Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a late bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on November 24.
The billionaire candidate, who runs the news and financial data company Bloomberg LP, is making the case that he’s best positioned to defeat President Trump in the 2020 election. Bloomberg has a long history of speaking out against marijuana law reform, and his record on discriminatory policing tactics as mayor has given advocates pause about his candidacy.
Bloomberg not only opposes legalization—putting him in a category of current candidates that includes only former Vice President Joe Biden—but called the policy change the “stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
Here’s a closer look at where the former mayor stands on drug policy.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City, beginning in 2002. While he changed parties throughout that time, one consistent factor under his administration was a high level of arrests for marijuana possession.
From 2002 to 2012, the NYPD made about 440,000 arrests for cannabis possession alone, collectively spending about one million hours processing those cases, according to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Overall, there were more marijuana arrests under Bloomberg than under the mayorships of Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani combined.
DPA paid particularly close attention to cannabis policy under Bloomberg, releasing reports year-over-year on arrest data, which peaked in 2011 despite the state having decriminalized low-level possession in the 1970s. The group also highlighted consistent racial disparities in cannabis arrests in the city.
The high volume of arrests prompted City Council members and activists to rally outside of Bloomberg’s home in 2011, demanding an end to the aggressive enforcement.
Bloomberg came out against a 2011 state bill, introduced by then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D) and Sen. Mark Grisanti (R), that sought to make possession of 25 grams or less of cannabis punishable by a court summons and fine rather than jail time.
“This would encourage smoking in the streets and in our parks, reversing successful efforts to clean up neighborhoods and eliminate the open-air drug markets like we used to find in Washington Square Park,” a mayoral aide told The New York Times. “Hot-spot policing that focuses on the most violent neighborhoods has led to dramatic reductions in violent crime. Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool for suppressing the expansion of street-level drug markets and the corresponding violence.”
The aide also said that concerns about the impact of a possession conviction on a young person’s record are overblown.
“They are not saddled with criminal records because those records are sealed,” he said, adding that there are restrictions on what employers can ask about prior convictions.
The next year, Bloomberg voiced support for a modest reform proposal that called for an end to arrests of people for possessing cannabis in public view, which advocates argued often stemmed from unlawful searches. The measure faced resistance from Senate Republicans, however.
During his State Of the City address in 2013, the mayor said he supported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to make cannabis possession a violation rather than a misdemeanor.
“We know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record,” he said.
He also said the city “won’t wait for that to happen” and announced that people arrested for low-level possession in New York City would no longer be held overnight if they presented an ID and passed a warrant check.
“It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most,” he said.
Throughout Bloomberg’s terms, he faced sharp criticism over the police department’s widespread use of a controversial stop-and-frisk policy, whereby officers frequently detained people—the majority of cases involving people of color—and searched them. Weapons were rarely produced in these searches.
In 2013, the mayor vetoed two policing reform bills that were meant to cut down on police misconduct and rein in instances of stop-and-frisk. The first gave the inspector general subpoena power to study policing encounters and make policy recommendations, and the other allowed state courts to take up claims of “bias-based policing” and broadened the scope of offenses that could be litigated.
“Some of these things are life and death issues, like these two horrendous bills in the City Council and they’re going to put our police officers at risk and they’re going to put the public at risk and I’ve got an obligation to tell people that,” the mayor argued.
The City Council later overrode Bloomberg’s actions, however.
Before local lawmakers stepped in, Bloomberg ignited controversy after doubling down on his opposition to the reform proposals by stating, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”
Yes, he said it! This is Bloomberg defending his racist stop-and-frisk. When I posted this quote the other day some commenters couldn’t believe he said it. This is a video-as-proof culture. Well, here’s your video… pic.twitter.com/MdBdrcs4DY
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) November 26, 2019
Quotes And Social Media Posts
Bloomberg has made it patently clear that he’s no fan marijuana legalization, repeatedly making dismissive comments about both the policy and cannabis consumers themselves.
In January 2019, as most candidates were gearing up to propose bold drug policy reform plans, the former mayor said that rising rates of drug overdose deaths, which were primarily linked to opioids, demonstrated why marijuana shouldn’t be legal.
“Today incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic,” he said, referring to cannabis, “which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done. We’ve got to fight that, and that’s another thing that Bloomberg Philanthropies will work on it in public health.”
While speaking at Annapolis, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also blasted efforts to legalize marijuana, calling it "perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done." pic.twitter.com/dN5sdJdYBt
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) January 23, 2019
He made similar comments the week prior during a speech at the University of Toronto, arguing that ending prohibition at the national and local levels “doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“To go and encourage people—to make it easier for people to engage in a behavior that has a significant possibility of damaging people’s health—is just nonsensical,” he said. “This mad, passionate rush to let everybody do things without any research just isn’t something we would do in any other way.”
