O’Rourke unveils plan to legalize marijuana

Former Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues, Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON — Beto O’Rourke’s campaign on Thursday unveiled his proposal to legalize and tax marijuana, release and expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana possession and help businesses that sell marijuana use banks.

The plan puts down on paper a proposal that has been at the core of the former Texas congressman and 2020 Democratic presidential contender’s entire political career.

In 2011 he co-wrote a book arguing for the legalization of marijuana, saying it was a crucial step to reduce violence in Mexico. He then entered national politics by ousting Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a 2012 primary with a campaign built on challenging Reyes’ opposition to marijuana legalization.

As a presidential candidate, O’Rourke has framed the issue as a matter of racial injustice, pointing out in Iowa in March that those arrested on marijuana-related charges are “browner and blacker than most of America.”

His plan aims to regulate marijuana in ways much more similar to alcohol: requiring IDs to buy it, focusing on deterring driving under the influence and limiting its use in public spaces.

O’Rourke’s plan would also block the federal government from using marijuana-related offenses as grounds to deport undocumented immigrants.

His plan calls for a federal tax on the marijuana industry — though it does not specify what that tax would be. Proceeds from the tax would be used to fund a series of objectives, including supporting reentry to society for those imprisoned for marijuana possession, funding substance abuse treatment programs and providing money to those formerly incarcerated for marijuana offenses in state and federal prisons — which his campaign is calling a “Drug War Justice Grant.”

It would prioritize minority-owned businesses and people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses themselves in obtaining licenses to produce, distribute and sell marijuana.

O’Rourke is rolling out his proposal with roundtables focused on the issue this week in Los Angeles and Oakland, as well as a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) planned for Thursday.

“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 in a statement accompanying his plan’s release.

“These inequalities have compounded for decades, as predominantly white communities have been given the vast majority of lucrative business opportunities, while communities of color still face over-policing and criminalization. It’s our responsibility to begin to remedy the injustices of the past and help the people and communities most impacted by this misguided war.”

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