Beto O’Rourke, the latest Democrat to throw his hat into the 2020 Presidential ring, made a big splash last year when he ran against Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas Senate race. While the incumbent Cruz ultimately beat him, the margin was impressively narrow, especially considering a Democrat hasn’t held the position in nearly 25 years.
Starting his political career on the city council for El Paso, Texas, Beto advocated marijuana legislation as a way to help solve border conflicts. While there, he introduced a resolution to have a "more open discussion" about drug policies. The motion passed, but was ultimately vetoed over fear of federal repercussions.
Later, cannabis advocacy became a major aspect of O’Rourke’s successful effort to oust former Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes in 2012. On the campaign, he frequently called Reyes out for his regressive stance on cannabis, saying "he’s just not part of the conversation, much less leading it or bending it towards our region’s interests."
After winning the election and becoming a US Representative in 2013, Beto co-sponsored a number of bills that would have legalized industrial hemp, online medical access and gave more power to the individual states on the issue. O’Rourke continued to voice his support for ending the War on Drugs throughout his time in the position.
Last April, before O’Rourke began his Senate run in earnest, he co-sponsored the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018, a bipartisan bill designed to enable Veterans Affairs to research medical cannabis. The VA pushed back against it, claiming that since cannabis remained a Schedule 1 drug, they saw no way in which they could engage with it. The bill never made it to the floor.
Beto’s position on cannabis did not change once he announced last year’s senate run. While he did acknowledge that keeping marijuana out of the hands of young people was important, the best solution was “legalization and regulation.” NORML gave O’Rourke a B+ grade on its congressional scorecard, and ultimately endorsed the candidate for the Senate position.
In response to this endorsement, O’Rourke issued a statement reasserted his position, saying that “We must end the federal prohibition on marijuana in this country. Texas should be leading the way by encouraging comprehensive reforms in drug control policies that have had a devastating effect on communities of color.”
Beto was also notably endorsed by Texas royalty Willie Nelson, a figure who is typically quiet about his political affiliations. Willie cited Beto’s stance on the issue a primary factor in his decision to endorse him. Nelson even invited Beto to sing with him during a ‘Turn out for Texas’ rally, performed at a subsequent Beto rally, and spoke his praises during a press tour for his latest album. In turn, Beto used Willie’s image a great deal on the campaign trail, and made the song "On The Road Again" central to his campaign.
Earlier this March, just days before announcing that he would in fact be running for president, O’Rourke called for the legalization of marijuana nationwide in an email to supporters. He said the federal prohibition on marijuana should be repealed, and the records of those incarcerated for non-violent cannabis crimes expunged.
This presents pretty clear evidence that O’Rourke will continue to be a supporter of cannabis reform throughout his presidential campaign. While this position seems to have served him well in his previous campaigns, it remains to be seen how much he will continue to lean on the issue throughout his Washington bid.