How Cannabis Legalization Sparked Beto O’Rourke’s Presidential Bid


When Beto O’Rourke very first publicly known as for “the repeal of ineffective marijuana laws,” a substantial majority of Americans nevertheless disapproved of legalization. Colorado and Washington have been 3 years away from becoming the very first states to truly pass such a law. And most politicians living in deep red states nevertheless regarded as the challenge a classic “third rail” of the left.

So what convinced O’Rourke—currently a best-tier contender in the Democratic presidential primary—to take such a controversial challenge by the horns?

He looked across the border.

A Tale of Two Cities

Beto O’Rourke lives in El Paso, Texas. His residence is close sufficient to the US-Mexico border to see the troubled town of Juarez from his front porch. Whilst he served on its city council (2005-2011), El Paso routinely ranked amongst the safest areas in the United States, though Juarez was as soon as pegged as the most violent city in the planet.

In 2009, with tiny fanfare, O’Rourke introduced a city council resolution calling for the finish of cannabis prohibition. That in the end sparked his profession.

Definitely it was no secret that Mexico’s steady descent into a Narco-state was accountable for all of that carnage in the streets of Juarez. And but handful of politicians on O’Rourke’s side of the border wanted to speak about how US drug policy designed the situations and incentives for the rise of enormous, destabilizing drug cartels, or what can realistically be completed to cease them.

So in January 2009, with no fanfare and tiny notice, O’Rourke introduced a resolution to the city council calling for an finish to cannabis prohibition and the starting of an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.”

Defeat Snatched from Victory

The resolution passed eight-, and the mayor of El Paso appeared prepared to sign it. At which point Sylvestre Reyes—a conservative Democrat, a former border patrol guard, and El Paso’s congressional representative—sent a letter to the mayor, calling on him to veto the measure.

Each in his letter and in individual lobbying calls to just about every member of the city council, Reyes produced clear that passing the resolution would threat swift and harsh reprisal, like cuts to federal funding for nearby law enforcement and other neighborhood applications.

The mayor responded by vetoing the resolution. 4 city council members then changed their positions to “no,” quashing any hope of overriding the veto. O’Rourke told the nearby El Paso Occasions newspaper that it was “a sad day in America, when you are threatened for wanting to have an open debate on an challenge that is affecting our nation and our area.”

O’Rourke vs. Reyes

O’Rourke grew so incensed at Reyes (a fellow Democrat) for undermining his resolution that he vowed to run against him for Congress. Which he did in 2013, in a key campaign exactly where cannabis legalization was a best tier challenge. That is how the complete point began. And that is how it ended, with Beto O’Rourke headed to Washington, DC, and Silvestre Reyes going down in history as the very first American politician to shed his job for becoming blindly devoted to the War on Drugs.

‘We stand a far better possibility of maintaining children from utilizing marijuana if it is sold by regulated companies as an alternative of by teenagers on street corners.’

Beto O’Rourke, 2013

“We stand a far better possibility of maintaining children from utilizing marijuana if it is sold by regulated companies as an alternative of by teenagers on street corners and middle college playgrounds,” O’Rourke wrote to supporters shortly right after arriving in Congress. “Regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana would limit bloated black industry income from empowering murderous criminal enterprises that have grown as well effective in a lot of U.S. neighborhoods and in neighboring Mexico.”

In hindsight, it is clear that O’Rourke—a talented, ambitious politician—had paddled out in front of a enormous wave of assistance for reforming America’s horrifically unjust laws against cannabis. He was then clever sufficient to retain paddling. Which aids clarify how he went from an obscure nearby politician to a severe contender for the presidency in just six years.

And though seemingly just about every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate this side of drug war dinosaur Joe Biden has now come out in favor of cannabis legalization, none can boast O’Rourke’s bona fides on the challenge. Nor can they match his bigger vision of ending the War on Drugs as we know it, a bold and potentially transformative proposition that appears to rank amongst the best political priorities of a man regularly criticized for becoming light on policy.

