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Where Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Stands On Marijuana

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced that he was competing for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on April 14, 2019 and dropped out on March 1, 2020.

If elected, he would have been the first openly gay and youngest president, and he’s supportive of marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization.

While the candidate hadn’t spoken extensively about cannabis reform prior to officially announcing his presidential bid, nor did he act 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 March 2, 2020 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.

“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.”

Buttigieg has faced criticism over a report about racially disparate marijuana arrests in South Bend during his time as mayor. A campaign spokesperson said that “mayors don’t make the law related to drug possession.”

At a presidential debate, he was confronted about the enforcement data and said, “On my watch, drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average—and specifically to marijuana, lower than Indiana.” He added that there’s “no question” that systemic racial bias has been a factor in cannabis arrests.

On CNN, the candidate said, “All of us are implicated in these problems, and I take responsibility for everything good, bad and indifferent that we did.”

He similarly acknowledged racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in South Bend during an event in Nevada.

On The Campaign Trail

Like most of his opponents for the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg favors marijuana legalization—but he’s also one of the only candidates who’s backed broad drug decriminalization.

In July 2019, the mayor released a racial justice plan that included policies to legalize cannabis and remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs.

“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.

Buttigieg talked about his drug reform agenda during a visit to a dispensary in Las Vegas in October 2019, which Marijuana Moment attended.

During that trip, the former mayor told Marijuana Moment that doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be able to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans. He also said that “legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered” by health insurance.

To mark Veterans Day, Buttigieg released a plan calling for “legislation that will empower VA physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations to augment a veterans’ broader treatment plan, in accordance with the laws of states where it is legal.”

He would also encourage VA to “conduct studies on the use of marijuana to treat pain.”

If Congress fails to act on cannabis reform, Buttigieg said in February 2020 that he would board Air Force One and “fly it directly into the home district of a member who is standing in the way” in order to pressure them to heed the will of voters.

At a Democratic presidential debate in February 2020, the candidate was pressed on his drug decriminalization plan. He took issue with the use of the word “decriminalization” to describe his proposal and said he simply wants to “end the use of incarceration as a response” to possession cases.

While major drug policy reform groups define decriminalization as a policy where the penalty for simple possession does not include incarceration, at least for a first offense, Buttigieg has been reluctant to embrace the term.

“Possession should not be dealt with through incarceration,” he said in a post-debate interview, adding that some cases could be treated as misdemeanor offenses but that the “point is that we have learned through 40 years of a failed war on drugs that criminalizing addiction doesn’t work.”

Buttigieg was asked in February how he would exercise the authority in light of President Trump’s move to pardon or commute the sentences of a former Illinois governor, a former New York City police commissioner and a financier, among others.

“I would start with nonviolent drug offenders caught up in the racial disparities of the failed war on drugs,” Buttigieg replied. “I actually think presidential clemency power can be an important part of how we decarcerate a country that is shockingly over-incarcerated. If incarceration made a country safe we’d be the safest country in the world, but we’re not.”

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.”

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.”

During an interview with The Des Moines Register’s editorial board, Buttigieg said that “while there continue to be all kinds of harms associated with drug possession and use, it’s also the case that we have created—in an effort to deal with what amounts to a public health problem—we have created an even bigger problem. A justice problem and its form of a health problem.”

A former White House drug czar from the 1980s reacted to his support for broad decriminalization and said that the candidate’s plan will encourage more substance misuse.

In January 2020, Buttigieg talked about his support for drug policy reform and also said that the country would “be much better off, frankly, with regular marijuana” compared to synthetic cannabinoids that are available on the marketplace.

Buttigieg said that he would be open to forming a strategic partnership with Mexico and send in American troops to deal with drug cartels if American lives were at risk and the country solicited that assistance.

“By the way, a lot of this is a question of the demand side on the United States. Part of what we do is make drug trafficking less profitable by walking away from the failed war on drugs here in the United States,” he said. “That is a policy that we know through experience hasn’t worked. We have got to do our part here at home, and partner with countries abroad.”

