuana if it is sold by regulated businesses instead of by teenagers on street corners and middle school playgrounds,” he wrote in a 2014 email to supporters, touting his cosponsorships. “Regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana would limit bloated black market profits from empowering murderous criminal enterprises that have grown too powerful in many U.S. neighborhoods and in neighboring Mexico.”
If we want to keep drugs away from kids, profits away from criminals, & focus on opioid epidemic & start saving lives, end the war on drugs.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 12, 2017
Other legislation that received O’Rourke’s cosponsorship included a broad bill to close the policy gap between federal and state marijuana laws, several others designed to expand research into medical cannabis, including for veterans, three to remove CBD from the list of federally banned substances and legislation to allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis to veterans.
At a time when it's legal in 29 states, veterans in Texas have come up to me at our town hall meetings and said that while it is the only thing that eases their pain, they are treated as a criminal in our state for seeking it out.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 9, 2018
He’s also supported congressional efforts to legalize industrial hemp and provide banking access to state-legal marijuana businesses. The congressman cosponsored additional bills to allow cannabis businesses to take advantage of tax credits or deductions and also to require a federal study on the impact of state marijuana programs.
The congressman also voted in favor of House floor amendments to shield states with medical cannabis laws from federal enforcement in 2014 and 2015, and to extend that protection to any state with legal recreational cannabis or CBD medicines alone. O’Rourke voted for amendments to let VA doctors recommend medical cannabis three times, to protect states that have legalized industrial hemp four times and once to secure access to banks for marijuana businesses.
That was all during his six years in the House. But O’Rourke has a longer history of pushing for drug reform, including when he served as a member of the El Paso City Council.
In fact, it was O’Rourke’s bold stance on drug policy that helped launch his national political career, as The Intercept reported. As the drug war raged along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2009, the council member introduced an amendment that called for a conversation about legalizing marijuana and “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.”
The measure passed 8-0, but then-Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX) pressured the mayor to veto it and told council members that the city would be at risk of losing federal funds in the veto was overridden. After an override vote narrowly failed, O’Rourke decided to primary Reyes for the congressional seat, ultimately defeating the incumbent in an upset that likely led many other politicians rethink their approach drug war politics.
O’Rourke’s surprise Democratic primary win came in spite of the fact that Reyes emphasized the challenger’s drug policy views in sensationalized attack ads.
Cruz also tried to use the resolution against O’Rourke during their 2018 Senate battle, characterizing his challenger as a supporter of legalizing “heroin and cocaine and fentanyl.”
On The Campaign Trail
Just hours into his campaign, O’Rourke spoke about cannabis reform at a coffee shop in Iowa, signaling that the issue would be front and center as he found his footing in an already crowded race.
Speaking to a crowd in Iowa, Beto O'Rourke says "we should end the federal prohibition on marijuana," adding that the people hurt most by marijuana prohibition "do not look like this room. They are browner and blacker than most of America." https://t.co/jVu5m4xu8R pic.twitter.com/2LJM3fQC36
— CNN (@CNN) March 14, 2019
He said the country “should end the federal prohibition on marijuana” and observed that those most impacted by prohibition “do not look like this room. They are browner and blacker than most of America.”
In September, the candidate released a detailed marijuana-focused plan that included using federal cannabis tax revenue to fund a “Drug War Justice Grant” program to give direct monthly payments to formerly incarcerated people.
I believe today what I believed then: We don’t only need to legalize marijuana. We also need to repair the damage done to communities of color that have been locked up in our criminal justice system, or locked out of opportunity, because of the War on Drugs.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 19, 2019
It would also promote equity in the cannabis industry by tying federal funds for states to requirements that licensing fees be waived for low-income people who have been convicted of cannabis offenses. Small marijuana businesses would be protected from predatory investors under the plan, and a majority of licenses would be awarded to companies owned by minorities and people disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
Those cannabis proposals were reiterated in a broader criminal justice reform plan the candidate published in October, which also pledged to end mandatory minimum sentencing, cash bail and private prisons—positions the candidate had previously taken elsewhere.
