Tony Newman 646-335-5384<br />
Jill Harris 646-335-2262</p>
Marijuana legalization supporter Beto O'Rourke defeated 8-term Congressman Sylvestre Reyes in yesterday’s Democratic primary for Texas's 16th congressional district. O'Rourke is virtually assured of being the next congressman from the heavily Democratic district.
In early 2009, as an El Paso city councilman, O'Rourke championed a resolution calling for a national debate on the legal regulation of currently illicit drugs. The resolution was prompted by the out-of-control violence in El Paso’s neighbor across the border, Ciudad Juarez, which has the highest murder rate of any city in the world. After the mayor vetoed the resolution, which had passed the city council unanimously, the council looked like it was going to override the veto. But at that point Congressman Reyes inserted himself into the debate and claimed that the city would lose federal funding if the resolution were to pass. This killed the veto override, but prompted a national discussion about drug policy reform that put O’Rourke in the spotlight for his support of reform.
“O’Rourke’s victory demonstrates that support for drug policy reform, and even for legalizing marijuana, is no detriment to electoral success – in fact it was a key asset in his triumph,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action. “Reyes surprising defeat, meanwhile, shows that kneejerk support for persisting with failed drug war tactics can hurt politicians at the ballot box.”
Earlier this month, the Democratic primary for Attorney General in Oregon featured a similar dynamic. Ellen Rosenblum won a surprising victory over favorite Dwight Holton, in a race in which medical marijuana became a major issue. Rosenblum is supportive of patients’ right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana, while her opponent, former Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton, is sharply critical of the program. Although Holton was heavily favored early in the race, he was targeted for defeat by supporters of medical marijuana after actively trying to undermine responsible state regulation. With no Republican filing for the office, Rosenblum is all but certain to be the state’s next attorney general.
“Beto O’Rourke’s congressional victory in Texas, coming on the heels of Ellen Roseblum’s victory in Oregon’s attorney general race, shows that drug policy reform is no longer a third rail in American politics,” said Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action. “In both of those races, the candidates’ views on marijuana reform were used against them in attacks by their opponents – and in both cases, the voters supported the pro-reform candidate. A majority of Americans now favor treating marijuana like alcohol, and strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say the federal government should not interfere with state medical marijuana laws. From blue states like Oregon to red states like Texas, it’s a new day for the politics of drug policy reform.”
O’Rourke spoke passionately about drug policy reform at the opening plenary of Drug Policy Action’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Mexico in 2009 (video available by request).
Late last year, O’Rourke released a book co-authored with fellow El Paso City Rep. Susie Byrd, Dealing With Death and Drugs. The book was applauded as an important contribution to the ongoing debate about whether marijuana should be legalized and how to address the drug war violence that has gripped Mexico.