Hours after announcing his intent to run for president, Beto O'Rourke said he supports legalization of marijuana nationwide, meaning the issue will no doubt be front and center of his campaign, along with the rest of the Democratic candidates. Only in the past ten years has marijuana become a (somewhat) positive talking point in politics. In 2018, over 66 percent of Americans said they now support marijuana legalization compared to the 44 percent of people in 2009. Even President Obama didn’t have much support for the plant. For the former El Paso, Texas Congressman, weed has always been pretty central to his politics, but with a field full of pro-pot candidates, where does O’Rourke stand and how would his presidency change drug laws in our country?

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What exactly does O'Rourke support?

According to the New York Post, O'Rourke laid out some of the details on his marijuana policy on the first day campaigning for president. To a room full of people in Keokuk, Iowa, he argued that we should end “federal prohibition on marijuana” because of how it directly affects people of color more than white people.

O'Rourke described his stance as being one that will help get people out of jail for non-violent offenses, like marijuana, and lower the rate of locking people up, often disproportionately affecting minorities more than white people. O'Rourke told Texas Monthly when he was running for Senate that “ending the prohibition on marijuana, and not making it a state by state issue… federally ending the prohibition on marijuana is going to save lives, saves billions of dollars, and moves us from a country that imprisons more of its citizens than any country on the face of the planet.”

O'Rourke has called legalization for a handful of reasons, including research into PTSD for veterans, rescheduling the drug’s classification and ending non-violent criminal sentences. He was endorsed by NORML in 2018 for his stance on marijuana and has supported him in the past. He has a “B+” grade from the group. In the past, O'Rourke has not only tried to decriminalize the drug at the federal level but has tried to ease the negative effects that people suffer legally from marijuana.

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Since his first days in office, O'Rourke has called on others to try to have “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.” No matter what happens, there will always be this video of O'Rourke singing “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” with Willie Nelson during his 2018 campaign.

Back to the Basics

US Rep Beto O'Rourke Source: Wikimedia Commons
Almost a decade ago, a young El Paso city council member came up with an idea - what if instead of trying to fight a cartel war with fire, let’s put out some of the flames. Then council member Beto O’Rourke came up with an idea to try to decriminalize the drug and have “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics,” according to The Intercept.

His idea of regulation instead of condemnation and jail came at a time before marijuana legalization became a widespread talking point. So while the bill originally had the support by every council member, a local conservative Democrat, Congressman Silvestre Reyes, convinced the mayor and consequently a majority of the city council to oppose the bill or risk losing federal funding. Still, O'Rourke didn’t back down, maintaining his stance that marijuana should be legalized and that we should end the war on drugs and stop the violence at the border.

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He used this as a talking point during his primary against Rep. Reyes in 2011, which he would go on to win. That was one of the earliest times that a Democrat won on the position that the war on drugs did more harm than good and that ideas around weed were beginning to change. O'Rourke would also co-publish a book in 2011 about the effects of the war on drugs and would use the book, Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, to outline his thoughts on why legalizing marijuana is necessary. When he defended his bill, he stated that “If our drug laws were different, I will absolutely guarantee you that our body count would be different.”

During his time in Congress, O'Rourke voted to decriminalize marijuana six times, and supported other bills like the Better Drive Act, which would’ve repealed “a law reducing highway funding for states if they did not automatically suspend drivers licenses of anyone convicted of a drug offense.” Most of his bills didn’t go very far, but O'Rourke has held out and continued to keep his friendly policy ideas about the drug. Now O'Rourke is one of the hottest names to throw his hat into the presidential ring and the Texan could be the key to changing the laws and opening the doors to marijuana legalization.

He's Not Alone

In a crowded Democratic field, Beto O’Rourke however, isn’t the only one who supports marijuana legalization. The field is full of popular faces who are more than willing to throw their support behind the plant, whether it be decriminalization, full legalization or somewhere in between. Senator Cory Booker has previously introduced legislation to decriminalize the drug with his Marijuana Justice Act, which was also supported by Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who all co-sponsored the bill.

The bill would end the war on drugs while also setting aside money to start repairing the damages caused by the policies and to help people negatively affect by the harsh laws. Candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Former Congressman Julián Castro, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have all announced their support for marijuana reform.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg previously discussed his support for marijuana legalization, however, that was met with backlash as he enforced harsh laws against weed while in office. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has been somewhat friendly to the drug, but is more of a centrist, and got a “D” from NORML for her policies as Minnesota’s Attorney General.