Let’s end cash bail, private prisons, and the war on drugs. Let's confront the true legacy of slavery, of segregation, suppression, of how people have been criminalized & kept down based on their race and ethnicity. Only that truth will allow us to begin to repair the damage done
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 30, 2019
If we believe in real justice reform in the face of the largest prison population on the face of the planet — one disproportionately comprised of people of color — let us not just end the prohibition of marijuana but expunge the record of those arrested solely for possession.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 30, 2019
That same month, O’Rourke released a substance use and addiction policy plan that called for broad decriminalization of drug possession, as well as the establishment of safe injection sites and other harm reduction measures to prevent overdoses.
Every day, more than 130 human beings overdose on opioids. 47,000 lose their lives to this epidemic every year. We need to be there for every victim of this crisis and hold accountable everyone who created it. Here’s our plan: https://t.co/XJ1wdhec5e
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 24, 2019
During a campaign stop in Nevada in April, O’Rourke seemed to recommend medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids to a woman who said it was becoming more difficult to obtain the prescription for pain management in the midst of the drug crisis.
An unexpected q for O’Rourke from a woman who says she can only stand with the aid of opioids but that it’s getting harder to obtain them because of the epidemic. O’Rourke seems to suggest marijuana as an alternative for opioids.
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) April 27, 2019
The former congressman has repeatedly argued that pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic.
“We are busting people for possession of marijuana—putting them in jail, forcing them to check a box on every employment application after their lease, making it impossible to attend [universities] because they no longer qualify for federally backed student loans,” he said during a CNN town hall in May. “And yet no one from Purdue Pharma has spent a night in jail or paid any significant consequence. We gotta do better.”
Last night, we outlined 6 ways to reform the justice system:
1⃣End a war on drugs that has become a war on people
2⃣End the prohibition on marijuana
3⃣Expunge the records of those locked away for possessing it
4⃣Eliminate private prisons
5⃣End mandatory minimums
6⃣End cash bail pic.twitter.com/gsCYeI4mKf
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 22, 2019
While O’Rourke would later voice support for decriminalizing drugs beyond marijuana in the plan noted above, he sidestepped a question about the policy during the event.
At a Democratic presidential debate in October, the candidate said he agreed that decriminalizing opioids could mitigate the overdose crisis. He also talked about the importance of providing military veterans with access to cannabis.
Imagine if instead of prescribing our veterans opioids, we could prescribe them marijuana, because we made it legal in our country. Let's hold drug companies responsible for the opioid crisis—and end the war on drugs. pic.twitter.com/eJ1ypDnvL6
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 16, 2019
In an interview with ABC News, O’Rourke noted that he’s been in favor of “an end to the war on drugs and an end of the prohibition on marijuana years before any other major candidate did it.”
The former congressman’s longstanding support for drug policy reform was also featured in a campaign video released in September.
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
“Since my time on the El Paso City Council, I’ve been advocating for legalizing marijuana,” he said in a tweet. “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.”
O’Rourke said during a trip to the Southern border that the war on drugs and the deportation of convicted individuals has contributed to violence that has led people in South American to flee north for refuge.
“Whether it’s our war on drugs/or the fact that we have departed people out of our jails… and literally created the gangs that people are now fleeing. We have some culpability in this. But we also have the opportunity to make it right.” –@BetoORourke outside of the #Clint camp pic.twitter.com/gWrv4DSONd
— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) June 30, 2019
“Too many fathers are unjustly away from their kids today because of a failed war on drugs waged disproportionately on communities of color, a cash bail system that punishes people for being poor, and a private prison industry funded by needlessly putting more people behind bars,” he wrote in June. “To permanently reshape the justice system, we must not just end the prohibition of marijuana and expunge the records of those arrested for possession but we must end cash bail, prisons for profit, mandatory minimums, & the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline. As president, I will.”
To permanently reshape the justice system, we must not just end the prohibition of marijuana and expunge the records of those arrested for possession but we must end cash bail, prisons for profit, mandatory minimums, & the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline. As president, I will.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 17, 2019
“Mass incarceration begins in kindergarten—when a child of color is more likely to be suspended or expelled,” the O’Rourke said in October. “We need to end the school-to-prison pipeline, end for-profit prisons, end cash bail, end the War on Drugs, and bring about transformative justice.”
Mass incarceration begins in kindergarten—when a child of color is more likely to be suspended or expelled.
We need to end the school-to-prison pipeline, end for-profit prisons, end cash bail, end the War on Drugs, and bring about transformative justice. pic.twitter.com/z44qHOGd3j
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) October 29, 2019
He also applauded a court ruling that ordered pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis, writing that it’s “about damn time.”
