If Congress fails to heed the will of voters and legalize marijuana, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said on Thursday that he’ll board Air Force One and “fly it directly into the home district of a member who is standing in the way.”
At a campaign event in Iowa last week, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor was asked about how he would achieve broad cannabis reform without full support from lawmakers. Dave, the person who submitted the question, clarified that he was “asking for a friend,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
Buttigieg said that legalization “is another one of those things that I think has come to be a common sense position,” and while he recognized that there are disagreements on the issue within Congress, there’s widespread recognition that criminalizing marijuana “does way more harm than whatever offense it was intended to deal with.”
“I think most Americans in both parties can agree that the war on drugs policy did not work,” he said before presenting his hyperbolic “Plan B” for legalization.
“First of all, I’d try to work with members of Congress from across the aisle. It’s always worth a try,” he said. “I did it all the time as mayor. I’m a Democratic mayor in a Republican state. I love working with Republicans—in good faith.”
“If that’s not working, then that’s when you go over folks’ head to the people who hired them. Remember, the boss of any senator or member of Congress is their voters,” the candidate said. “If their voters want something to happen and their own member of Congress or Senate is standing in the way, then that’s when I believe it’s time to fire up the big airplane that comes with the Oval Office that this president uses mostly for traveling among golf courses with his name on them.”
“I have a different use in mind for that aircraft, and it’s to fly it directly into the home district of a member who is standing in the way—not just of me, but of his own voters and have a conversation with the voters about why this needs to happen,” he said, adding that such a scenario also applies to other issues that have bipartisan, public support such as universal background checks for firearm purchases, increasing the minimum wage and providing paid family leave.
Oftentimes, “presidential leadership is what’s blocking [reform]—the lack of presidential leadership to make sure that senators pay more attention to the people who sent them in,” he said. “So that’s how we’re going to get this done.”
But he emphasized that that’s “Plan B.”
“Plan A is to be a strong enough nominee coming from the heart of the industrial Midwest, being a middle-class person… that I arrive in Washington with a lot of allies in the Congress and the Senate to begin with,” he said.
The former mayor’s plan to accomplish the end of cannabis prohibition contrasts with that of rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who pledged at an Iowa rally on Saturday that he would “legalize marijuana in every state in this country” on his “first day in office, through executive order.”
Buttigieg, who is polling in the top four among candidates for Monday’s Iowa caucus, has repeatedly promoted his drug policy reform platform during his time in the Hawkeye State—more often with a focus on the racial inequities of the drug war than plans to land Air Force One in congressional districts to pressure lawmakers.
“I believe the time has come to legalize marijuana, and let me share some of the reasons why. The biggest reason why is that we have found that this war on drugs approach has done much more harm than the issues it was supposed to deal with,” he said at another Iowa event on Friday. “In our own city, we’ve seen now the effects of a generation of children who have experienced the incarceration of a parent—and that is a traumatic experience that makes a child that much more likely to have their own issues with the justice system.”
The candidate said that’s why he’s not just in favor of legalizing cannabis, but also decriminalizing possession of all currently illicit drugs.
“I believe that incarceration should never be the response to simple possession because it does more harm than good,” he said. “Now, as we act to correct that policy, we also have to face the racial disparities that are at stake. We’ve frankly done a better job as a society in beginning to understand, in the context of the opioid crisis, that this is a medical, not a moral issue.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.