The 2020 Presidential election is heating up, and one issue that has already been discussed a lot in the campaign is marijuana. Beto O’Rourke made waves when he came out as pro-legalization on CNN’s “State of the Union”, and it seems to have given advocates hope for policy change.

The “decriminalized vs legal” is a debate that has been going on for decades. Beto O’Rourke’s blunt support of marijuana legalization gives advocates hope for policy change.

Beto O'Rourke's blunt support of marijuana legalization gives advocates hope for policy change



But it was when the El Paso Democrat vowed to legalize marijuana in Texas that he received some of the biggest applause of the night, something he claimed “most of us, regardless of party, genuinely agree on.”


“I’ve been informed that saying this in Austin, Texas, may or may not be a popular thing to say,” O’Rourke told a throng gathering in Republic Square Park in December.


“However, when I become governor, we will legalize marijuana.”


The backing for the gubernatorial contender is nothing new. Since his stint on the El Paso city council, O’Rourke has been a vocal supporter of legalization initiatives. Throughout his unsuccessful Senate and presidential bids, he nodded to the policy.

However, throughout his early campaign for governor, O’Rourke, who refused to be interviewed for this article, has discussed marijuana legalization several times on the campaign trail across Texas. Advocates believe that the heightened attention would give legalization efforts a boost in a state where marijuana possession carries among of the toughest punishments and the highest arrest rates.

O’Rourke’s support for marijuana legalization extends back to his tenure on the El Paso City Council in 2009, when he campaigned for a resolution urging Congress to have “an honest, open national discussion on eliminating the prohibition” of the drug.

The nonbinding motion was overwhelmingly passed by the city council, but then-Mayor John Cook rejected it. Cook received assistance from then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who told council members that if they proceeded with their efforts, the city would lose federal monies.

In the 2012 Democratic primary for Reyes’ congressional seat, O’Rourke challenged and defeated Reyes. During the campaign, Reyes ran an ad criticizing O’Rourke’s stance on marijuana legalization.

“The solution is not to legalize narcotics. Even our youngsters are aware of this “In a video campaign commercial that showed children shaking their heads, a narrator remarked. “Drugs must be avoided at all costs. Tell Beto no.”

While O’Rourke did not campaign on the issue during the election, supporters hailed his win as a sign of shifting sentiments toward marijuana legalization at the time.

In his 2011 book “Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the United States and Mexico,” co-written with fellow City Council member Susie Byrd, O’Rourke discusses his hometown of El Paso extensively.

Before 2008, there were an average of 236 homicides per year in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso’s sister city, according to O’Rourke. In 2007, the number increased to 316, before rising to 1,623 in 2008. The “multibillion dollar hemispheric vice between supply and demand,” where “North America consumes illicit narcotics” and “Mexico provides them,” was a “pernicious effect,” according to O’Rourke.

A court temporarily stopped Texas from designating delta-8 as a Schedule I controlled substance, thereby making it illegal.

The increase of homicides is linked to government crackdowns on the illegal trade, according to the book. O’Rourke and Byrd believe that by regulating, managing, and taxing the marijuana business, the United States may save lives. The authors propose that sales be limited to adults, that licenses be issued to assist in regulation, that smoking be restricted to nonpublic locations, and that advertisements not appeal to youngsters.

After being elected to Congress, O’Rourke continued to push for the repeal of federal marijuana prohibitions, but to no result.

He presented a bill in 2017 to overturn a regulation that barred federal funding from flowing to states that don’t implement a statute that revokes or suspends drivers’ licenses for drug offense convictions. He backed a number of unsuccessful efforts to shield states that have legalized marijuana from federal intrusion. O’Rourke attempted to persuade judges to seal records for minor marijuana crimes. He co-sponsored legislation that would enable students convicted of marijuana possession to keep their federal assistance eligibility. He has backed a number of initiatives to boost medicinal cannabis research and access, notably for veterans.

None of the measures were passed into law.

If O’Rourke is elected governor, he would confront a new set of obstacles in the shape of the Texas Legislature, notably Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads the state Senate.

