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.