Beto O’Rourke has called upon the U.S. federal government to provide “Drug War Justice Grants” to people formerly jailed for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
The former Texas congressman is bidding to get his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy back on track after losing ground to rivals. He is a long-term marijuana legalization advocate: in 2011 he co-wrote a book arguing for it, arguing it would be crucial to reducing violence in Mexico.
Some credit this with launching his political career. He ousted Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a 2012 primary by challenging Reyes’ opposition to marijuana legalization.
Now he is doubling down on this stance. He is not only calling it to be legalized, taxed and regulated, he also wants to see people who were formerly incarcerated compensated for their time behind bars.
O’Rourke has framed the issue as a matter of racial injustice. “The criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately impacted communities of color – time away from family, tarnished records, and economic opportunities lost,” he said.
He is calling for a federal tax on the marijuana industry, and he wants to see revenue channelled into a monthly stipend dished out to those formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses in state and federal prison for a period based on time served. The grants would be funded completely by the tax on the marijuana industry.
This tax would also be used to fund treatment programs for “substance use”, support for those incarcerated for marijuana possession and to invest in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests.
It would also be used to help these previously incarcerated individuals enter the legal marijuana industry, via training, technical assistance, and interest-free loans.
His calls follow in the footsteps of fellow White House hopeful Kamala Harris, who announced last week that she aims to provide government subsidies to “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” who wish to start their own marijuana businesses.
Harris has now slipped down to fifth in the betting to become the Democratic nominee for presidency, behind Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang. O’Rourke is some way down the list as a 50/1 outsider.
Warren and Sanders are among the co-sponsors of a Senate proposal that would make marijuana legal, expunge criminal records and create a reinvestment fund to aid communities hurt by the war on drugs.