South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced that he is competing for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on April 14, 2019. If elected, he would be the first openly gay and youngest president, and he’s supportive of marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization to boot.
While the candidate hadn’t spoken extensively about cannabis reform prior to officially announcing his presidential bid, nor has he acted on any marijuana legislation during his time in the mayor’s office, he’s quickly evolved on the issue. Here’s a look at where Buttigieg stands on marijuana.
This piece was last updated on October 16, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
As mayor, Buttigieg does not appear to have signed legislation directly related to marijuana. He did, however, approve an ordinance in 2017 that prohibited businesses in the city from selling synthetic cannabinoids.
Thanks to the members of the new @NotInOurCmunity committee, we are raising awareness and accountability when it comes to “synthetic marijuana” and related harmful products. pic.twitter.com/FZNrBcKVap
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) May 14, 2018
“Getting less attention [than opioids] nationally is the issue of synthetic cannabinoids, sometimes called synthetic marijuana,” he said in a press release commending the city council for approving the ordinance. “These products, sometimes available in convenience stores and gas stations, are much more dangerous than actual marijuana.”
On The Campaign Trail
Compared to some of his Democratic opponents, Buttigieg has only recently started talking seriously about marijuana policy. His position has evolved throughout the campaign, however, and he’s now one of a handful of candidates who support decriminalizing possession of drugs besides cannabis.
In July, the mayor released a racial justice plan that included policies to legalize cannabis and remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs.
Named after American hero Frederick Douglass, this plan demands we take aggressive steps toward fulfilling long-broken promises of true equality, including reforming broken systems, strengthening access to credit, and injecting capital into the Black community.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) July 11, 2019
“We will, on the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions,” the plan states.
In a separate plan aimed at addressing mental health issues in the country, the candidate explicitly said he would pursue “decriminalizing all drug possession” during his first term in office if elected.
The plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.
“Eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana, and expunge past convictions,” his campaign website states.
Legalizing marijuana and ending incarceration for simple drug possession would be part of his proposal to reduce incarceration by 50 percent, which he pledged to do during a speech at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Convention in July.
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem,” the plan says.
The drug policy proposals are part of Buttigieg’s plan to reduce “incarceration in this country without an increase in crime.”
He expanded on his plan at the Iowa State Fair in August, stating that he would reduce the prison population “using clemency powers, working with states, ending incarceration as a response to drug possession, and when we legalize marijuana—which we ought to do—we ought to have expungements as well for people whose incarceration is doing more harm than the original offense did, creating a whole generation of kids who have experienced the incarceration of a parent, which is a devastating experience to have.”
During a campaign stop in South Dakota in May, the candidate discussed his support for legalizing marijuana, abolishing private prisons and ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
After the governor of Iowa vetoed a bill in June that would have expanded the state’s medical cannabis program, Buttigieg wrote that thousands of patients “are struggling thanks to a limited medical marijuana program that doesn’t meet their health care needs” and that the veto “will only prolong their suffering.”
Thousands of patients in Iowa are struggling thanks to a limited medical marijuana program that doesn’t meet their health care needs — the governor’s veto will only prolong their suffering.https://t.co/jUN52FjldW
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) June 8, 2019
Buttigieg told an Iowa radio station that he supports reform in part because “a lot of nonviolent drug offenses, where the way we responded to it, the incarceration, is actually doing more harm to society and costing us more than the offense itself did.”
In Council Bluffs, @okayhenderson asked Pete Buttigieg if he supports legalizing marijuana– he told Kay, “I would,” adding, “we’ve just hit the point as a country, where there are a lot of offenses …doing more harm to society and costing us more than the offense itself did.” pic.twitter.com/eqj0CYNgI2
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) July 20, 2019
“When it comes to American drug policy,” he added, “I don’t think anyone can look at it and say it’s looking well, and when you add to that the racial disparities around the way it’s been applied, we clearly have to take a very deep redesign about the way we think about this and many other drugs.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Prior to his official campaign announcement, Buttigieg seldom discussed cannabis issues.
