Opposing Legal Pot Costs El Paso Rep His Job

By Will Godfrey 05/30/12

Sylvestre Reyes is unlikely to be the last politician voted out for opposition to legalization.

Reyes got burned by his opposition to legal
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In a sign of changing times, it seems like opposing marijuana legalization is becoming dangerous for politicians—at any rate, it just cost El Paso Representative Sylvestre Reyes his job. Back in 2009, Reyes vetoed a city resolution calling for a debate on legalization, and pressured members of the city council not to overturn his veto via warnings about potential loss of federal funding. But after winning a Democratic primary last night, Beto O'Rourke—the council member responsible for pushing that marijuana resolution—has taken Reyes' seat in the House of Representatives and, presumably, a small slice of revenge. Reyes—who was first elected in 1996 and has enjoyed campaign support from both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton—made his opposition to legalization central to his re-election campaign, using the slogan: "Say NO to drugs. Say NO to Beto." That it backfired reflects a fast-changing climate: 56% of Americans now favor legal pot.

“O’Rourke’s victory 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,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action. Earlier this month, Ellen Rosenblum found the same when she won an election to become Oregon's new Attorney General, due in part to the backing of the pro-MMJ community. "All we're asking for is a conversation," said Beto O'Rourke when his 2009 resolution was being debated. "And no important issue in the history of the United States—social, criminal, legal or otherwise—has ever been harmed by having an open discussion." The citizens of El Paso clearly want that discussion too.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.