Beto O'Rourke Releases Marijuana Legalization Plan

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke wants to legalize marijuana at the federal and state level and grant clemency for individuals serving time for marijuana offenses. O’Rourke released his plan to legalize and regulate marijuana on September 19 after meeting with marijuana advocates in California.

O’Rourke’s two-pronged proposal calls for an end to the War on Drugs by legalizing marijuana and then investing revenue from the cannabis industry. In his proposal, O’Rourke acknowledged that the War on Drugs has had a catastrophic effect on communities of color.

His plan cites previous research showing that, despite similar rates of use, African Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Latinx people also experience higher arrest and incarceration rates for these types of drug offenses.

The former Texas congressman’s plan calls for marijuana legalization and the removal of the drug from the controlled substances list.

If elected, O’Rourke promises to use clemency power to release those incarcerated for marijuana possession and to establish a review board to determine whether others in prison for marijuana-related charges should be released. His plan calls for the records of those convicted of possession to be expunged as well.

The plan also considers how cannabis-related charges will affect undocumented immigrants. To start, O’Rourke proposed removing those charges as grounds for deportation or denial of citizenship.

O’Rourke’s plan would introduce measures for regulating the marijuana industry. It requires licensing for producers, distributors, and sellers “to ensure that potency and quality are regulated, as well as to ensure that there is payment of taxes and fees.”

Producers, distributors, and sellers would be required to keep their facilities away from schools, daycares, churches, and other incompatible land uses. However, marijuana-related business owners would be permitted to use banks for their businesses under an O’Rourke presidency. Banks typically do not deal with the marijuana industry because cannabis is still classified as an illegal drug on the same level as heroin by the federal government, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Legal marijuana purchasing would be limited to adults and would require proof of age and identification much like the purchase of alcohol. Users would be required to limit the smoking of marijuana to private residences and nonpublic spaces.

Individuals in need of medicinal marijuana would have nationwide access under O’Rourke’s plan. The plan would “support the compassionate use of medicinal marijuana as an effective remedy for pain control, PTS, anxiety, and many other conditions.”

The second part of O’Rourke’s plan details how his administration would invest revenue from the marijuana industry. Revenue would fund “Drug War Justice Grants” to people who were formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses. The proposed tax on the cannabis industry would entirely fund these grants.

A federal tax on the industry would also support treatment programs, re-entry services, and programs established in communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis arrests, Politico reported. The tax would further assist those individuals affected by marijuana arrests by providing technical assistance, industry-specific training, access to interest free/low-interest loans, as well as access to investment financing and legal services.

O’Rourke’s plan would waive licensing fees, which can cost up to $120,000, for producing, distributing, or selling marijuana for low-income individuals who have been convicted of marijuana offenses. His administration would also make sure that the majority of licenses go to minority-owned businesses and those who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

“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 prepared statement, according to Politico.

He continued: “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.”

O’Rourke, a longtime advocate of cannabis legalization, is the latest Democrat to release a plan to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Tom Angell, publisher of Marijuana Moment, told the San Francisco Chronicle, that O’Rourke’s plan “really is more far-reaching that what other candidates have proposed.”

“His direct grant payments to people harmed by the drug war is unique,” Angell told the newspaper. “It goes much further than the restorative justice measures put forth by other contenders that focus more on reinvestment at the community level.”

O’Rourke’s proposal comes as the candidate hopes to recapture the attention of voters. National polls place O’Rourke firmly in the middle of the crowded Democratic field, with former vice president Joe Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) strongly ahead.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.