Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke toured a marijuana dispensary and talked to cannabis experts Thursday in Oakland, and he raised eyebrows with a plan to give money to people locked up for marijuana offenses.
O’Rourke was all ears during a round table discussion about the lessons learned from legalizing marijuana in California and the work that still needs to be done to help communities of color disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. He spoke with Alphonso Blunt Jr., better known as "Tucky," an East Oakland native who was arrested more than a decade ago for carrying $80 worth of weed.
"Tucky was telling me a little about his story," O'Rourke said.
"It messes up your life, so to speak, for something that is legal now," Blunt said, referring to his arrest record.
Blunt, who said he started selling weed at age 16, is now selling it legally as the co-owner of the Blunts and Moore dispensary in East Oakland, where O’Rourke stopped by for a visit.
"He wasn’t on my radar, I didn’t know anything about him," Blunt said about O'Rourke.
The former Texas Congressman doesn’t just want to legalize pot, but he also wants the federal government to give monthly stipends to people who were locked up for marijuana offenses.
"We have harmed that person; we have culpability in their narrowed options," O'Rourke said. "We also have a responsibility to make sure that they can get back on their feet."
So, where will those so-called War on Drugs justice grants come from?
"It’s coming from a federal tax on the sale of cannabis," O'Rourke said.
Blunt says he appreciates the intention but he says more taxes on legal pot will hurt cannabis entrepreneurs like himself.
"It’s too high of taxes," he said. "Y’all need to lower it."
If elected, O’Rourke says he will use clemency power to free people serving sentences for marijuana possession, and he will expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana possession.
The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll has O’Rourke trailing nationwide with 1-percent of Democratic voters.
"Whatever his numbers are, whatever," Blunt said. "Someone willing to come to just talk to the people, in communities, about certain things; that’s amazing." O'Rourke's next campaign stop is Aurora, Colorado, where he will be taking part in a town hall meeting on gun violence Thursday night.