(CN) — In an ad that made headlines for its history-making content in January, U.S. Senate candidate Gary Chambers Jr. raised a lighter to a joint held between his lips and lit it while condemning marijuana prohibition.
During a ceremony in the nation's capital this past weekend, Chambers, a Democrat who aims to be Louisiana's first Black U.S. senator, was given the 2022 Policy Changemaker Award at the 6th annual National Cannabis Festival.
Chambers, a 36-year-old Baton Rouge native, was selected for the award in part due to the viral ad he made which shined a light on the effects of marijuana incarceration on communities of color and the pressing need for cannabis legalization on a federal level. He is the first major-party candidate in history to smoke pot in a political ad.
The award recognizes policymakers on the state or federal level who have advocated for ending cannabis prohibition in the interest of equal justice, according to the festival’s website.
“We were honored to present Gary Chambers with the National Cannabis Festival’s 2022 Changemaker Award,” Caroline Phillips, a spokesperson for the festival, said in a statement.
“His candidacy has changed the way we talk about cannabis on the campaign trail and inspired people around the country to take their voting power to the polls this fall,” Phillips said.
In his acceptance speech, Chambers highlighted the incarceration of a man named Kevin Allen who is currently serving a life sentence in Angola State Penitentiary for possession of less than 2 grams of marijuana. Chambers encouraged the attendees to email Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and demand Allen’s release.
“I’m honored to receive this award in recognition of the work we are doing to destigmatize conversations around cannabis legislation on the campaign trail,” Chambers said in a statement. “Cannabis legalization is long overdue in this country, and it is critical that we not only push for it to happen now, but that we also support the Black communities that have been harmed by these laws.”
In the ad from January, Chambers blew marijuana smoke while speaking about the disproportionate number of Blacks incarcerated for marijuana possession across the nation.
With a background as a civil rights activist, Chambers was first encouraged to run for office by Shaun King, co-founder of Real Justice PAC, an organization focused on electing civil rights-minded prosecutors who use the powers of their office to reduce mass incarceration, police violence, and injustice.
“Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws. In over half of all drug arrests, Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people," Chambers said in the ad.
“States waste $3.7 billion in enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren’t dealers but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me,” he said.
Chambers is the first non-elected official to receive the award in the festival’s history.
He is on the ballot for the 2022 U.S. Senate race in Louisiana, which doesn't hold primary contests. Any candidate who wins a simple majority of the vote wins the seat, and if no one gets more than 50% the top two candidates advance to a runoff.
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