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.

“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.”

That being said, he’s clearly abstaining on the campaign trail. He didn’t buy any marijuana during his trip to the Las Vegas dispensary, and he even declined a hit of an imaginary joint that was “passed” to him during an interview.

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.

Where Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Marijuana Businesses Could Get Federal Disaster Relief Funds Under New Congressional Bill

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Marijuana businesses impacted by recent natural disasters or that have experienced financial distress due to the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible for federal relief programs under new legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday.

Because cannabis remains federally prohibited, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has explicitly denied the industry—and businesses that work indirectly with itaccess to its relief programs like other markets. That means, for example, marijuana farmers in states like California and Oregon that have seen their crops destroyed by wildfires are fully dependent on state and local assistance.

The new Small Business Disaster Relief Equity Act would resolve that problem, stipulating that disaster- or COVID-related services, grants, loans and tax benefits that are made available through federal agencies or congressional legislation cannot be denied to cannabis businesses solely because of the nature of their work, as long as it is in compliance with state law.

What’s more, the bill states that the the heads of federal agencies that administer disaster relief such as SBA “shall, to the greatest extent practicable, allow State-legal cannabis businesses to retroactively apply for such disaster assistance.”

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) filed the companion bills.

“Cannabis businesses in Oregon hurt by the blazing wildfires or any other disaster shouldn’t be shut out from federal relief simply because the federal government is stuck in yesteryear,” Wyden said in a press release. “These legal small businesses employ thousands of workers and support our struggling economy. If they need federal support, they should get it. Full stop.”

SBA recently confirmed to Marijuana Moment that while it opened a disaster relief loan program for Oregon businesses damaged or destroyed by the wildfires, the cannabis industry isn’t eligible. People working in the state-legal market whose primary residences were impacted could still apply, however, but not if they conduct their business from home.

Blumenauer, cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that many marijuana companies in his state “have faced catastrophic disruptions because of wildfires.”

“There’s no reason why these legitimate businesses shouldn’t have access to the federal support meant to help businesses survive unprecedented disasters,” he said. “Our legislation will help ensure these businesses and their workers are not left behind.”

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, 20 percent of marijuana businesses in the state were encouraged to evacuate due to the fires. Regulators are also asking cannabis business owners to fill out a survey so they can get a better sense of how extensive the damage is.

As of this week, seven cannabis business have been destroyed by the fires and at least a dozen have been damaged, Oregon Live reported.

“Whether you’re for or against state-legal cannabis, we can all agree that families in all of our communities are struggling to keep the lights on and stay afloat during this turbulent time—and that they need and deserve support,” Merkley said. “That includes thousands of small business owners, workers and their families who rely on state-legal cannabis businesses for their livelihoods.”

“We have to make sure those families won’t be shut out from critical assistance that can make a real difference,” he said.

The timing of the natural disasters in Oregon isn’t ideal, either, as consumer demand for marijuana products has been up amid the pandemic. In July, the state broke its record for cannabis sales, with about $106 million in medical and recreational cannabis purchases. Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis said in a report on Wednesday that “since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast.

Blumenauer in April led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of Congress calling on House leadership to include language in COVID-19 stimulus legislation to allow marijuana businesses to access federal disaster relief. He followed up by filing standalone legislation—the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act—that would address the problem specifically when it comes to coronavirus relief.

Wyden similarly led a letter with nine other senators in April, asking the chamber’s leadership to extend federal assistance to the cannabis market. Civil rights groups and industry stakeholders have also made these calls to action in recent months.

“It’s ridiculous that legal businesses here in Oregon are being denied critical wildfire aid because of outdated policies handed down from Washington, D.C.” DeFazio said. “Cannabis businesses employ thousands across Oregon and are a vital economic engine for our state. This important legislation will ensure that these businesses are eligible for the same aid as every other business impacted by the 2020 wildfires.”

