Beto O’Rourke Would Use Marijuana Taxes To Help Expunge Possession Convictions

On Thursday, Beto O’Rourke updated his campaign platform’s position on cannabis with specific, targeted proposals addressing legalization, taxation and social justice. As a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, O’Rourke has continued his long-standing fight to end the prohibition of cannabis. On the campaign trail, O’Rourke has called for federal cannabis legalization as part of a wide-ranging package of criminal justice reforms. Now, we have a clearer picture of exactly what he has in mind.

Beto O’Rourke Proposes “Drug War Justice Grants” for Formerly Incarcerated People

Much of Beto O’Rourke’s cannabis platform resembles other candidates’ proposals to federally legalize cannabis. O’Rourke’s plan would apply a federal tax on the marijuana industry, open up access to banks and financial services, work to elevate minority-owned cannabis businesses and invest in rebuilding lives and communities shattered by the drug war.

But it’s Beto’s plan for “Drug War Justice Grants” that distinguishes his proposal from the pack. Under O’Rourke’s plan, a federal marijuana tax would fund grants to help expunge possession convictions, support re-entry programs and directly provide money to those formerly incarcerated for marijuana offenses in state and federal prisons. Federal marijuana tax revenue would also assist those who have been locked out of opportunity due to marijuana crimes with obtaining housing and finding jobs.

“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 announcing his cannabis legalization plan.

Drug War Justice Grants would be available for different lengths of time, depending on how long a person was in prison. The grants would take the form of a monthly stipend, given to repay people who served time for nonviolent marijuana convictions. Grants would also assist formerly incarcerated people who want to work or start a business in the legal cannabis industry.

O’Rourke’s Plan Would Release Those Currently Serving Time and Block Deportations

Beyond using a federal marijuana tax to support efforts to redress the ongoing harms of the war on drugs, O’Rourke’s cannabis legalization proposal would also take steps to protect undocumented people and those currently behind bars. Speaking with Fox News, O’Rourke’s campaign said it had already identified more than 11,000 people locked up in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses who would be eligible for clemency under the plan.

Furthermore, O’Rourke’s plan would block the use of any marijuana-related offenses as grounds to deport undocumented people in the United States. Throughout his political career in El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke has been especially sensitive to the ways federal drug policy impacts the border and immigration policy. In 2011, O’Rourke co-authored Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, a book which advocated for cannabis legalization as a means to reduce violence.

The O’Rourke campaign got a bump among the crowded Democratic field thanks to the candidate’s call for a ban on assault weapons. Now, O’Rourke is using the renewed attention toward his campaign to foreground his criminal justice proposals. In additional to legalizing cannabis and expunging nonviolent marijuana charges, O’Rourke wants to end cash bail, mandatory minimums, private and for-profit prisons and support public defenders.