Reefer Madness: Betting on Beto
O'Rourke defeats drug warrior Reyes
By Jordan Smith, 3:57PM, Tue. Jun. 5, 2012
Challenging the wisdom of the War on Drugs hasn't hurt Beto O'Rourke, who just won the Dem nomination for U.S. Congress in the 16th District in El Paso – but opposition even to talking about the WoD has most certainly hurt incumbent U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who voters tossed out of office in the May 29 primary.
As a member of the El Paso City Council, O'Rourke, 39, has been steadfast in supporting an open dialog about the efficacy and wisdom of the War on Drugs – no small issue for the West Texas border city – despite attempts by fellow city officials, members of the Texas House delegation, and Reyes himself to cut off any and all discussion of the topic. (Only former El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh declined to sign on to a letter written by the delegation warning O'Rourke off the topic.)
At any rate, O'Rourke and El Paso's determination to have that conversation seems to have played in O'Rourke's favor at the polls, where last week he ousted from Congress with 51% of the vote the 16-year incumbent Reyes, a former border patrol agent. It was a stunning upset, and nearly assures O'Rourke's move to Washington, D.C.; only one Republican has been elected to the seat since it was created in 1903. Still, O'Rourke will first have to face GOP nominee Barbara Carrasco at the polls in November.
According to Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, O'Rourke's election "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," he told The Fix. Indeed, it appears that O'Rourke is at least the second elected official this spring to see benefits at the polls come from progressive approach to drug policy; also in May, with the backing of the medi-pot community, Ellen Rosenblum earned the Dem nomination for Oregon attorney general. "The priorities of the next Attorney General need to be wisely using our limited tax dollars - protecting consumers and prosecuting dangerous criminals," reads Rosenblum's website. "I do not believe that prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana represents the best use of our resources. A better use of those resources is providing more treatment options for people with drug and alcohol addiction. As Attorney General, I will make marijuana enforcement a low priority, and protect the rights of medical marijuana patients."
That approach, and the questions O'Rourke has consistently brought to the table, appear in line with current public opinion polling. Fifty-six-percent of likely voters now favor legalizing and regulating marijuana similar to the way alcohol and tobacco are taxed and regulated, according to a Rasmussen poll released May 17.