Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, seeking a second term representing Texas, declared that his Democratic challenger from El Paso made a "radical" move to legalize all narcotics.
The Houston Republican said in his May 1, 2018, tweet: "With opioids ravaging so many American communities, Congressman Beto O’Rourke's radical resolution to legalize all narcotics--including heroin and other deadly opioids--is looking worse and worse all the time."
David Wysong of O’Rourke’s campaign brought Cruz’s claim to our attention. By email, Wysong noted that in 2012, we rated Half True a claim that O’Rourke favored legalizing drugs across the board. O’Rourke, then a member of the El Paso City Council, favored legalizing marijuana, we confirmed, but had called only for debate about legalizing narcotics.
Cruz points out Daily Caller story
Cruz’s tweet pointed to a May 1, 2018, story posted by the conservative Daily Caller headlined "Remember That One Time Beto O’Rourke Called for Legalizing All Narcotics."
The story includes video of O’Rourke speaking at what’s evidently the Jan. 6, 2009, El Paso City Council meeting, which included adoption of a resolution urging federal action to stem violence on the Mexico side of the border.
O’Rourke, seeking to amend the resolution, said at the meeting: "And I’d ask that there be some language in here that would also include advocating, or looking at, rethinking our War on Drugs, which by any measure I’ve looked it has been an abject failure. And also, looking at ending the prohibition on narcotics in the United States. And I’m not saying that we need to do that – to end the prohibition. I think we need to have a serious discussion about doing that, and that may, in the end, be the right course of action."
The resolution opens by noting criminal violence playing out in neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It also generally urges a national shift from the war on drugs to a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.
The resolution, unanimously approved by the council, doesn’t state that all narcotics should be legalized. It does say that the mayor and council urge the federal government to support local law enforcement battling the illegal export of weapons to Mexico and to stiffen penalties on people who "illegally traffic chemical agents used in the manufacturing of illicit drugs." The resolution also offers support to federal, state and local agencies battling money laundering, vehicle theft, gun smuggling and other cross-border criminal activity.
Specific to drugs, the resolution urges funding "greater efforts to reduce" U.S. drug consumption and support for legislation "that examines the nation’s policies on drugs with a focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration."
Also, the resolution says, the federal government should be supporting "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics."
When we emailed Cruz’s camp asking how he concluded that O’Rourke wants to legalize all narcotics, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier provided a Jan. 6, 2009, Associated Press news story headlined "El Paso wants feds to consider legalizing drugs."
That story slightly misquotes the El Paso council resolution, saying it calls for an "open, honest, national dialogue on ending the prohibition of narcotics." Next, it quotes O’Rourke saying: "We think it should at least be on the table and so far it hasn't."
Our online search for that story led us to a Jan. 22, 2009, news story about El Paso in the New York Times stating that the "conflict in Juárez has led some in El Paso to propose radical solutions. In a symbolic resolution of support for Juárez, the El Paso City Council recently voted unanimously to ask Washington to consider legalizing drugs as a way to end the violence." The story then quoted O’Rourke saying that ending the prohibition should be on the table.
The Times story said too that the council backed off its resolution on Jan. 13, 2009 after Mayor John Cook vetoed it and and local members of Congress warned that the council’s stance might imperil federal aid.
But as noted in a May 2, 2018, Texas Tribune news story, O’Rourke later conceded that his call for open debate could have been handled better.
O’Rourke wrote in his 2011 book, "Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico," that after the resolution came to the council from a city committee on border relations, "I asked whether we should more aggressively address the issues related to demand and prohibition." O’Rourke wrote that he listened to council discussion and then offered his amendment, "composed on the spot," O’Rourke wrote, to "encourage ‘an honest, open, national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.’"
"It was an artless, and even inaccurate amendment to the larger resolution (I only learned later that marijuana is not a narcotic, even though it was precisely that drug that I felt people would be most open to debating), but it got the point across.
"I knew we were addressing a taboo topic, one that conventional wisdom dictated that only potheads, hard-core libertarians and political suicides ever brought up. But I also knew that Juarez had gone beyond the pale and it was time to place all options on the table, even those that had been unthinkable, for me as well as others, just a year ago."
On his campaign website, O'Rourke calls for ending the federal government's war on drugs and encouraging reforms in drug control policies. He also calls for ending the "federal prohibition on marijuana."
O’Rourke told residents of Sonora, Texas on April 28, 2018, that he’s among co-sponsors of legislation to decriminalize marijuana under federal law. Congressional records show O’Rourke in May 2017 signed on as a co-sponsor of an act removing marijuana from the federal controlled substances list. The act’s author, Rep. Thomas Garrett, R-Va., said in a statement that his proposal would leave it to individual states to determine appropriate medicinal uses of marijuana.
Cruz said O’Rourke had a resolution to legalize all narcotics.
In 2009, an El Paso City Council resolution directed at the federal government included language from O’Rourke urging open debate about ending the national prohibition of narcotics. The resolution, adopted but later vetoed, did not call for legalizing all narcotics nor did we spot evidence that O’Rourke has taken that sweeping stand.
We rate Cruz’s claim False.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Emails, David Wysong, chief strategist, Beto O'Rourke campaign, May 1-2, 2018
Ted Cruz tweet, May 1, 2018
Fact-check, "Silvestre Reyes says challenger favors legalizing drugs," PolitiFact Texas, March 7, 2012
Story, "Remember That One Time Beto O’Rourke Called for Legalizing All Narcotics," The Daily Caller, May 1, 2018
Resolution, El Paso City Council, Jan. 6, 2009
Email, Catherine Frazier, senior communications adviser, Ted Cruz campaign, May 1, 2018
News story, "Two Sides of a Border: One Violent, One Peaceful," New York Times, Jan. 22, 2009
News story, "Marijuana legalization, war on drugs emerge as issues in race between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz," Texas Tribune, May 2, 2018
Google preview of book by Beto O’Rourke, "Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico," 2011 (accessed May 2, 2018)
Web page, "Justice," Beto O'Rourke campaign, undated (accessed May 2, 2018)
Facebook Live video of Beto O’Rourke speaking in Sonora, Texas, Beto O’Rourke campaign, April 28, 2018 (remarks about marijuana about 11-minute mark)
Statement, "Garrett Introduces Legislation to Remove Marijuana From Controlled Substances List," U.S. Rep. Thomas Garrett, Feb. 27, 2017
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.