News and Commentary

Democrat Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg: Decriminalize All Drug Possession
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Democratic presidential hopeful South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the National Action Network's annual convention on April 4, 2019 in New York City. A dozen 2020 Democratic presidential candidates will speak at the organization's convention this week. Founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991, the National Action Network is one of the most influential African American organizations dedicated to civil rights in America.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg confirmed to Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday that he supports the decriminalization of hardcore illicit drugs, including meth and heroin.

“Mayor, you not only want to decriminalize marijuana, you want to decriminalize all drug possession,” Chris Wallace said. “You say that the better answer is incarceration – I mean, it’s rather treatment, not incarceration –”

“That’s right,” Buttigieg interjected.

“But isn’t the fact that it’s illegal to have, to possess meth and heroin, doesn’t that, at least in some way, the fact that’s illegal, act as some deterrent to actually trying it in the first place?” Wallace pressed.

“Well, I think the main thing we need to focus on is where you have distribution and the kind of harm that’s done there,” Buttigieg responded. “[Where] yeah, of course it’s important that it remain illegal but –”

“But you would decriminalize it, so it wouldn’t be illegal,” Wallace responded.

“Possession should not be dealt with through incarceration,” Buttigieg responded.

“But you would say that possession of heroin is not illegal?” Wallace pressed.

“Is not going to be dealt with through incarceration,” Buttigieg responded.

“But your website says ‘decriminalize,’” Wallace pressed. “It will not be illegal.”

“Yes. Or it could be a misdemeanor,” Buttigieg said in an apparent attempt to deflect. “The point is, not the legal niceties. The point is that we have learned through 40 years of a failed war on drugs that criminalizing addiction doesn’t work.”



CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY ANCHOR: And joining us now, one of the co-winners of the Iowa caucuses, Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Welcome back to Fox News Sunday.


WALLACE: So how much did your win, I’ll put it slightly in quotes, in Iowa transform the credibility of your campaign to show voters that you can actually beat this deal?

BUTTIGIEG: Well I think it was critically important. For the last year, presidential candidates have been saying that — claiming that we’re the ones who can put the campaign together that’s going to ultimately go on to defeat Donald Trump. And the process of proving that began in Iowa. I was especially pleased that we had a coalition of suburban and rural and urban voters — caucus goers. We had older and younger caucus goers supporting us. And did particularly well in some of those counties that had swung from President Obama to vote for Trump. But that’s one state and it’s one day.

New Hampshire is a state that thinks for itself with a very strong independent streak and we know that we’ve got to earn every vote here. And so I will continue to be on the ground doing events, taking questions, spending time with voters, making sure that they hear our vision and that I hear their concerns, and we think that’s how we’re going to succeed here too.

WALLACE: Now the flipside of that is — I don’t have to tell you, you’re more of a target, among others. Joe Biden has come out with a new ad specifically targeting you. Let’s take a look.


UNKNOWN: Joe Biden helped lead the passage of the affordable care act, giving healthcare to 20 million people. And when park goers called on Pete Buttigieg he installed decorative lights under bridges, giving citizens of South Bend color-free, illuminated rivers.


WALLACE: Now you say that Biden is mocking people in small towns. He says the point he’s making is you just have too little experience on too small a scale. You like to say that the Democrats who win are the ones who push for generational change –John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. He says — and this is his quote, he’s no Barack Obama. When you —


BUTTIGIEG: — I’m not and neither is he. Neither is any of us.

WALLACE: And this isn’t 2008, this is 2020.

BUTTIGIEG: This is about how we’re going to turn the page and deliver a better future in the country. I’ll also say there’s so many communities — cities like mine in the industrial Midwest, rural areas, and even neighborhoods in our biggest cities that are tired of being treated as a punchline or not feeling that our voices are heard in Washington. And a big part of this campaign is about making sure that we carry those voices to the Capitol instead of thinking that the answers are somehow going to come from Washington as we know it. In order to win, but also in order to govern, we need to be ready to look to the future and that’s what my campaign is about.

WALLACE: Let’s talk about some of the issues that have come out recently. In the debate on Friday night, you were asked about the fact that African Americans in South Bend were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Whites were. Here was part of that exchange.


UNKNOWN: How do you explain the increase in Black arrests in South Bend under your leadership for marijuana possessions?

BUTTIGIEG: And again the overall rate was never —

UNKNOWN: No. There was an increase. The year before you were in office it was lower.


WALLACE: I’m less interested in the statistic than the fact it seemed to me that you weren’t straight. That you, at first, you ducked the question and then when she pressed it again, you seem to deny it. And, you know, you have a reputation as a straight talker. The fact is Blacks were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana arrests in your town when you were mayor.

BUTTIGIEG: No, that disparity is there. It is there in our city and it’s there across the country. So one of the things I wanted to make sure got across was that that was only part of the story. That in my city Black residents were less likely to be arrested on drug charges than in the state or in the country. But still, the disparity is real. It’s a problem and it’s one of the reasons why I’m proposing that we legalize marijuana outright and when we do we have a process of expungements and looking backwards at the harm that drug policy has caused.

We have seen time and time again racial disparities in the enforcement not just in drug laws, but across the criminal legal system. And we need reform. No one mayor is going to be able to resolve it. This is a national process that I’m pleased to see there is more and more bipartisan energy around doing something about, but it’s got to happen now.

WALLACE: Mayor you not only want to decriminalize marijuana, you want to decriminalize all drug possession. You say that the better answer is incarceration – I mean, it’s rather treatment, not incarceration —

BUTTIGIEG: That’s right.

WALLACE: — but isn’t the fact that it’s illegal to have — to possess meth and heroin doesn’t that — at least in some way, the fact that’s illegal, act as a – some deterrent to actually trying it in the first place?