About damn time. We can't accept living in a country where Americans are in jail for possessing marijuana—but not a single Pharma exec has spent even a night behind bars for the opioid crisis. The least they can do is pay up. https://t.co/dbWlTHdJBc
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 26, 2019
“We can’t accept living in a country where Americans are in jail for possessing marijuana—but not a single Pharma exec has spent a night behind bars for the opioid crisis,” he said. “The least they can do is pay up.”
During a campaign event in Los Angeles, O’Rourke met with advocates for social equity in the legal cannabis market and tweeted that legalizing marijuana “isn’t enough.”
“We also need to make sure those most impacted by the War on Drugs have a chance to benefit from his growing industry,” he said.
Part of that involves ensuring that “those most impacted by the war on drugs are the ones benefiting from the economic activity related to marijuana,” he added.
Legalizing marijuana isn't enough. We also need to make sure those most impacted by the War on Drugs have a chance to benefit from this growing industry. Thanks to everyone at Equity First Alliance and Cage-Free Cannabis in L.A. for sharing their stories with me today. pic.twitter.com/BJDjNLr4gg
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 18, 2019
O’Rourke also discussed restorative justice policies in a meeting with cannabis business owners in Oakland.
LIVE NOW: Beto at Cannabis, Equity, and Justice Roundtable https://t.co/58r0OrlpFn
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 19, 2019
“What is flower?” @BetoORourke asks this staffer at Blunts + Moore dispensary in East Oakland. The Democrat from Texas wants to legalize #marijuana and is proposing drug war justice grants for marijuana offenders. @nbcbayarea #Election2020 #BetoORourke pic.twitter.com/0UotDJlrDy
— Melissa Colorado (@melissacolorado) September 19, 2019
He said during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session that he will “end the war on drugs and treat it “not as a criminal justice challenge but as a public health opportunity.”
“People need help, treatment, support, long term recovery,” he said. “They don’t need to go to jail or be locked up in prison.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
O’Rourke has been ahead of the national drug reform conversation for some time, and his embrace of ending the drug war and legalizing marijuana has been frequently emphasized in speeches and social media posts.
It’s time to end the war on drugs. That starts by ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) September 21, 2018
About a year after O’Rourke’s resolution passed the council but was later vetoed, he told audience member at the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference that the congressman threatening council members about the vote “was the best thing that could possibly happen to move the debate forward.”
That’s because “it drew so much attention and so much criticism and so much coverage nationally and internationally that it did much more than a unanimously passed resolution left on its own could have ever done,” he said.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoForCongress) February 22, 2012
O’Rourke became something of a face of bold drug policy reform, speaking at a Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in 2010 and recalling his experience with the resolution.
But there was a moment, as he launched his challenge against Reyes, that he and his advisors considered softening his position.
Before his book, Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, was published, members of his campaign committee worried about drawing too much attention to his views on marijuana. But O’Rourke was apparently convinced that doing so would make him just like any other politician, according to Politico, and he pushed ahead.
And by the time he got to Congress, there was no more questioning where he stood. He promised, shortly after taking office, that he would be “getting more involved” in the issue and that he’d “do so through the perspective of the community I represent.”
True to form, he signed onto a bipartisan letter in 2014 imploring President Barack Obama to deschedule marijuana.
“You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol, a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”
In another letter, he and several colleagues proposed cutting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) funding for its cannabis eradication program. And O’Rourke joined lawmakers in a separate letter urging Obama to promote ending the global war on drugs at a United Nations meeting.
Veterans access to medical cannabis was a priority for O’Rourke, who not only cosponsored legislation to accomplish that but also circulated a petition on the question of expanding access to send a message to Congress.
“We’ve agreed that when these veterans come back and transition into civilian life that we’re going to be there for their medical needs whatever they are,” he said. “Right now we’re talking about making sure that in those states where marijuana is already legal, VA doctors are able to discuss marijuana as a possible treatment option.”
We've got to allow doctors to prescribe what's in the best interests of our veterans, including cannabis. The research is clear: we need to stop denying legal access to something that will significantly ease the pain many of our veterans are living with.https://t.co/LkkwUzznra
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 7, 2018
He sent out an email blast in 2014, fundraising on his drug reform platform.
