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Beto O'Rourke speaks at rally in Austin on Sept. 29, 2018. (NICK WAGNER/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN) Beto O'Rourke speaks at rally in Austin on Sept. 29, 2018. (NICK WAGNER/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Beto O'Rourke speaks at rally in Austin on Sept. 29, 2018. (NICK WAGNER/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

By Johnathan Silver October 5, 2018

Beto O'Rourke says marijuana is legal in most states

During a stump speech at country music superstar Willie Nelson’s September 29, 2018, rally in Austin, for U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman told a crowd of more than 50,000 supporters that marijuana use is legal in most states.

O’Rourke set up the claim at the "Turn out for Texas" rally by describing the nation's "war on drugs" as a "war on people, and some people more than other people." He was talking about people of color, he explained.

"Only some are getting arrested," said O’Rourke, the Democrat challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "Only some are doing time. Only some are checking a box on an application form that makes it that less likely that they'll get that job. Only some will not qualify for Pell Grants for possession of a substance that is legal in most states in this country."

The way O’Rourke summed up marijuana laws, which vary by state, territory and depth, made our ears perk, so we asked his campaign about the claim.

Chris Evans, communications director for O’Rourke’s campaign, shared with PolitiFact Texas in an email Business Insider and ABC News reports to support the congressman’s claim, but their evidence doesn’t show that marijuana use is legal across-the-board in most states.

"As of today, marijuana is illegal in only 20 states," Evans said in the email. "That's less than half of the states. Beto has called for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to achieve this."

The articles explain that using marijuana recreationally is legal in nine states, while medical marijuana is legal in 30. Oklahoma in June became the 30th and latest state to authorize medical marijuana.

In a deep dive on marijuana legislation across the country, the National Conference of State Legislatures reaches the same count.

Featured Fact-check

Voters in North Dakota and Michigan this November will have the choice to approve adult use of marijuana, while voters in Utah and Missouri will decide whether to authorize medical marijuana, according to Forbes.

We also posed questions to Mason Tvert, spokesman with the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based organization whose mission includes increasing "public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies."

Tvert told us that if we're talking legal marijuana use for individuals 21 and older, that's the case in only nine states (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts) plus Washington, D.C. and the Northern Mariana Islands. Also, 30 states allow medical marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation, he said.

Nineteen states "have laws on the books that acknowledge the medical value of medical cannabis, but fall short," the organization states on its website. Tvert explained that in those states some marijuana use is legal when it's for medical purposes, but there are limits on products authorized and who can access them. More specific, in some states, medical marijuana may be legal, but "they don't have a legal form of production," or it's only available for a tiny number of people and for certain conditions, he said.

After we read O’Rourke’s claim to Tvert, he said the claim doesn’t strike him as incorrect. But how could O'Rourke have been more clear? Had he said most states have made marijuana legal in some form, "it would be undeniably 100 percent accurate," Tvert said.

Our ruling

O’Rourke said marijuana is legal in most states.

Only nine states have legalized marijuana use for all adults. But 30 have some form of legal use for medical purposes, giving O'Rourke's statement an element of truth.

We rate his statement Mostly False. 

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PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
Says marijuana is "legal in most states in this country."
In a speech
Friday, October 5, 2018

Our Sources

Facebook video, "Beto at the Turn Out For Texas Rally!" Sept. 29, 2018

Email, Chris Evans, communications director, Beto O’Rourke campaign, Oct. 2, 2018

Phone interview, Mason Tvert, spokesman, Marijuana Policy Project, Oct. 2, 2018

Report, "Deep Dive: Marijuana," National Conference of State Legislatures, accessed Oct. 3, 2018

News article, "New Push to Drop Drug Offenses as Barrier to Student Aid," Inside Higher Ed, March 7, 2018

Blog post, "Drug Convictions Can Send Financial Aid Up In Smoke," Student Loan Ranger, U.S. News & World Report, April 15, 2015

FAQ posting, "Students with criminal convictions have limited eligibility for federal student aid," Federal Student Aid

Blog post, "Federal Student Aid and Consequences of a Drug Conviction," Get Smart About Drugs: A DEA Resource for Parents, Educators & Caregivers, last updated Aug. 14, 2018

News article, "At The Ballot Box: These Four States Could Legalize Some Form Of Marijuana In November," Forbes, Aug. 21, 2018

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Beto O'Rourke says marijuana is legal in most states

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