Whereas the legislature has been hesitant to embrace hashish reform, advocates hope O’Rourke’s consideration to the problem will give it a political increase.
By James Pollard, The Texas Tribune
At a crowded rally in downtown Austin, Beto O’Rourke ticked off his regular laundry checklist of marketing campaign guarantees: stabilizing the facility grid, rolling again the state’s new permitless carry regulation and increasing well being care entry.
However the El Paso Democrat obtained a few of the loudest cheers of the night time when he promised to legalize marijuana in Texas, one thing he stated “most of us, no matter occasion, truly agree on.”
“I’ve been warned that this may occasionally or will not be a preferred factor to say in Austin, Texas,” O’Rourke stated to the gang gathered in Republic Sq. Park in December. “However when I’m governor, we’re going to legalize marijuana.”
The help is nothing new for the gubernatorial candidate. O’Rourke has championed legalization efforts all through his political profession, ever since his time as a member of the El Paso metropolis council. He additionally nodded on the coverage all through his failed campaigns for U.S. Senate and for president.
However in his early run for governor, O’Rourke, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has repeatedly talked about legalizing marijuana on the marketing campaign path throughout Texas. Advocates hope the elevated consideration will give momentum to legalization efforts in a state with a few of the harshest penalties and highest arrest charges for marijuana possession.
O’Rourke’s advocacy across the difficulty dates again at the very least to his time on the El Paso Metropolis Council in 2009 when he pushed for a decision calling on Congress to have “an trustworthy, open nationwide debate on ending the prohibition” of marijuana.
Regardless of unanimously passing town council, then-Mayor John Prepare dinner vetoed the nonbinding measure. Prepare dinner obtained some assist from then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who warned council members town may lose federal funds in the event that they continued with their effort.
O’Rourke went on to problem and defeat Reyes within the 2012 Democratic main for his congressional seat. Throughout that race, Reyes launched an ad attacking O’Rourke’s position on marijuana legalization.
“Legalizing medication just isn’t the reply. Even our youngsters perceive that,” a narrator stated in a video marketing campaign advert that confirmed kids shaking their heads. “Say NO to Medication. Say NO to Beto.”
Whereas O’Rourke didn’t marketing campaign on the coverage all through that race, advocates on the time pointed to his victory as an indication of the altering attitudes round marijuana legalization.
O’Rourke’s viewpoint is influenced by his hometown of El Paso, which he writes about extensively in his 2011 ebook “Dealing Demise and Medication: The Huge Enterprise of Dope within the U.S. and Mexico,” co-written with fellow Metropolis Council member Susie Byrd.
For 15 years earlier than 2008, there was a median of 236 murders per yr in Ciudad Juárez, the sister metropolis of El Paso, O’Rourke wrote. That quantity rose to 316 in 2007 earlier than skyrocketing to 1,623 in 2008. There was a “pernicious affect,” O’Rourke wrote: the “multibillion greenback hemispheric vice between provide and demand,” the place “North America consumes unlawful medication” and “Mexico provides them.”
The ebook attracts a correlation between authorities crackdowns on the illicit commerce and the variety of murders. By regulating, controlling and taxing the marijuana market, O’Rourke and Byrd posit the U.S. may save lives. The authors name for proscribing gross sales to adults, offering licenses to assist regulate, limiting smoking to nonpublic areas and prohibiting advertisers from interesting to kids.
As soon as in Congress, O’Rourke continued efforts to roll back federal marijuana regulations—to no avail.
In 2017, he introduced a invoice repealing a rule that prevented federal funds from going to states that don’t implement a regulation revoking or suspending drivers’ licenses over drug offense convictions. He supported several failed attempts to guard states who had legalized the drug from federal incursion. O’Rourke sought to compel courts to seal records for nonviolent offenses involving marijuana. He co-sponsored a bill that will permit college students convicted of marijuana possession to take care of their eligibility for federal support. He additionally supported varied measures to increase research into and expand the availability of medical hashish, particularly for veterans.
None of these payments grew to become regulation.
If O’Rourke turns into governor, his plans to legalize marijuana would face one other set of hurdles within the type of the Texas Legislature, significantly Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the state Senate.
After the Home in April 2019 gave preliminary approval to a invoice that will have reduced criminal penalties for Texans possessing small quantities of marijuana, Patrick declared the measure useless within the Senate.