“As a rational and humane country, we can decide, as we did with alcohol that the harms in the prohibition of marijuana far outweigh any gains in security and in our efforts to keep these drugs away from our fellow citizens,” he wrote.
And weeks before announcing his presidential bid, he sent out another email asking supporters to join him in the fight to legalize cannabis.
In an interview with Texas Monthly, O’Rourke stressed the need for federal legislation to end the war on drugs, and not just leave it up to states to legalize on an individual basis.
“Ending the prohibition on marijuana—not making it a state-by-state issue and hiding behind this baloney states’ rights defense, but instead making the tough but important decision to federally end the prohibition on marijuana—is gonna save lives, save billions of dollars, move us from a country that imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country on the face of the planet into one that sees more of those same citizens leading productive, taxpaying, constructive lives in communities all over our state.”
In an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, O’Rourke reiterated his support for ending marijuana prohibition, saying the country has “the chance to do the right thing.”
“We have the world’s largest prison population bar none,” he said.
In his Senate run against Cruz where O’Rourke’s pro-reform agenda became a central feature of his candidacy. In his announcement speech, he said the country has “an opportunity to end this failed war on drugs.”
Our country has an incarceration rate higher than any other nation on the planet. This at a time when Jeff Sessions wants to double down on the failed war on drugs. Let's end it altogether. https://t.co/G9XTqrBL7b
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 15, 2018
“We have an opportunity, after more than half the states in this union have stopped locking people up for marijuana convictions—have filled our jails so that we imprison more of own people than any other country—and make sure that we help those who are struggling with addiction, with drug use, find a better way, a connection to the help and the care that they deserve,” he said.
In numerous interviews, and in road trip videos posted on his social media accounts, O’Rourke talked about the need to legalize marijuana. While he made sure to stress that he wasn’t endorsing its use, he has framed the issue as necessary to repair injustices within our criminal justice system.
We must urgently address imbalances in our criminal justice system. Start by ending mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses, ending the fed. prohibition on marijuana, ending cash bail, stopping the use of private prisons, and providing an environment that welcomes re-entry.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) June 28, 2018
“[W]e are doing to almost ensures that marijuana’s going to be more available to them in middle school and certainly in high school than if it were controlled and regulated in its sale,” he said. “We have to reform our drug laws. We have to end the war on drugs.”
"We have to acknowledge that we have a war on drugs, that has become a war on people. We need to end that war, get those people out from behind bars, and raising families, and back in their place at home." – @BetoORourke #NAACPConvention
— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) July 16, 2018
“Who’s going to be the last black man to be behind bars in Texas for something that’s legal in the rest of the United States?” O’Rourke asked at a campaign stop. “We need to end the war on drugs that’s become a war on people.”
Speaking at a Baptist church, O’Rourke talked about racial disparities in marijuana enforcement amidst an outcry over the death of Botham Jean, a Texas man who was killed by a police officer who entered his apartment.
“How can it be in this day and age—in this very year, in this community—that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer?” O’Rourke asked. “And when we all want justice and the facts and the information to make an informed decision, what is released to the public? That he had a small amount of marijuana in his kitchen? How can that be just in this country?”
“Let me ask you this: in a country where the majority of the states in the union have already decided to make marijuana legal in one form or another—where people in California and Colorado and the Northwest are getting filthy rich legally selling marijuana today—who is going to be the last African American boy or man to rot behind bars in Texas for something that’s legal in almost every other single part of the country?”
Legalization quickly proved to be a winning issue among voters, O’Rourke told Roll Call.
“If I don’t bring it up in a meeting, it is brought up by a constituent,” he said. “I can be in a small town [or] big city, and it cuts across party lines.”
Throughout the race, though, Cruz attempted to cast O’Rourke as a radical who supports legalizing fentanyl at a time that the U.S. is grappling with an opioid crisis. After PolitiFact deemed that characterization “FALSE,” the senator called the organization a “liberal parody site.”
.@PolitiFact is a liberal parody site. When his Dem primary opponent said Beto “wants to legalize drugs” they said “half true.” When I said same thing, they say “false.” The text of the O’Rouke resolution calls for a “debate on ENDING THE PROHIBITION ON NARCOTICS.” ALL narcotics. https://t.co/4ceMUwGFJl
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 3, 2018
In an attack ad, Cruz said that O’Rourke’s comments on the drug war showed that he was “just too reckless for Texas.”