Patrick pronounced the bill dead in the Senate after the House granted preliminary approval to a bill that would have lessened criminal penalties for Texans carrying small quantities of marijuana in April 2019.

In recent sessions, there has been considerable push within Patrick’s party for more progressive marijuana regulations. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, and Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, have introduced proposals in 2019 that would loosen restrictions on medicinal cannabis access. Both of these measures were unsuccessful in becoming legislation. In May, though, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a watered-down expansion of Texas’ medicinal marijuana program to cover cancer patients and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patrick refused to comment for this article. Patrick is “extremely opposed to loosening any restrictions against marijuana [and] is skeptical of the many medical use ideas that might become a vehicle for expanding access to this substance,” according to a prior statement to The Texas Tribune from a Patrick official.

Abbott did not respond to queries about his stance on marijuana legalization.

Legalization supporters believe that O’Rourke’s campaign will persuade state lawmakers to loosen marijuana laws.

“Hopefully, with Beto O’Rourke assuming the Democratic nomination, we can push the other candidates in the race to talk about this issue more, to come to the table and have a conversation about how these policies are negatively impacting our state,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said.

Marijuana legalization has a lot of support in California. According to a poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune in June 2021, 60% of Texas voters believe that at least a little quantity of marijuana should be legal. 73 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans are in this group.

Thousands of Texans have signed up to use medicinal marijuana, however activists estimate that two million individuals are qualified under existing legislation.

The topic, according to Mike Siegel, co-founder of Ground Game Texas, an organization dedicated on advocating progressive policies surrounding “workers, wages, and weed,” is a chance for O’Rourke to reach out to independent and nonaligned voters.

“[Marijuana policy] presents a significant potential for [O’Rourke] to reach out to moderate, independent, or nonaligned voters, as well as some Republican votes,” Siegel added.

“The greatest chance to advance these populist wedge issues is in a high-profile governor’s race like the one that’s coming up, where it may be Beto O’Rourke vs Greg Abbott.”

However, Joshua Blank, research director at the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project, believes that marijuana legalization isn’t a “terribly significant issue” for voters on its own. Its political importance is determined by the policy’s concerns, whether they are related to the economy, the criminal justice system, or health care, he added.

The problem is linked to racial fairness by proponents of legalization. O’Rourke connected the drug’s ban in the early twentieth century to racial anxieties of Mexican immigration in his 2011 book. Today’s advocates draw attention to the racial discrepancies in the enforcement of current laws. According to an April 2020 ACLU analysis, black Texans are 2.6 times more likely than white Texans to be arrested for marijuana possession. According to the research, Texas had the greatest overall number of marijuana possession arrests in the US in 2018, and the state ranked 41st in terms of racial inequalities in such arrests.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who worked as O’Rourke’s political director in 2018, believes the tide is changing on cannabis enforcement laws. Before Patrick canceled it, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, co-authored a measure in 2019 that would have decreased possession penalties.

“Because of his stance on these issues, Gov. O’Rourke would undoubtedly reverse the tide much faster. However, in order to get anything to the governor’s desk, it must first pass through the Senate “According to Moody.

“We need to concentrate our efforts on persuading senators to change their opinions.”

Moody would be well-versed on the subject of shifting viewpoints. He said he disagreed with O’Rourke’s view on marijuana a decade ago and is now one of the Legislature’s leading proponents of decreasing punishment for marijuana offenses. He expressed his sentiments at the time by saying that changing American drug policy wouldn’t “turn the switch on violence.” He’s become “far more comfortable” with the concept that legalization is “a key element of the problem” since then, he added.

According to Moody, O’Rourke was “ahead of the curve” on marijuana legalization, a characteristic that the people should demand from its leaders.

El Paso, Moody believes, is the best position to lead the battle since it was the first city in the United States to criminalize marijuana use in 1915.

“If you’re going to make things right, if you believe this is a blight on our system that started here, then let it finish here. Let’s take the initiative to put a stop to it “According to Moody.

“When I work on this topic, it certainly weighs hard on my mind and shoulders, and I think it does the same for [O’Rourke].”

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