Read text of the marijuana disaster relief bill below: 

Small Business Disaster Relief Equity Act of 2020 Bill Text by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Congressional Research Service Analyzes Marijuana Expungements And Cannabis Immigration Issues

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Congressional Research Service Analyzes Marijuana Expungements And Cannabis Immigration Issues

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The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released new two reports on marijuana policy—one dealing with the immigration implications of federal prohibition and the other looking at expungements provisions in pending legislation to deschedule cannabis.

For the immigration-focused report published last week, CRS outlined how being convicted of a marijuana crime, admitting to using cannabis (even in a legal state) or working in the marijuana industry can carry four “key consequences” for non-citizens. They can be deemed inadmissible to the U.S., deported, lose immigration relief benefits and be denied naturalization.

The threat of inadmissibility for state-legal cannabis activity even extends to people who simply invest in the market, CRS said. The report makes a point of reiterating several times that just because something is legal under state law doesn’t mean there are carve outs in federal immigration statutes.

There are also immigration relief benefits that individuals could lose out on because of marijuana-related activities. They include the “waiver of certain criminal inadmissibility grounds, cancelation of removal, voluntary departure, withholding of removal, protection under the Convention Against Torture, asylum, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” the report states.

With respect to naturalization restrictions, CRS points out that the Trump administration in 2019 issued a memo clarifying that having a cannabis conviction or admitting to working in the marijuana industry “can bar an individual from establishing [good moral character], even if the marijuana-related activity did not violate applicable state or foreign laws.”

In May 2019, 43 members of the House asked the heads of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to rescind that policy. The next month, a coalition of 10 senators made the same request.

CRS also recognized in the new report that legislation to federally deschedule marijuana—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—would help resolve the immigration dilemma, as the bill “would prohibit the denial of any immigration benefit or protection to aliens who have participated in any marijuana-related activity.”

The MORE Act was initially expected to be scheduled for a House of Representatives floor vote this week, but following pushback from certain Democratic lawmakers who felt it would look bad to advance the bill before approving additional COVID-19 relief, it was postponed. Now it’s expected to receive a vote later in fall, likely after the election.

In a separate report also released last week, CRS looked specifically at the MORE Act’s expungement provisions.

The bill would mandate that federal district courts expunge the records of individuals with federal marijuana convictions within one year of the bill’s enactment. It would also allow individuals with cannabis-related convictions to petition courts to have their records cleared prior to the one-year review period.

The Capitol Hill research office noted that federal marijuana convictions represent just a small fraction of the country’s total cannabis convictions, with most being carried out at the state, county and local levels. Relatively few federal cases are for possession alone; most are for trafficking-related charges. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, cannabis trafficking convictions are on the decline, with fewer than 2,000 cases occurring last year.

“The expungement provision in the MORE Act could raise several issues for policymakers,” CRS said. “The legislation would only address expungement of criminal records related to federal marijuana offenses; it would not provide relief from convictions for marijuana offenses in state courts.”

But CRS also floated potential solutions such as providing “an incentive for states to adopt uniform laws regarding the expungement of convictions for state level marijuana offenses.”

“For example, Congress may place conditions on federal criminal justice funding, such as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, or provide funds to states to help them implement expungement programs. Congress may consider providing guidelines to states on how to structure their expungement programs,” the report states.

CRS also noted that while the courts could be compelled to expunge records, the bill doesn’t address the fact that certain private companies harvest data on arrests and convictions when they’re publicly available.

“Policymakers might consider whether federal courts should be required to send lists of criminal records that would be expunged under the MORE Act to private background check companies in their respective districts to notify them of the expungement,” the report said.

CRS has dedicated significant time to exploring cannabis policy issues lately. Earlier this month, for example, it released a separate report that identified multiple problems caused by conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.

