Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has made it clear that marijuana reform is a central issue in his effort to seize the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Only hours after announcing his candidacy, O’Rourke spoke to a crowd in Iowa about the importance of reforming the nation’s cannabis laws. He officially endorsed legalizing marijuana nationwide and expunging all previous marijuana convictions in a March 2018 email to supporters.
O’Rourke has been a supporter of marijuana legalization throughout his entire political career. In 2009, as a member of the El Paso City Council, O’Rourke called for “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.”
During his five-year tenure in Congress, he co-sponsored several cannabis reform bills, including legislation to end marijuana prohibition and to protect states with legal marijuana from federal interference. He also backed a bill that automatically sealed criminal records of people convicted for non-violent federal marijuana offenses. A bill that allowed students to still receive federal financial aid even after a cannabis possession conviction also garnered his signature. O’Rourke also co-sponsored bills aimed at expanding research into medical marijuana and to allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.
While in the U.S. House, O’Rourke voted ‘yes’ multiple times for floor amendments that protected states with medical marijuana laws from federal enforcement, and for a wider amendment that also applied to states with recreational marijuana or CBD-only laws. He also voted in favor of amendments to legalize hemp and one aimed at allowing banks to service marijuana businesses.
O’Rourke was also the lead sponsor of the Better Drive Act, which would prohibit the federal government from withholding funds for highway infrastructure if a state fails to revoke or suspend drivers’ licenses of people convicted of drug offenses.
In his pursuit of cannabis reform, O’Rourke signed a bipartisan letter in 2014 urging President Barack Obama to deschedule marijuana. In a separate letter two years later, he and colleagues called on Obama to push for an end to the War on Drugs at a United Nations General Assembly Special Session. In 2016, he also circulated a petition imploring Congress to expand medical cannabis access to veterans.
Rather than leave it up to individual states to fix, O’Rourke believes in the need for federal legislation to truly end the War on Drugs. He regularly talks about the need to legalize marijuana in interviews, social media posts, and in road trip videos.