In LA Visit, Beto O’Rourke Discusses Homelessness and Legal Cannabis

Cannabis entrepreneurs Adriana Gomez and Kika Keith, members of the Equity First Alliance, participated in a roundtable discussion with Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. (Nathan Solis / CNS).

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The same day President Donald Trump hosted a $100,000 a plate fundraiser in Southern California, 2020 Democratic candidate and Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke met with women living on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

O’Rourke’s visit to the Golden State coincided with multiple fundraising events on behalf of Trump’s re-election campaign. While Trump was in the Bay area for his morning fundraiser, O’Rourke began his day with a visit to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles.

The presidential hopeful’s visit to the center, which provides emergency housing to domestic violence survivors, health care services, vocational training and connections to permanent housing for women, comes as California lawmakers have been scrambling to make sense of comments Trump made calling for federal intervention into the state’s homeless crisis.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Trump is considering removing homeless people living in encampments and placing them in federal facilities.

O’Rourke compared this to the Trump administration’s answer to immigration being a large wall.

“The cruelty with which he meets those who are as vulnerable and desperate as a person can be,” O’Rourke said. “To propose potentially sweeping them off the street, warehousing them out of sight, out of mind, is just the kind of thing you’d expect from one of the worst presidents this country has ever had.”

Earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom sent a letter to Trump requesting 50,000 more federal affordable housing vouchers for the state’s nearly 130,000 homeless.

The Downtown Women’s Center where O’Rourke met with staff and women in a roundtable discussion doubles as an overnight shelter and is part of the city’s bridge housing program aimed at placing homeless people into permanent housing.

In the last year, the homeless population grew by 12% in the unincorporated county and 16% in the city of Los Angeles. O’Rourke parked down the street from the center and walked to the entrance surrounded by encampments and people looking at the tall presidential hopeful who is hovering at around 4% in national polls, trailing behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and California Senator Kamala Harris.

O’Rourke recently grabbed headlines with his proposal for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons.

Later in the day he participated in a roundtable discussion on recreational cannabis with people from the industry.

Equity First is a coalition of groups working toward racial equality in the cannabis industry, with an emphasis on reparative justice for communities negatively impacted by the war on drugs by a law enforcement presence that focused on low income neighborhoods.

O’Rourke said he had smoked cannabis but said as a white man he did not face the same repercussions that people of color faced.

Panelists at that discussion explained to O’Rourke that many of the people who were incarcerated for low-level drug offenses should be able to benefit from the $10 billion industry.

When Los Angeles approved its commercial cannabis regulations in December 2017, it included a social equity component, and a city department was formed to select individuals who would be eligible to receive benefits to start their businesses under the program. These individuals include people who were incarcerated for drug offenses, including felonies, and people who lived in neighborhoods selected by the city that were said to have been negatively affected by the “war on drugs.”

Entrepreneur Karim Webb said that those individuals currently make up less than 1% of the industry.

O’Rourke took notes and repeated that figure with astonishment.

He was also surprised when United Farm Workers’ cannabis campaign coordinator Jamie Padilla said that undocumented workers in the cannabis industry could face deportation by the federal government even in states where recreational cannabis has been legalized.

“Wow. Even in those states where it is legal?” O’Rourke asked.

He listened to cannabis consultant and former prosecutor Yvette McDowell, who explained how easy it could be for the courts and a district attorney’s office to expunge someone’s record of a low-level drug offense.

“We go into court with a pile of papers for people who need their record expungements,” said McDowell. “We could wipe all that out with relatively low resources.”

O’Rourke said it’s important for him to adopt an intelligent federal policy that not only ends the prohibition on marijuana but also corrects the wrongs committed against people of color.

“We’re seeing the beginning of what could be a national model here in Los Angeles,” said O’Rourke.

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