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.
Feds Send Warning Letter To Another CBD Company Over Medical Claims
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to a Florida-based CBD company on Tuesday, alleging that the business made several unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic benefits of their products.
The federal agencies accused Rooted Apothecary of unlawfully asserting that their cannabidiol products could treat symptoms of conditions such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, ear aches, ADHD and autism. Those claims appeared on the company’s website and social media accounts, they said.
Certain products appeared to be marketed as dietary supplements, which FDA currently prohibits as it works to develop an alternative regulatory scheme for CBD.
“Cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds are subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a press release. “We are working to protect Americans from companies marketing products with unsubstantiated claims that they prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure a number of diseases or conditions.”
FDA and FTC have issued a joint warning letter to a company marketing unapproved cannabidiol products with unsubstantiated claims to treat teething and ear pain in infants, autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions/diseases. https://t.co/tsn4SBiGzH pic.twitter.com/sG3wyURMDS
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements.
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
“We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements,” he said. “As we examine potential regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis products, protecting and promoting public health through sound, science-based decision-making remains our top priority.”
FTC’s complaint with the company is that it violated a law that requires businesses that advertise medical claims about their products to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back them up, which could include human clinical trials. Making or exaggerating such claims through “a product name, website name, metatags, or other means” without proper evidence is also prohibited.
FTC and @US_FDA warn Florida company marketing CBD products about claims related to treating autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other medical conditions: https://t.co/cAbxPPcxk8 pic.twitter.com/GdlttyBgxv
— FTC (@FTC) October 22, 2019
Rooted Apothecary must respond to the agencies within 15 working days to explain what steps it’s taking to resolve the issues. If the company fails to do so, it is subject to legal action, including the possible seizure of its products or an injunction. It may also have to compensate customers.
FDA emphasized that CBD products—other than the prescription medication Epidiolex, for the treatment of intractable epilepsy—are not currently allowed. But it also reiterated that the agency is in the process of developing rules that could allow for the lawful marketing of the compound.
In April, FDA sent warning letters to three other CBD companies that it said was making unauthorized claims about the medical benefits of their products. FTC also submitted warning letters to three separate CBD companies for allegedly advertising misleading statements about their products last month.
These letters are examples of the agency’s use of enforcement discretion. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who recently suggested that the federal government should be involved in regulating state marijuana programs, clarified in March that the agency is only going after companies that make especially misleading claims about their products.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who championed a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalizing hemp and its derivatives, has urged FDA to clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products by using enforcement discretion while it develops an interim final rule. A bipartisan group of lawmakers made a similar request in a letter sent to the agency last month.
“The FDA is working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace and protect public health by taking action as needed against companies,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said.
FDA’s working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products with cannabis/cannabis-derivatives like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace & protect public health by taking action as needed against companies. https://t.co/HB9IhG2qud
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence. We plan to provide an update on our progress in this area in the near future.
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
“We recognize that there is significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds; however, we must work together to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products,” she said. “We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence.”
Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.
GOP Senator Links Medical Marijuana Claims To Tobacco Industry Advertisements
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said on Tuesday that claims about the therapeutic potential of marijuana remind him of decades-old tobacco industry advertisements asserting that the product had medical benefits.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Cornyn discussed a hearing that the International Narcotics Control Caucus, which he co-chairs, will hold on Wednesday to explore the public health impacts of cannabis. He said it was especially important to hear from experts about the subject as more states legalize marijuana and members of Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates, push to end federal prohibition.
Senate Hearing To Focus On Marijuana And Health This Week – https://t.co/aPZczm3X75
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 21, 2019
The senator made clear he’s skeptical about marijuana’s health benefits.
“There’s no shortage of people who claim that marijuana has endless health benefits and can help patients struggling from everything from epilepsy to anxiety to cancer treatments,” he said. “This reminds me of some of the advertising we saw from the tobacco industry years ago where they actually claimed public health benefits from smoking tobacco, which we know as a matter of fact were false and that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and is implicated with cancers of different kinds.”
“We’re hearing a lot of the same happy talk with regard to marijuana and none of the facts that we need to understand about the public health impact of marijuana use,” he said.
While Cornyn recognized there’s significant support for cannabis reform, he said that ” for the number of voices in support of legalization, there are even more unanswered questions about both the short- and long-term public health effects.”
He expressed concern about increased levels of THC concentration in cannabis products and stated that it’s “true that for some people that marijuana can indeed be addictive.”
“There’s simply a lack of scientific evidence to determine the link between marijuana and various health risks, and that’s something I would think Congress and the American people would want to know before we proceed further down this path,” Cornyn said. “We don’t know enough about how this could impair cognitive function or capacity or increase the risk of mental illness or perhaps serve as a gateway for other drugs that are even more damaging to the health of a young person.”
The senator made similar remarks during a conversation with a former White House drug czar in August. He said it was important to address the public health impacts of cannabis before moving forward with legislation that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
“With increasing use and a growing number of states giving the green light for marijuana use, we need better answers,” he said.
The surgeon general and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with several academics, are scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation Urges Congress To Pass Three Marijuana Research Bills
A leading advocacy group that’s dedicated to finding treatment options for Parkinson’s disease is backing three pieces of marijuana research legislation in Congress.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)—named after the actor, who has Parkinson’s and established the nonprofit—said last week that lifting barriers to cannabis research, including rescheduling the plant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is necessary to promote studies verifying marijuana’s potential therapeutic benefit for conditions such as Parkinson’s patients.
“The MJFF supports increased access to cannabis for medical research. Congress has begun to recognize this need, and there are several bills in the U.S. House and Senate designed to remove barriers that impede safe and legal access to cannabis by medical researchers,” the foundation said on its website. “The MJFF public policy team is tracking these bills and working to educate members of Congress and their staff on their importance to the Parkinson’s community.”
MJFF said it’s in favor of three marijuana bills, which would accomplish the following:
—Require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers for research-grade cannabis.
—Protect research institutions that conduct studies on marijuana.
—Authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to inform patients about opportunities to participate in federally authorized cannabis studies.
—Require VA to conduct studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana in the treatment of various conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
—Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA.
—Free up universities to conduct studies on cannabis by removing certain regulatory requirements.
In a letter to the Senate sponsor of that last piece of legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), in June, the foundation stated that marijuana’s current classification under federal law and the inadequate quality of cannabis grown at the only federally authorized manufacturing facility has meant that “researchers do not have the proper materials to conduct the necessary research.”
The foundation noted that it has submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration arguing in favor of rescheduling in 2018 and 2019. It also applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration for announcing that it would take steps to approve additional federal cannabis farms for research.
“Current policies hinder comprehensive medical research on cannabis, making it difficult to generate the evidence needed for clear recommendations,” Andrew Koemeter-Cox, MJFF’s associate director of research programs, said. “This is especially problematic when some products may be unsafe for human use and have the potential for adverse interactions with other medications.”
Ted Thompson, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of public policy, said that removing barriers to research “is one way in which Congress can help scientific researchers determine what the benefits of medical cannabis might be for Parkinson’s disease.”
“Our role on the public policy team is to work with Congress and the administration to ensure there is access and funding for research and care initiatives that can benefit people living with Parkinson’s and, right now, that includes access to medical cannabis for research,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.