.@TedCruz also has a new TV ad contrasting his work on unemployment drug testing with @BetoORourke's 2009 comments about the war on drugs (Background: https://t.co/cLxvNdigIs). #txsen pic.twitter.com/leVOnazXaN
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) August 3, 2018
“I don’t want to legalize narcotics,” O’Rourke said at a CNN town hall event. “I do think we should end the prohibition on marijuana and effectively control and regulate its sale and make sure those who need it for medicinal purposes are able to obtain it.”
"I don't want to legalize narcotics. I do think we should end the prohibition on Marijuana and effectively control and regulate its sale and make sure those who need it for medicinal purposes are able to obtain it," O'Rourke says #TexasTownHall https://t.co/29rQpKYtsa pic.twitter.com/sh8F9CBlAc
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 18, 2018
The two candidates clashed on marijuana and drug policy at a debate.
“I want to end the war on drugs and specifically want to end the prohibition on marijuana,” O’Rourke said. “What I do want to ensure is that where, in this country, most states have decided that marijuana will legal at some form—for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes or at a minimum be decriminalized—that we don’t have another veteran in this state, prescribed an opioid because the doctor at the VA would rather prescribe medicinal marijuana but is prohibited by law from doing that.”
Cruz’s campaign attacks didn’t seem to intimidate O’Rourke. He even played alongside legendary musician and cannabis enthusiast Willie Nelson, strumming and singing to the song “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” at a concert in the midst of the campaign.
In an op-ed for The Houston Chronicle, O’Rourke again called for the end of the drug war, which he said “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 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 their full potential and to the greatness of this country.”
The candidate has also supported decriminalizing marijuana possession in his home state of Texas and expunging criminal records for prior cannabis possession convictions.
“Not only must we end the prohibition on marijuana, we must expunge the arrest records of those who arrested solely for the possession of something,” he said.
O’Rourke’s embrace of ending the drug war also extends globally, according to a list of action items he proposed as part of his immigration platform.
“End the global war on drugs,” he wrote. “An imprisonment- and interdiction-first approach has not worked, has accelerated the erosion of civil society in much of Latin America and has militarized a public health issue to the detriment of all concerned.”
After then Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama era guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities last year, O’Rourke posted a video calling the decision a “terrible policy for our state and our country” that “sends us backwards.”
He also discussed cannabis reform during a roundtable discussion with other pro-reform lawmakers.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
“Like many people in this country, I’ve used marijuana,” he said during a campaign stop in September 2019. “Like many white people in this country, I was never stopped or frisked or arrested or put behind bars or had to check a box on every employment application form saying that I had a conviction because that never happened to me.”
While shaping his "End the War on Drugs" Plan @BetoORourke held a round table in LA & spoke to local activists. Part of the plan ensures "those most impacted by the War on Drugs are the ones benefiting from the economic activity related to marijuana." VIDEO of Beto on this issue pic.twitter.com/ewMnbQMMkM
— Tim Perry (@tperry518) September 19, 2019
“It wasn’t my experience. Disproportionately that experience has fallen to people of color in this country,” he said.
During his time in New York City, O’Rourke said he was around people who occasionally smoked cannabis and admitted that he was one of those people.
“Pot, yeah, there was definitely, you know,” he told The New York Times. “There was, uh, I don’t know how to put this, but yeah. People smoked pot, but not habitually.”
And beyond marijuana, O’Rourke revealed that in the 1980s he used the handle “Psychedelic Warlord” to post as a member of an online hacking group. That said, he did say in response to a voter’s question that he has never tried LSD.
Marijuana Under An O’Rourke Presidency
O’Rourke stands out among many of the current Democratic presidential candidates as someone who has long challenged prohibitionist drug policies and floated bold reform ideas before marijuana legalization entered the political mainstream. His track record and talking points are consistent, and he reiterated his call for ending cannabis prohibition within hours of announcing his candidacy. Therefore it is likely that he would to some extent prioritize federal marijuana and drug policy reform if elected president.
Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Vote To Federally Legalize Marijuana Planned In Congress
A key congressional committee plans to hold a historic vote on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana next week, two sources with knowledge of the soon-to-be-announced action said.