Bloomberg said in 2013 that he doesn’t support cannabis legalization because THC potency has increased and because he thinks drug dealers would simply move on to selling other illicit products such as cocaine.
Three days before a 2013 New York state legislature vote to allow medical cannabis for individuals suffering from debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, Bloomberg made dismissive comments about marijuana’s therapeutic value.
“Yeah, right, medical, my foot,” he said. “Come on. There’s no medical—this is one of the great hoaxes of all times.”
He said in 2002 that the problem with legalizing cannabis for medical purposes is that it represents a “slippery slope” and that “using drugs is probably a terrible idea, from where it goes, and I am very much in favor of enforcing laws on the books.”
“I do not think that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea,” he said.
”I’ve always thought if we don’t want to enforce laws on the books, we should remove them from the books. But when you have laws, you breed contempt if you don’t enforce them,” he said. ”And I’ve listened to a lot of people over the years discuss the decriminalization of some narcotics, particularly marijuana, and on balance, I would side with those that think it’s a bad idea.”
Bloomberg revealed the extent of his hostility to drugs in 2012 when he seemed to sympathize with Singapore’s use of the death penalty against people who sell drugs.
“In lots of places in the Far East, they have signs up, ‘Death to drug dealers,'” he said. “Think about the number of people who die from drug use here in this country. And yet we don’t take it seriously enough to dissuade people… Executing a handful of people saves thousands and thousands of lives.”
He added that he wasn’t necessarily endorsing extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers because such policies “don’t fit our definition of democracy.”
“I’m not suggesting we go kill ’em. But when you talk to people overseas, they can’t understand why we allow people to deal in drugs [that] are killing people,” he said. “The focus that they do have on protecting their people is something that we should think long and hard about.”
He also voiced skepticism about ending prohibition in that interview, stating that it’s “intriguing, but I don’t quite think I’ve ever quite gotten there, to support the legalization of drugs.”
In 2015, the former mayor peddled a debunked theory about cannabis use decreasing people’s IQ.
“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” he said of efforts to legalize marijuana. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”
On his support for stop-and-frisk policing, Bloomberg had been largely unapologetic up until just before launching his presidential bid. After a federal court ruled in 2013 that the policy was discriminatory and mandated a change, the then-mayor held a press conference where he defended the tactic, arguing that it’s “saved lives” and helped reduce incarceration rates.
“We are the poster child that everybody wants to follow,” he said, adding that police “go to where the reports of crime are” and those places “unfortunately happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods.”
Bloomberg apologized for the discriminatory policy days before announcing his candidacy for president.
“I can’t change history,” Bloomberg said. “However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.”
Recently, the billionaire has invested his resources into another battle that’s generated pushback from reform advocates. He’s taken a strong stance in favor of bans on flavored vaping products—a position that advocates worry will encourage more people to obtain potentially dangerous products from the illicit market and also risk having former cigarette smokers return to the combustable form.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) November 18, 2019
“Ten weeks ago, President Trump said he would ban flavored e-cigarettes that are causing an e-cigarette epidemic among children,” Bloomberg said in November 2019. “Today we learned that he walked away from his commitment and caved to tobacco lobbyists. American families deserve better. If President Trump won’t take steps to protect our children, then we need someone in the office who will.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
While it may come as a surprise given his record on marijuana criminalization and dismissive comments about consumers, Bloomberg is among the many Americans who have tried cannabis.
One year before launching his mayoral bid, Bloomberg was asked by New York Magazine whether he’s used marijuana and he responded, “You bet I did—and I enjoyed it.” The comment was used in an advertisement that the advocacy group NORML later took out in The New York Times and on buses.
He said in 2002 that he regretted making the comment, even though he acknowledged that “what I said back then was the truth.”
”In terms of, I had, certainly when I was younger, as I suppose most people in my generation, experimented. I never lie, so if somebody asked me a question, I told them,” he said. “Do I, in retrospect, wish I didn’t say it that day so they couldn’t quote it? Of course.”
Marijuana Under A Bloomberg Presidency
At a time when marijuana reform has become a bipartisan issue that’s advancing even in Congress, when all but one other Democratic candidate backs broad legalization and when a majority of states have legalized cannabis in one form or another, Bloomberg stands out as a vocal opponent of the reform movement.