“Please Give Me Refuge”

Whilst there’s a lot of reputable progressive issues about O’Rourke’s voting record in Congress, any person doubting the depth of his conviction when it comes to rethinking drug policy have to have only listen to his ongoing series of interviews with Dean Becker, host of Drug Truth Network, an independent media production organization “dedicated to exposing the fraud, misdirection, and wastefulness of the ‘war on drugs.’”

O’Rourke very first became a recurring guest on Drug Truth Network shortly right after his city council resolution went down to a veto. In the decade considering the fact that, he’s returned a lot of occasions, like for the duration of his current run for the US Senate against Ted Cruz.

Listening in to these conversations, it swiftly becomes clear that Beto O’Rourke sees the War on Drugs for what it is—a dismal failure that corrupts institutions, incentivizes violence, fills prisons, wastes sources, and decimates lives and even complete communities, especially amongst the poor and individuals of colour, all though drugs stay readily readily available.

Drug War Linked to Asylum

In a 2013 DTN interview, O’Rourke marveled that America represents just five% of the world’s population, though consuming 25% of its illegal drugs. Most US politicians never ever speak about how this hyper-demand provides rise to a sophisticated, blood-soaked, illicit international provide chain. But Beto does, in the starkest terms, on episode right after episode of Drug Truth Network:

“This volume of drugs and money and weapons breaks down the rule of law… It creates the situations that permit for criminals to operate with impunity. It makes it possible for them to be capable to employ young otherwise hopeless males who do not have an education, and do not have job prospects, into a incredibly profitable even if brief-lived, violent and unsafe, deadly profession in these drug and criminal syndicates.

It makes it possible for these criminals to buy politicians and justice and take away it from the popular particular person. You can have no far more poignant instance of this than a seven-year-old youngster generating a 1 thousand mile plus journey by way of Mexico and actually knocking on the front door of the United States down in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and saying, ‘Please let me in. Please assist me. Please shelter me. Please give me refuge from the violence in my residence town, in my residence nation.’”

In a later 2018 DTN interview, O’Rourke talked about the harm completed on the American side of the border, in distinct when it comes to “mass incarceration” of poor and minority communities:

“We have, in this nation proper now, the biggest prison population per capita in the planet. And a lot of of these serving time are there for nonviolent drug crimes, [including] possession or sale of marijuana, a thing that is legal in the majority of the states in this nation proper now.

It fees $22,000 per year to retain somebody locked up, and we’re also locking up their earning possible, their capacity to finish their education, their capacity to raise their family members, their capacity to do what ever they’re supposed to do in their lifetimes… And so we can either continue to do that and count on a distinct outcome, or we can do the proper point and finish this war on drugs, and finish the prohibition on marijuana, and make confident that we reside up to our accurate possible as a nation and our highest ideals and values.”

Roof Hits With Willie?

O’Rourke is usually labeled a moderate. But at occasions he sounds like a lengthy-retired punk rocker, or a 1-time teenage member of a legendary OG hacker group identified as Cult of the Dead Cow. Which he is. (Amongst the hackers he applied the manage Psychedelic Warlord.)

For the record, he’s never ever admitted to personally utilizing cannabis and has denied ever attempting LSD. Although presumably he caught a make contact with higher the evening he shared the stage with fellow Texan Willie Nelson at 1 of his campaign rallies. Beto even sat in with Willie and the band on a rendition of the Red Headed Stranger’s classic anthem “On the Road Once more.”

“I like the way he goes about attempting to get elected,” Nelson explained to Rolling Stone. “He’s been to just about every county in Texas. He’s knocked on just about every door. And that is tough operate.”

O’Rourke will have to log a lot far more road miles if he desires to win the presidency. Here’s hoping that if he wins, he invites Willie to execute at the inauguration, and then lets him smoke yet another joint on the roof of the White Home.


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