Marijuana arrests made during Pete Buttigieg's two terms as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana from 2012-2019 have become an issue during the contentious race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
At the February 7 debate in New Hampshire, Buttigieg was grilled about pot busts made in his city while he was mayor (he's no longer mayor). ABC News' Linsey Davis asked:
“Under your leadership as mayor, a black resident in South Bend, Indiana, was four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white resident. Now, that racial disparity is higher than the rest of the state – in fact, it’s higher than the rest of the nation – and that disparity increased in South Bend after you took office. When talking about the problem on national terms, you’ve called it ‘evidence of systemic racism.’ You were mayor for eight years, so weren’t you, in effect, the head of the system? And how do you explain that increase in black arrests under your leadership?”
Buttigieg answered: "Well, the reality is, on my watch, drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average. And specifically to marijuana, lower than in Indiana. But there is no question that systemic racism has penetrated to every level of our system, and my city was not immune. I took a lot of heat for discussing systemic racism with my own police department. But we’ve got to confront the fact that there is no escaping how this is part of all of our policies. It’s great that everybody’s so enlightened about drug policy now when it comes to opioids, but where were you when it came to marijuana, where were you when it came to the crack epidemic in the 1990s?”
Davis replied: “The year before you were in office, it was lower. Once you became in office in 2012, that number went up. In 2018, the last number year that we have record for, that number was still up.”
Buttigieg followed up: “One of the strategies that our community adopted was to target when there were cases where there was gun violence and gang violence, which was slaughtering so many in our community, burying teenagers, disproportionately black teenagers. We adopted a strategy that said that drug enforcement would be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder.”
Davis was correct in saying that minorities are arrested on marijuana charges four times more often than whites, but that's also the national average.
CelebStoner looked at the arrest totals and they are revealing. From 2017 to 2018, total crime arrests in South Bend increased by a whopping 110%. Out of 1,502 total arrests, 714 were for drug possession or sale. Marijuana arrests were up 280%, from 110 in 2017 to 310 in 2018.
During the previous years, the marijuana-arrest totals in South Bend stayed fairly constant: 148 in 2016, 129 in 2015, 214 in 2014, 224 in 2013 and 248 in 2012. Arrest totals for 2019 are not avaialble.
In Indiana, low-level possession or sale of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by maximums of five months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Above that amount is a felony. Only CBD is legal in the Hoosier State.
Buttigieg favors legalizing marijuana and has admitted to smoking pot while he attended Harvard.
Though he’s considered more of a centrist than his rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Buttigieg shares their concerns about the nation’s drug laws. “I believe the time has come to legalize marijuana,” he says regularly on the stump. “The biggest reason why is that we have found that this War on Drugs approach has done much more harm than the issues it was supposed to deal with.”
After barely winning the Iowa caucus, Buttigieg finished second to Senator Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire primary.