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Watch: Gary Chambers smokes weed, promotes pro-marijuana platform in unprecedented campaign ad

Gary Chambers' Facebook Page

It takes Gary Chambers no time at all to get to the point in his newest, and unprecedented, campaign ad for a seat in Congress: the video opens with the Baton Rouge activist talking about — and smoking — marijuana.

The ad comes one week into Chambers’ effort to unseat Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Kennedy this fall. Chambers and fellow Democrat Luke Mixon are the only challengers who have declared their candidacy.

“Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana,” Chambers said in the ad. “Since 2010, state and local police have arrested 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws — over half of all drug arrests.”

Citing statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union, Chambers goes on to say that Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes and states spend more than $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws each year.

“Most of the people police are arresting aren’t dealers, but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me,” Chambers said.

The unprecedented political ad is Chambers’ latest attempt to grab headlines and gain name recognition with Louisiana voters and potential donors across the country. Kennedy, Chambers’ opponent, raised his own national profile and became a cable-news regular with his colorful, and sometimes controversial, turns of phrase in high-profile committee meetings and interviews.

As a Republican incumbent in a deep-red state, Kennedy is an early favorite in the race. He has already raised $11 million to fund his reelection campaign.

In 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge the criminal records of individuals convicted by the federal government of low-level marijuana offenses, but the bill stalled in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

Even after the Democratic Party narrowly regained control of the U.S. Senate, disagreement among party members has kept the legislation off of their agenda.

Chambers said in a statement that political candidates too often use marijuana legalization as an “empty talking point” to curry favor with progressive voters.

“I hope this ad works not just to 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 wrote in a tweet.

The message may appeal to many Louisiana voters, as views on marijuana in the largely conservative state have mellowed in recent years.

Last year, a JMC Analytics poll showed that 67% of Louisianans favored the full legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the state. A similar poll conducted by the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center found that a slimmer majority of Louisianans at 55% favored the change, but the legalization effort was wildly popular with younger voters.

During the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug and vastly expanded the state‘s medical marijuana offerings by allowing marijuana pharmacies to sell the raw, smokable marijuana flower in addition to the processed oils, tinctures and edibles previously allowed in the state.

And for the first time, a bill that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana was debated on the floor of the state House of Representatives. The measure ultimately failed, but not before progressing further than any legalization effort that came before it.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.