The legislation, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and set aside funding to begin repairing the damage of the war on drugs, which has been disproportionately waged against communities of color.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
Where Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick Stands On Marijuana
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced on November 14, 2019, that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The latecomer to the race does not have an especially reform-friendly record on drug policy issues compared to many of his rival contenders, and questions remain about where he stands on legalization for adult-use—or even medical use for that matter.
During his time as governor, he voiced opposition to a marijuana decriminalization proposal and raised concerns about a medical cannabis legalization measure. After voters approved that latter initiative, he said he wished the state didn’t have the program, and his administration faced criticism over its implementation.
That said, Patrick, who also served as the U.S. assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, does not appear to have expressed hostility to marijuana reform in recent years and during his time in office did take action in support of modest proposals such as resentencing for people with non-violent drug convictions. Here’s where the former governor stands on cannabis:
Legislation And Policy Actions
Patrick’s administration said that despite a marijuana decriminalization policy going into effect following the passage of a 2008 ballot initiative, law enforcement should be able to continue to search people suspected of possession. However, his office declined to approve a request from prosecutors to delay the implementation of the voter-approved policy change.
After the decriminalization proposal passed, Patrick directed the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to develop an implementation plan.
“Our office will continue to work collaboratively with EOPSS and the district attorneys and law enforcement agencies on implementation,” a spokesperson said. “It’s an ongoing process.”
The then-governor said he would work to toughen up enforcement of fines levied against people possessing marijuana.
“The bottom line is the governor believes that if people are fined they should pay the fines,” a spokesperson for his administration said.
Following the passage of a 2012 medical cannabis initiative in Massachusetts, Patrick said simply that the “voters have voted,” and pledged that he wouldn’t seek to repeal the law.
But there were some complications that arose during his administration’s medical marijuana licensing approval process.
In February 2014, Patrick contradicted the state health department, which had recently announced that 20 business licenses had been accepted.
“No licenses have been given. No provisional licenses have been given. What we have is a multi-step process of screening out applicants,” he said. “Don’t get ahead of where we are. There was a balance struck here about trying to let the public in through transparency to the process even though the process was unfinished.”
When reports emerged that certain medical cannabis applicants had apparently provided false or misleading information in their application forms, Patrick said “[n]o good dead goes unpunished.”
“Rather than wait till the end when all that vetting and screening had been done, we’re going to do that first cut from 100 [applicants] down to 20, and we’re going to tell everybody,”
The next month, he dismissed requests for a review of the licensing process by applicants who the health department had rejected.
“I don’t think we gain anything by starting over,” he said. “We are in the middle of a process. Nobody has a license, no one is going to get a license until we meet the standards of the application process.”
Patrick was also criticized for failing to follow up with patient advocates who urged him to effectively implement the program.
“It appears the governor wants to skip out of office without addressing medical marijuana because he doesn’t want to talk about it and he doesn’t want to deal with it,” Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance Executive Director Matthew Allen said in 2014.
Patrick’s successor, Gov. Charlie Baker (R), overhauled the his predecessor’s medical cannabis licensing process to create “a more streamlined, efficient, and transparent process that allows the Commonwealth to maintain the highest standards of both public safety and accessibility.”
Despite opposing marijuana decriminalization and expressing concerns about medical cannabis legalization, the governor did sign several drug policy reform bills during his time in office.
Patrick signed legislation in 2012 that reduced mandatory minimum sentences for people with non-violent drug convictions. He’d introduced a package of bills that included a call for the repeal of such mandatory minimums the previous year, earning praise from reform advocates.
“We need an effective and accountable re-entry program for those leaving the criminal justice system,” Patrick said in a statement. “Combining probation and parole, and requiring supervision after release, takes the best practices from other states to assure both public safety and cost savings.”
Another piece of legislation the then-governor proposed was to reduce the scope of “drug-free school zones,” where people charged with drug crimes would face mandatory minimum sentences. He recommended reducing the size of these zones from within 1,000 feet of a school to 100 feet.
Patrick signed off on a bill in 2014 to expand access to drug treatment.
“This bill creates some new rules and new tools for us to use together to turn to our brothers and sisters who are dealing with these illnesses and addiction and help them help themselves,” he said.
But in 2012, Patrick signed a bill prohibiting certain synthetic drugs called “bath salts.”
On The Campaign Trail
So far, Patrick has not made drug policy a center-stage issue in his campaign. However, his website says his agenda involves “making meaningful fixes to the big systems that consistently fail to meet modern needs.”
