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Ben Jealous has won the democratic nomination for governor in Maryland. Although he is a first time political candidate, Jealous beat out seven other heavyweight political candidates, including the Prince George’s county executive Rushern Baker. If he is successful in his bid for governor of Maryland in November, Jealous would be the state’s first ever African-American governor, and the third African-American governor in the country overall.
Even though this is his first time running for a political position, Jealous has been a staunch political activist and community organizer for a number of years. After working as an organizer for the NAACP legal defense fund in college, when Jealous was 35 he became the youngest ever president and CEO of the organization in 2008, serving until 2012. Before running for governor, he also served as director of the US Human Rights Program with Amnesty International. Jealous is a progressive Democrat and has been heavily involved in national politics behind the scenes for years, working as co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Maryland in 2012, and endorsing Sanders for president in 2016. After Sander’s defeat for the democratic nomination, Jealous subsequently supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Sanders has returned the favor by endorsing Jealous’s liberal campaign promises, including free college tuition and the full legalization of marijuana.
While marijuana is not fully legal in Maryland, medical marijuana was introduced in Maryland in 2014, and individuals who qualify for the scheme are allowed to possess up to a 30 day supply of the drug. Jealous has not always been an avid supporter of legalization, but during his time as president of the NAACP he has pushed for decriminalization in a number of cities – and we have Dave Chapelle to thank. In a public statement from his twitter account on June 5th, Jealous stated “When I was 20 I was known as “Dave Chappelle’s bodyguard”. Now that I’m 45, I’m proud to be: “Dave Chappelle’s Candidate.” And, if you’re wondering, yes he was the first person to tell me Cannabis should be legal for adults. I was skeptical then. I agree with him now”.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, Jealous described how Dave Chapelle opened his eyes to the injustice of how black and Latino communities were unfairly targeted by law enforcement for marijuana-related offences, and he decided he needed to make a change in his community. Although Jealous did not set out to make legalization at the center of his campaign, his goal from the beginning was to deal with rising violence and shootings across Maryland, particularly in Baltimore. After meetings with local law enforcement, Jealous discovered that over half of shootings that occurred over the last decades were between marijuana related dealers. It was this discovery that lead Jealous to see that legalization was not just about racial justice, it was about saving lives. It is also estimated that if Maryland was to legalize marijuana it could bring in up to $120 million dollars in tax revenue.
Jealous’ supporters also include Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. He will face the Republican nominee Larry Hogan in November.