Beto O’Rourke’s Drug War Reparations Are Off the Mark

Jose Nino Comments

Despite a surprising performance against incumbent Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, former Congressman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke seems to have hit a snag in recent polls.

His 2020 presidential platform, typical by leftist standards, includes a plan to a plan to give Big Labor more power through increased unionization and even a radical call for the confiscation of AR-15s.

This leaves us wondering: Is there anything that a lover of liberty can find positive in O’Rourke’s campaign? At first glance, O’Rourke’s plan to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act represents a good start in phasing out the disastrous drug war. One needn’t look further than at the damage it has wrought — from mass incarceration to civil liberties violations — to understand why this policy must be phased out. In that regard, O’Rourke is correct.

However, O’Rourke isn’t stopping with just removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. He wants to directly compensate those who were incarcerated through “Drug War Justice Grants”. In a press release, O’Rourke declared, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

The proposed grants would be funded by a federal tax on the marijuana sector, and would be paid monthly to people “formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses in state and federal prison for a period based on time served.” While the sentiment is well-intentioned, such a program could become a boondoggle and turn into a massive fiscal burden if implemented federally.

For starters, we don’t need another tax at the federal level to finance a government program. Big-spending and taxation are attached at the hip. Let’s not give politicians another avenue to tax us to death.  A more reasonable alternative to the proposed grants would be to let states handle this process and experiment to see which policies work and which should be discarded. Centralized control should not be the default response for handling reparations.

Some of the other planks of O’Rourke’s plan include the expungement of past cannabis convictions and using “clemency power to release those currently serving sentences for marijuana possession​ and establish a review board to determine whether others currently serving sentences related to marijuana should be released.” Now, this is a much more reasonable proposal. But again, it should be conducted at the state or local level. Ideally, it would target individuals who have only been convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

Nevertheless, acknowledging that current drug policy has been a failure is a welcome development. If there is one redeeming feature of O’Rourke and most of his Democratic colleagues in the 2020 race, it’s that they are moving away from the failed drug war.

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