“This means a justice system that focuses less on warehousing people than on preparing them to re-enter responsible life,” the site says.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
In 2007, a spokesperson for Patrick’s office said the governor would veto a proposed marijuana possession decriminalization bill. Patrick told the Associated Press that he had other priorities when asked whether he would sign the legislation.
He was listed as a supporter for a campaign that opposed the 2008 decriminalization ballot measure that voters later approved.
Oddly, two years earlier, Patrick was asked about a decriminalization proposal during a debate and said that while he’s “very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana,” he doesn’t “think it ought to be our priority.” He went on to say that he would veto a proposed decriminalization measure in the legislature.
Massachusetts voters also approved a 2012 medical cannabis initiative while Patrick was in office—in spite of the fact that he declined to endorse the measure.
Asked about the proposal during a radio interview with WBZ, the then-governor first cited an argument in support of legalization made by conservative author William F. Buckley Jr., who said regulating drug sales would remove a profit motive for illicit dealers. Yet he went on to say that “I’m not endorsing” the initiative.
“I’m not expressing a point of view and I’m not dodging, it’s just I’ve got so much else I’m working on,” he said.
The host asked if Patrick would implement the law if voters approved it and he said “that’s, I think, what we’re supposed to do.”
In September 2012, he said that he doesn’t “have a lot of enthusiasm for the medical marijuana” measure, which was set to go before voters two months later.
“I mean I have heard the views on both sides and I’m respectful of the views of both sides, and I don’t have a lot of energy around that,” he said. “I think California’s experience has been mixed, and I’m sympathetic to the folks who are in chronic pain and looking for some form of relief.”
“I really have to defer to the medical views about this and individuals will get a chance to vote on this,” Patrick said in April 2012. “I haven’t been paying much attention to it.”
While his administration struggled to implement the program after voters had approved it, Patrick said in August 2014 that “I wish frankly we didn’t have medical marijuana.”
Responding to q abt medical marijuana dispensaries in westrn Mass @massgovernor says "Look, I wish frankly we didn't have medical marijuana"
— Sharman Sacchetti (@SharmanTV) August 20, 2014
Patrick doesn’t appear to have publicly weighed in during the Massachusetts campaign about legalizing marijuana for adult-use, which voters approved in 2016 after he had left office.
In 2012, Patrick said during a State of the State Address that Massachusetts should reevaluate how it treats people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
“In these cases, we have to deal with the fact that simply warehousing non-violent offenders is a costly policy failure,” he said. “Our spending on prisons has grown 30 percent in the past decade, much of that because of longer sentences for first-time and nonviolent drug offenders. We have moved, at massive public expense, from treatment for drug offenders to indiscriminate prison sentences, and gained nothing in public safety.”
“We need more education and job training, and certainly more drug treatment, in prisons and we need mandatory supervision after release,” he said. “And we must make non-violent drug offenders eligible for parole sooner.”
He also said that the “biggest problem is that our approach to public safety has been to warehouse people,” and that the “answer is new policies, not bigger warehouses.”
“We’ve been warehousing people for whom what they really need is treatment and not just time,” he said during a town hall event in 2009.
Patrick voiced support in 2006 for a bill that would legalize the over-the-counter sale of needles in order to prevent the spread of disease.
“Deval Patrick supports this legislation because he believes it will reduce dangerous diseases in our state,” a campaign spokesperson said. “Studies in other states have shown that programs such as these decrease the rates of disease infection without increasing drug use.”
Patrick later criticized then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) for vetoing the legislation, stating that the official “put misguided ideology before leadership in public health.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Patrick said in 2012 that he has never “experienced marijuana myself” but that during his school years there “was probably enough around me that there was a second-hand, a contact-high.”
Marijuana Under A Patrick Presidency
It is difficult to assess how Patrick would approach federal marijuana policy if elected president, but his vocal opposition to decriminalization in Massachusetts and his administration’s troubled implementation of medical cannabis legalization is likely to give advocates pause. While his current position on legalizing marijuana for adult-use is unclear, given that drug policy reform has become a mainstream issue that candidates are routinely pressed on, it is likely the former governor will be asked to weigh in on the campaign trail.
But for the time being, it appears that Patrick would not make marijuana reform a priority and, in fact, might prove more resistant to policy changes such as descheduling that the majority of candidates now embrace.