Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke is calling for the federal government to issue “drug war justice grants” to those imprisoned for non-violent cannabis convictions.
The funds for such payments would come from a federal tax on the cannabis industry after legalization. O’Rourke has been outspoken regarding his support for cannabis legalization, making it a priority of his presidential campaign. Even before his presidential campaign, while campaigning against incumbent Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke called for cannabis legalization in the Lonestar state and received an endorsement from NORML.
O’Rourke could be seeking to regain momentum in his quest to become the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination for president. Cannabis legalization has been a popular issue for him in the past and O’Rourke has been struggling in the polls as the race tightens around Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. O’Rourke could also be trying to change the conversation after a controversial statement during the recent Democratic Party debate where he called for the confiscation of assault weapons from U.S. citizens.
If elected president, O’Rourke said he will use the power of clemency to release inmates serving prison sentences for cannabis possession. He would also remove cannabis charges as a criterion for deporting immigrants or denying citizenship.
The plan for “justice” grants would be implemented to level the playing field for people of color since arrests are disproportionately applied to African American and Latino offenders, even though Caucasians consume cannabis at similar levels. These arrests can lead to incarceration, which may impact the ability to secure employment and also can ban offenders from joining the cannabis industry.
O’Rourke is also calling for state and local governments to waive cannabis licensing fees for low-income applicants convicted of cannabis violations.
“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. “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.”