And unlike Biden, who helped write some of the punitive anti-drug laws that advocates have worked for decades to reform and remains opposed to adult-use legalization, Bloomberg has so far given no indication that he’s evolved on the issue to back even modest reforms. While it’s possible that the candidate will be encouraged to lay out an updated position as the topic is raised on the campaign trail, it does not seem likely at this point that he would support efforts to change federal marijuana laws and may in fact obstruct such efforts if elected to the Oval Office.
New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.
“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:
This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.
“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”
A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.
Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.
Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.
In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
AOC Says Colorado Is Doing A ‘Great Job’ With Marijuana Legalization
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says Colorado is an example of a state that’s effectively taxing and regulating marijuana.
At a town hall event in Iowa on Saturday, the congresswoman, who serves as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign, was asked if revenue from legal sales of cannabis and other drugs would be used to fund the senator’s Medicare for All proposal.
While she said the economic benefits of legalization are secondary concerns, she acknowledged that “Colorado is doing a great job of taxing it to fund schools.”
That said, funding large programs such as universal health care would require a diverse financing strategy, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“In terms of financing, I think the financing for our health care program would potentially come from different sources,” she said. “Senator Sanders has outlined how he would pay for Medicare for All.”
“I would just say the financing is a different question,” she said. “But when it comes to decriminalization and legalization, I know that the senator believes in the legalization of marijuana and, frankly, having that part of a decarceral approach” to the criminal justice system.
Listen to the conversation below, starting around 1:45:
“We need to not only have a conversation about decriminalization and a conversation about legalization, but we need to have a conversation about the harm done during the war on drugs,” she said in comments that were first flagged by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.
First actual Q for AOC as a Sanders surrogate: Would she legalize drugs to pay for M4A?
"The funding is going to come from a lot of sources," she says, clarifying that Sanders supports legalizing only marijuana and is focused on ending war on drugs.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 25, 2020
“It exacerbated the racial wealth gap in America as well,” she said. “But not only that, it tore apart communities, it tore apart families and it was an explicit targeting of black and brown communities that dates back to the Nixon administration.”
“On one hand it’s an economic issue, but much deeper, it’s a justice issue. This is an issue of justice, this is an issue of mass incarceration. The United States has historically incarcerated more people per capita than any other country in the world. We need to live up to our values about what ‘Land of the Free’ means and transitioning to that means dismantling the system of mass incarceration. That’s an incredibly important part of this agenda.”
While Sanders has been a long-standing champion of cannabis reform, his views on broader drug policy proposals diverge from those of his surrogate, who believes that possession of all currently illicit drugs should be decriminalized and federal laws around psychedelics should be loosened to promote research.
Despite being widely regarded as the most progressive candidates in the race, both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have so far declined to back comprehensive decriminalization for simple drug possession, a policy changed favored by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another 2020 contender, recently said that she’s in favor of legalizing and regulating controlled substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Texas, Nebraska And Delaware
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that it has approved hemp regulatory plans for three more states and four additional Indian tribes.
This is the latest in a series of approvals that USDA has doled out since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. Texas, Nebraska and Delaware—in addition to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Yurok Tribe—each had their regulatory plans cleared.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes on an ongoing basis,” the department said in a notice. “Plans previously approved include those for the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes.”
While hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance, farmers interested in cultivating and selling the crop must live in a jurisdiction where USDA has approved a proposed regulatory scheme. The process was outlined in an interim final rule USDA published late last year. If a state or tribe does not have, or plan to propose, regulations for hemp, cultivators can apply for a USDA license instead.
“This is a victory for Texas farmers,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “We are one step closer to giving our ag producers access to this exciting new crop opportunity.”
“We’ve got to get our rules approved and get our licensing program up and running, but the dominoes are dropping pretty quick,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that “Texas has the potential to be the largest supplier of hemp in the U.S., providing farmers with an unprecedented opportunity.”
“With approval from the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture already moving forward with establishing licensing standards, it’s refreshing to see our government paving the way for legal cannabis cultivation in Texas,” Fazio said.
While lawmakers and industry stakeholders have widely celebrated USDA’s commitment to implementing hemp legalization, it has also received a significant amount of pushback over proposed rules such as THC limits and laboratory testing requirements. A public comment period for the department’s interim rule ends on Wednesday.
USDA maintains a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans.
Monday’s announcement sends another signal to the hemp industry that the federal government is committed to supporting the market and ensuring that farmers have the resources they need to see their businesses thrive since the crop was legalized.
That said, one of the most lucrative market opportunities that hemp farmers are hoping to take advantage of is the widespread interest in hemp-derived CBD products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over rules for marketing CBD, and the agency has made clear that the process may take several years without congressional action.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers set out to do just that, filing a bill that would require FDA to allow CBD products to be sold as dietary supplements.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.