There’s been some momentum for extra progressive marijuana insurance policies inside Patrick’s occasion in current periods. In 2019, state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Price, and state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, filed payments that will chill out legal guidelines proscribing medical hashish entry. Each of these reforms didn’t turn into regulation. However Gov. Greg Abbott in Might did sign a watered-down expansion of Texas’ medical marijuana program to incorporate folks with most cancers and post-traumatic stress dysfunction.
Patrick didn’t remark for this story. In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, a Patrick spokesperson stated the lieutenant governor is “strongly against weakening any legal guidelines towards marijuana [and] stays cautious of the varied medicinal use proposals that might turn into a car for increasing entry to this drug.”
Abbott didn’t reply questions on his place relating to marijuana legalization.
Legalization advocates hope O’Rourke’s candidacy can transfer opinions amongst state leaders on enjoyable marijuana restrictions.
“Hopefully with Beto O’Rourke presumably being the Democratic nominee, we are able to push the opposite candidates within the race to speak about this difficulty extra, to return to the desk and have a dialog about how these insurance policies are having unfavourable impacts on our state,” stated Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Accountable Marijuana Coverage.
Marijuana legalization attracts some broad help throughout the state. In line with a June 2021 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 60 % of Texas voters say at the very least a small quantity of marijuana must be authorized. That determine contains 73 % of Democrats, 74 % of independents and 43 % of Republicans.
Mike Siegel, the co-founder of Floor Sport Texas, a nonprofit targeted on supporting progressive insurance policies round “employees, wages, and weed,” stated the problem is a chance for O’Rourke to achieve unbiased or nonaligned voters.
“[Marijuana policy] is a serious alternative for [O’Rourke] to achieve out to center of the highway, unbiased or nonaligned voters and even some Republican voters,” Siegel stated. “A governor’s race that’s high-profile just like the one that’s developing, the place it may very well be Beto O’Rourke versus Greg Abbott, that’s the most effective alternative to push these populist wedge points.”
However Joshua Clean, analysis director for the Texas Politics Mission at UT-Austin, stated marijuana legalization isn’t a “terribly essential difficulty” for voters by itself. Its political salience relies on the problems tied to the coverage, he stated, whether or not that’s the economic system, legal justice system or well being care.
Advocates for legalization tie the problem to racial justice. In his 2011 ebook, O’Rourke linked the drug’s prohibition within the early twentieth century to racist fears of Mexican immigrants. Advocates at the moment spotlight the racial disparities in present regulation’s enforcement. Black Texans are 2.6 instances extra possible than white Texans to be arrested for marijuana possession, based on an April 2020 ACLU report. In 2018, Texas had the very best complete variety of marijuana possession arrests within the nation, based on the report, which discovered the state ranks forty first for largest racial disparities in such arrests.
State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who served as political director on O’Rourke’s 2018 marketing campaign, stated the tide is popping on insurance policies referring to hashish enforcement. For instance, Home Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, co-authored the 2019 bill that will have reduced penalties for possession earlier than Patrick killed it.
“A Gov. O’Rourke will surely flip that tide loads faster due to his place on these points. However finally, to get one thing to the governor’s desk, you’ve obtained to get it by means of the Senate,” Moody stated. “Our focus must be on altering hearts and minds within the Senate.”
Moody would know one thing about altering opinions. Now one of many Legislature’s largest proponents of decreasing penalties for marijuana fees, he stated he disagreed with O’Rourke’s place on marijuana a decade in the past. Overhauling American drug coverage wasn’t going to “flip the swap on violence,” he stated of his emotions on the time. However he stated he’s since grown “way more comfy” with the concept that legalization is “a serious piece of the puzzle.”
O’Rourke was “forward of the curve” on marijuana legalization, Moody stated, a top quality he added the general public ought to search from their leaders.
For Moody, El Paso—which grew to become the first U.S. city to outlaw marijuana utilization in 1915—is the place to steer that cost.
“For those who’re going to proper the unsuitable, when you suppose this can be a scourge on our system, and it started right here, then let’s let it finish right here. Let’s paved the way to finish it,” Moody stated. “That definitely is one thing that weighs closely on my thoughts and on my shoulders once I work on this coverage, and I think about it’s the identical for [O’Rourke].”
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and interesting Texans on state politics and coverage.
Disclosure: The College of Texas at Austin has been a monetary supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan information group that’s funded partly by donations from members, foundations and company sponsors. Monetary supporters play no position within the Tribune’s journalism. Discover a full checklist of them here.