“I think even in Indiana, criminal justice reform, including marijuana [legalization]. We’re probably there,” he told Indianapolis Monthly in November 2018. “Maybe not a 70 percent majority, but a majority.”
“I really think a state-wide campaign in Indiana would do well, especially on the criminal justice stuff,” he added. “To find common cause between the younger, Libertarian right that’s not so sure about the Republican party as an institution. And a more traditional, progressive coalition. I think you can get there on drugs. I think you can get there on a lot of things related to criminal justice.”
“The safe, regulated, and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States, as evidenced by voters demanding legalization in states across the country,” he told The Boston Globe.
Buttigieg also said that he believes voters in his home state of Indiana, which doesn’t even yet have a comprehensive medical cannabis law, are ready to legalize marijuana.
During an interview on the radio program The Breakfast Club one month before formally announcing his presidential bid, Buttigieg brought up criminal justice reform and stressed the importance of supporting individuals who are released from prison for non-violent drug offenses as the country moves toward ending the war on drugs.
“We know the war on drugs is important, right?” he said. “What are we going to do about—if we decide that it actually doesn’t make sense to incarcerated for unbelievably long amounts of time for non-violent drug offenses, what are we going to do for the people we already did that to?”
“Are they going to have an experience that’s not so different from the experience of the end of slavery that says, ‘OK, I took off your chains so I’m sure things are going to go great for you,’” he said. “Are we going to do the same thing to people coming out of incarceration and say, ‘OK, that’s over. Good luck.’ Or are we going to have some intention around lifting them up and empowering them to contribute and thrive in our communities and our society?”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Some of Buttigieg’s most extensive public comments about marijuana are related to his own personal experience with cannabis and law enforcement and, specifically, how it’s shed light on the concept of white privilege.
During an interview at South By Southwest, the mayor talked about how he was caught with a joint while a student at Harvard University.
“I was standing outside my dorm. I was on my way home from a party or something,” he said. “I ran into a friend and he had an acquaintance with him, and we were chatting, and at some point I noticed that she was smoking a joint. And just out of curiosity—there was like a little bit left—I was like ‘Oh, is that…’ And she handed it to me.”
“At exactly, precisely this instant, a police car drives by—university police—and I thought, well, that’s gotta go over the shoulder,” he said.
The officer apparently berated Buttigieg, swearing at him and calling Harvard students arrogant.
Earlier today, in @TexasTribune discussion at @sxsw, @anamariecox asked me about when I first started to become aware of my white male privilege. I told a quick story about getting caught with a joint in college. #SXSW pic.twitter.com/RKX81jdJoM
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) March 10, 2019
“And then my hands are on the back of his trunk and he’s going through my pockets to see if I’ve got anything more on me,” he said. “He yells a few more obscenities, and just as I’m getting read to take a ride with him, he drives off. And that was it. It’s a funny story I can tell about my college days.”
But there was also an unfunny lesson to be learned, which has informed Buttigieg’s position on cannabis reform.
“A lot of people probably had the exact same experience, and would not have been believed, and would have been a lot worse than yelled at, and would not have slept in their own beds that night—and maybe would have been derailed in their college career because of it,” he said. “It’s one of many reasons why I think we have to end the war on drugs and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”
He also said that the odds of him facing more serious, lifelong consequences over the joint would be much greater if he wasn’t white.
“Think about that: That’s a funny story to me,” he said. “That can be a funny story to me. And if I were not white, the odds of that having been something that would have derailed my life are exponentially higher. So that’s one of many moments when I learned a thing or two about privilege.”
Separately, Buttigieg addressed how many times he has consumed cannabis in his book: “not many, but more than zero.”
Marijuana Under A Buttigieg Presidency
Despite lacking a legislative history on cannabis reform, Buttigieg has grown increasingly comfortable identifying problems in federal drug policy and laying out specific solutions throughout his campaign. He’s made clear that his administration would support legalization if elected, and he’s gone further than many other candidates by backing broader drug decriminalization. His perspective on drug reform is also informed by an understanding of how these issues relate to mental health and racial justice.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.