Beto O'Rourke visits marijuana dispensary amid call for federal legalization, reparations for ex-offenders

The policy proposal draws sharp contrasts from most of 2020 field.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke visited a marijuana dispensary in Oakland, California, on Thursday and presented his sweeping legalization proposal, which includes directing revenue from a federally regulated industry towards reparations for those who faced served time for non-violent marijuana offenders. O'Rourke said these individuals would receive grants of about $1,200 per month served in jail or prison.

The plan appears to be the most progressive and detailed on the issue among the top 2020 candidates and draws contrasts with front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden, the only one to stop short of supporting full federal marijuana legalization. Biden supports medicinal legalization, decriminalization for recreational and expunging prior marijuana convictions.

Dropped on the day O'Rourke is holding a discussion with community leaders at a marijuana dispensary in Oakland called "Blunts and Moore" and making his campaign's first trip to Colorado, the policy proposal outlines principles for making marijuana regulated similarly to that of alcohol and tobacco while outlining a policy framework that would give those who were targeting by the "war on drugs" policies of the last few decades a competitive advantage in the new government-supervised marijuana industry. Outside the store, O'Rourke said the $1,200 a month, in addition to re-entry services and other benefits provided to those impacted by harsh sentences, "may not correct all of the wrongs that we have perpetrated but goes some distance in making sure that person has the resources to get back on their feet."

The former city councilman of El Paso's criticism of the war on drugs traces back to 2009 when he called for a debate within city government on the subject. The effort failed after a veto from the mayor, but two years later he co-wrote a book detailing the impacts of marijuana prohibition on violence at the U.S.-Mexico border. He has also co-sponsored several pieces of federal legislative proposals aimed at legalizing and regulating marijuana as a U.S. congressman.

“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,” ​said Beto O’Rourke said in a statement when releasing the plan.​ “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.”

Under his new plan, taxes on marijuana sales would go towards grants to those previously incarcerated for non-violent marijuana offenses, funding treatment, housing and re-entry programs. O'Rourke's plan also aims to waive licensing fees for businesses getting involved in the emerging industry to individuals convicted of marijuana offenses, with the majority of licenses going to minority-owned businesses.

O'Rourke's proposal to legalize and regulate marijuana is built around concepts similar to how alcohol and tobacco is controlled by the government. Sales would require identification and proof-of-age (although the age isn't specified in his plan). Laws would restrict smoking in public places and keep production and sales away from schools and churches.

There would also be restrictions on advertisements, particularly prohibiting the targeting of children. Taxes would also benefit the development of marijuana breathalyzer technology and government regulators would oversee every step from production to sale for quality and safety while establishing sustainability standards.

His plan would also include "an aggressive advertising campaign that outlines the dangers associated with marijuana use, with a strong focus on deterring driving under the influence and use by children."

Sen. Kamala Harris has also called for full legalization of marijuana and earlier this summer introduced a bill on Capitol Hill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, that would direct tax revenue from the industry towards ex-offenders.