BUTTIGIEG: Well I think the main thing we need to focus on is where you have distribution and the kind of harm that’s done there. [Where], yes, of course it’s important that it remain illegal but —


WALLACE: But you would decriminalize it so it would not be illegal.

BUTTIGIEG: Possession should not be deal with through incarceration and —


WALLACE: But you would say that possession of heroin is not illegal?

BUTTIGIEG: Is not going to be dealt with through incarceration.

WALLACE: But your — your website says decriminalize. It will not be illegal.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. Or it could be a misdemeanor. The point is, not the legal niceties. The point is that we have learned through 40 years of a failed war on drugs that criminalizing addiction doesn’t work. Not only that, the incarceration does more harm than the offense it’s intended to deal with. This is not saying that these substances are OK. It’s saying that when somebody develops that kind of addiction, throwing them in jail or being in a situation where jail is the closest thing they’ll ever get to inpatient treatment, shows a profound failure in our country’s mental health and addiction treatment system. And I don’t think that comes as a surprise. The American people know that we’ve got to do a better job. And, frankly, expecting the law enforcement system, first responders in jails, to be the frontlines of mental health is just no way to run the United States of America.

WALLACE: In our Town Hall in Des Moines two weeks ago, you had an interesting discussion with a Democrats for Life woman — a woman who was pro-life who said that all she wants is for the party — the Democratic Party to make an explicit statement that people like her are welcomed into the party. Here’s a bit of that exchange.


UNKNOWN: Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats — pro-life Democratic voters, there are about 21 million of us?

BUTTIGIEG: I respect where you’re coming from — and I hope to earn your vote, but I’m not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you.


WALLACE: For someone who talks so much about inclusion, that struck a lot of people as sounding like you were trying to keep people out.

BUTTIGIEG: Well I was trying to show her the respect of being honest with her. Look, she is very welcome to join this effort. I hope that voters like her do, but I’m not going to turn around and support the criminalization of women and doctors as a way to get her vote because I don’t believe it’s right. I know that this is a tough and a sensitive issue. I’m from South Bend, Indiana. A lot of people I know — a lot of my own supporters don’t view this the way that I do. But at the end of the day, it is very important to me and, I think to most Americans, to respect a woman’s right to choose.

WALLACE: I think that you’re roughly saying that you would have to change your views, she was saying is the tent big enough in the Democratic Party that people like her who are against abortion — who are pro-life, are they welcomed into the party if they want to support them?

BUTTIGIEG: Here’s what I would say, to me being pro-life means also making sure that children can grow up and be healthy and succeed. It means making sure that there’s maternal care. It means making sure that there’s nutrition. And if we can agree on that much, than perhaps she can support me. And if not, I respect that.

WALLACE: You have made it clear you want some structural changes, not just specific issue changes. One of them is to end the Electoral College. But doesn’t that mean, in a general election, if it was just about the popular vote nobody would come to a state like New Hampshire because they’d be too busy going to population centers like New York and Los Angeles?

BUTTIGIEG: No, I don’t think that would be the effect and the reason is we run every other election in this country in the traditional fashion, in other words, you know, the person who gets the most votes gets to win the election. And when you’re running for governor of a state of any size, you go to the big cities and you go to the small towns. We don’t run Governors races with some Electoral College system where certain counties count more than certain other counties. And if you want to earn that office you campaign everywhere. I think the same is true for the country.

And at the end of the day it’s not clear to me why a rancher in Texas should not count because they are in a state that’s overwhelmingly Conservative. Or if somebody living in Brooklyn shouldn’t count because the community’s overwhelmingly Liberal. Or they’re my city, a midsize city in the industrial Midwest, doesn’t have much of a voice because I’m part of a state that’s not considered a swing state. It doesn’t even benefit small states. It just benefits some states. And at the end of the day I think it’s fair for everybody’s vote to count the exact same, like we do in every other election that we run in this country.

WALLACE: Finally, Bernie Sanders, who is going to be our next guest after the commercial, is going after you hard right now especially about the issue of some of your campaign donors. Take a look.


BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unlike some of the folks up here I don’t have 40 billionaires, Pete, contributing to my campaign. Let me – from the pharmaceutical industry, coming from Wall Street and all the big money interests.


WALLACE: You said, look to beat Donald Trump we need all the help, all the money, all the support we can get. No qualms about accepting contributions from what he calls big money interests?

BUTTIGIEG: We’ve gotten two million contributions in this campaign, I think the average is under 40 bucks. And we are building the movement that is going to defeat Donald Trump. I want everybody to help out. I want everybody who shares that vision to be at our side. I think Donald Trump is — and his allies raised 25 million bucks in one day. I’m building a campaign that’s not defined by who we reject. It’s defined by belonging. It’s defined by inclusion. It’s defined by pulling together the coalition to get the job done. And at the end of the day whether somebody goes to [website] and chips in the five bucks —


BUTTIGIEG: You know I got to say the website —


BUTTIGIEG: But also this is how we built the campaign. Or whether somebody comes to an event and may be a surgeon who can contribute $2,000 or whatever being much skin off their back. I want all of them to be part of this effort.

WALLACE: Mayor Buttigieg thank you. Thanks for your time sir.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

WALLACE: And we’ll be watching for your final push before Tuesday.

BUTTIGIEG: Sounds good.

Create a free account to join the conversation!

Already have an account?

Log in

Got a tip worth investigating?

Your information could be the missing piece to an important story. Submit your tip today and make a difference.

Submit Tip
Download Daily Wire Plus

Don't miss anything

Download our App

Stay up-to-date on the latest
news, podcasts, and more.

Download on the app storeGet it on Google Play
The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Democrat Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg: Decriminalize All Drug Possession