UPDATED: Ted Cruz ad hearkens to Beto O'Rourke's 2009 call for debate on legalizing narcotics

Ted Cruz says in an ad that debuted in August 2018 that Beto O'Rourke called for national debate of legalizing all narcotics. O'Rourke suggested as much as a member of the El Paso City Council in 2009.
Ted Cruz says in an ad that debuted in August 2018 that Beto O'Rourke called for national debate of legalizing all narcotics. O'Rourke suggested as much as a member of the El Paso City Council in 2009.

Ted Cruz says in a TV ad that just debuted that he sponsored legislation allowing drug testing of applicants for federal "jobless benefits."

President Donald Trump in 2017 signed into law a Cruz-sponsored measure allowing states to expand the pool of applicants for unemployment benefits who can be drug tested, the Dallas Morning News reported. That change in law nullified a Labor Department rule that went into effect in 2016 limiting drug tests to applicants who had a job that does regular drug screenings, its story said.

Cruz's ad also presents a throwback charge that has factual footing in Democratic Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke’s statements eight years ago as a member of the El Paso City Council. "But," the ad's narrator  says, "Beto O’Rourke said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin."

We have not fact-checked Cruz's statement about O'Rourke urging consideration of legalizing all narcotics. This May, though, we rated False a Cruz claim that O’Rourke had a resolution to legalize all narcotics including heroin. The O'Rourke-amended resolution adopted by the El Paso City Council called for debating that prospect. Notably, O'Rourke was then explicit about not yet personally favoring across-the-board legalization.

Of late, O'Rourke calls on his Senate campaign website 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.

What drugs that O’Rourke wants to legalize has twice hit the PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter.

In 2012, we rated rated Half True a candidate’s 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 then confirmed, and had called for debate about legalizing narcotics.

Our May 2018 fact-check evaluated a May 1 Cruz tweet stating: "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."

At the time, Cruz’s campaign pointed out a May 1  story posted by the conservative Daily Caller--headlined "Remember That One Time Beto O’Rourke Called for Legalizing All Narcotics"--including video of Councilman O’Rourke speaking at what was 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 that 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, 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."

A Jan. 22, 2009, news story about El Paso in the New York Times described the adopted resolution as symbolically supportive of Juárez, the city in Mexico adjoining El Paso.

The story quoted O’Rourke saying that ending the prohibition should be on the table--and it noted that the council also backed off the 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.

As noted in a May 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.’"

O’Rourke elaborated:

"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 Senate 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.

Also today, Cruz’s campaign launched an ad talking up his help to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

UPDATE, 9:43 a.m., Aug. 6, 2018: After we shared this posted story with both Senate campaigns, we heard back from Emily Miller of Cruz's campaign who affirmed by email that Cruz's claim about O'Rourke traces to his 2009 call for a national debate on legalizing narcotics. We've also revised this story to make clear we haven't fact-checked Cruz's claim about O'Rourke seeking consideration of legalization of all narcotics and to highlight O'Rourke's current-day position in favor of ending the government's war on drugs.