Beto O'Rourke calls for federal marijuana legalization

Announcement comes ahead of likely 2020 bid

Copyright 2018 CNN

Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, takes the stage to speak at the Pan American Neighborhood Park in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke called for the legalization of marijuana nationwide Monday in an email to supporters that comes ahead of an expected bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The former Texas congressman's call came as part of a series of criminal justice proposals he said would "build a criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law."

His lengthy email -- to the massive list he leveraged to raise $80 million in last year's Senate contest -- detailing the series of criminal justice reforms is a sign that O'Rourke is beginning to roll out a policy platform ahead of a 2020 presidential campaign.

He said in a statement last week that he'd made up his mind about whether to run for president. His aides began discussing staff roles on a presidential campaign with Democratic operatives, a source familiar with the matter said.

He said the federal prohibition on marijuana usage should be repealed and the records of those incarcerated for marijuana possession expunged -- an idea advocated last year by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker that's since been endorsed by most of the Democratic 2020 prospects.

O'Rourke lambasted a "school-to-prison pipeline" that he said disproportionately results in black children being more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. He wrote that "one in four black children have had a parent in the criminal justice system, compared to just four percent of white children."

"Many have called this part of the New Jim Crow, and for good reason," he wrote.

O'Rourke's push for marijuana legalization is a policy priority that dates to his days on the El Paso City Council.

His advocacy for marijuana legalization was a focal point in his successful effort to oust former Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a 2012 House primary. He also embraced marijuana legalization during last year's unsuccessful bid to oust Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

O'Rourke also called for the elimination of private, for-profit prisons, ending the "broken system of cash bail" that leaves those who have not been convicted of a crime but cannot afford bail behind bars, and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses.

He also offered a series of proposals that he said would "provide meaningful reentry to help people who have been incarcerated resume their lives and contribute to their full potential."

Those proposals were: "Banning the box" that requires those who have been convicted to disclose it on job applications; strengthening rehabilitation services, counseling and access to preventative health care; returning drivers' licenses so those who have served their time can get to work; and allowing those who have been convicted to apply for loans.

"Giving low-level offenders a second chance no matter the color of their skin or the economic status they hold can create opportunity for all of us," O'Rourke said in the email. "It will help build a future that is more just, more fair, and more prosperous for every single person in this state and this country."

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