New FDA Guidance Will Make It Easier To Approve CBD-Based Medicines

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Oregon Marijuana Sales Spike Could Continue As Consumers ‘Permanently Adjust Their Behavior’ Following COVID

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Record-setting Oregon marijuana sales continue to be a bright spot in the state’s coronavirus-slowed economy, state analysts reported this week, but a convergence of unknowns—including the end of federal coronavirus relief and a possible rise in cannabis prices due to devastating wildfires—could still mean a rocky road ahead for consumers.

“Marijuana sales continue to be strong,” Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis wrote in a quarterly revenue forecast published on Wednesday. “Since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast.”

The increase tracks with other more established cannabis markets, such as those in Colorado, Washington and Nevada, which have also seen “strong gains” since the pandemic, the office said. “There are a number of likely reasons for these higher level of sales and expectations are that some of these increases will be permanent.”

oregon marijuana tax revenue forecast

Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

Analysts also expressed a rosier outlook on the future of the state’s marijuana market than they did in last quarter’s report, which acknowledged a spike in sales since the pandemic began but concluded that business was eventually “expected to mellow” as incomes fell and bars reopened. Officials now forecast Oregon will see “somewhat more” in sales than previously projected.

The state has recently seen a string of record-setting months for cannabis sales. Over the summer, monthly cannabis sales had averaged more than $100 million, according to an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) report.

OLCC

The projected uptick in sales will mean an extra $30 million in marijuana tax revenue for the state during its two-year budget period ending in 2021. Total adult-use cannabis taxes for that period are now forecast to end up at more than $276 million.

“Factors leading to increases in sales include higher incomes due to federal support, increased stressors in everyday life, reductions in other forms of entertainment or recreational opportunities, and simply more time on one’s hand be it due to a COVID-related layoff, or increased working from home,” the report said.

“A key question is now that the federal aid is gone and other entertainment options return in the months ahead, will some of this increase in sales in recent months subside?” the Office of Economic Analysis wrote in the new report. “In a recent meeting of our office’s marijuana forecast advisory group, the broad consensus was that yes, some of these sales will come off, but not entirely so. And the longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely customers will permanently adjust their behavior as they become accustomed to their new routines and buying patterns.”

For now, the bulk of the increases appear to be driven by existing consumers. While “indications are that the customer base is broadening some as the market grows due to more users trying an increasingly socially acceptable product and ongoing converts from the black market to the legal market,” the report said, the increase “is more likely to be due to larger or more frequent sales to existing consumers than due to more consumers alone.”

“One item to watch moving forward are prices,” analysts wrote. “In recent years the supply of marijuana has greatly outstripped the demand, leading to lower prices. This is great news for consumers. Given that marijuana is a normal good, lower prices have led to larger quantities sold. But now that demand has increased, while supply has held steady, and with the potential impact of the wildfires right as growers are prepping for harvest, this balance in the market may shift… As such, it may be that prices rise, or at least not decline like they have in recent years.”

oregon marijuana prices and sales

Oregon Office of Economic Analysis

As far as tax revenue goes, any price increase would likely lead to more money for the state, “as the decline in quantity sold is not large enough to outweigh the price impact,” the report said.

How cannabis revenue is spent would also be affected by a drug decriminalization ballot proposition, Measure 110, that voters will decide in November. While the initiative isn’t expected to change the amount of taxes collected, it would redirect marijuana tax funds to expand drug treatment programs. “Whether current programs receiving marijuana tax revenue would ultimately see budgetary impacts,” analysts said, “would remain up to the Legislature should voters approve the measure this fall.”

Measure 110, which broadly seeks to reframe problem drug use in medical rather than criminal terms, is one of two key drug-reform measures on Oregon’s ballot in less than six weeks. The other would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. That measure would be the first of its kind in the U.S., although Canada has recently granted some patients immunity from that country’s prohibition on psilocybin.

Oregon Marijuana Businesses Impacted By Wildfires Are Ineligible For Federal Relief, Agency Confirms

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