Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Gary Chambers of Louisiana released an ad on Tuesday showing the candidate smoking marijuana while promoting a pathway toward legalizing the drug.
"I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug, and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology," Chambers said in the ad.
Chambers, a progressive activist, finished third in a special election primary race to filllast year. He is running to challenge Republican Senator John Kennedy.
Chambers, who is Black, opens the advertisement, titled "37 seconds," with an image of him lighting a blunt and smoking it.
"Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana," Chambers said in the video.
"Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana laws than white people," Chambers said. "States waste $3.7 billion 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."
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-seven states have decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Louisiana enacted a law in 2021 that decriminalizes possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana. Those who are caught will face a fine of up to $100 but no jail time. In August, New Orleans pardoned about 10,000 people with convictions or pending penalties for small amounts of marijuana possession.
"We must move toward criminal justice reform regarding marijuana arrests by pushing away the stigma and being real," Chambers said in a statement to CBS News. "Some parts of the country are fighting opioid addictions and creating millionaires and better schools from the marijuana industry. Others are creating felonies and destroyed families. I can't stand for that."
According to the ACLU, national arrest rates for marijuana possession were down from 2010 to 2018, but Black people were 3.6 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in 2018. States that legalized marijuana had lower rates of racial disparities in mairjuana possession arrests.
A majority of Americans, 60%, have said that marijauana should be legal for recreational and medical use according to an April 2021 Pew Research survey. Another 30% of respondents said it should be legal only for medical use, while 8% said it should not be legal for any reason.
A University of New Orleans poll, also from April 2021, found Louisiana residents favor legalizing recreational use of marijuana 55%-36%.
Louisiana has a Democratic governor but leans heavily Republican. Former President Donald Trump won the state by about 28 points in 2020. Kennedy, the state's current GOP Senator, won by about 20 points during his 2016 race.
Louisiana holds a "jungle primary," meaning all candidates compete in the same primary. If no candidate receives more than 50%of the vote, the top two vote recipients advance to a runoff election. Former Navy fighter pilot Luke Mixon is also running as a Democrat.
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