As he considers a 2020 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is continuing to defend his controversial positions on several issues. Speaking yesterday at the United States Naval Academy's 2019 Leadership Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, Bloomberg explained why he opposes marijuana legalization and still believes "stop and frisk" was a good idea.
Bloomberg's stances aren't anything new. But they're a good reminder that, as Reason's Scott Shackford argued in October, the possible presidential candidate is no lover of liberty.
For one thing, Bloomberg remains vociferously opposed to weed, appearing to tie drug overdose deaths to marijuana legalization. "Last year, in 2017, 72,000 Americans OD'd on drugs," he said, according to CNN's Donald Judd. "In 2018, more people than that are ODing on drugs, have OD'd on drugs, and today incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic, which is perhaps the stupidest thing we've ever done," he declared, presumably talking about marijuana. "We've got to fight that," Bloomberg added.
Bloomberg was likely referencing Centers for Disease Control statistics showing that 72,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. But it's hard to see how that relates to marijuana legalization. As I pointed out in December, the Drug Enforcement Agency did not report any deaths from marijuana in 2017. According to David Schmader, author of Weed: The User's Guide, you'd need to consume 1,500 pounds of the stuff within 15 minutes to fatally overdose.
Moreover, numerous studies (six of which Reason's C.J. Ciaramella rounded up last February), show that opioid addiction does not start with marijuana. For more on the "gateway drug" myth, you can read Jacob Sullum's comprehensive dive into the subject here.
But Bloomberg has long been ignorant when it comes to weed. In 2013, he called medical marijuana "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time," despite endless evidence to the contrary. And in 2015, he said marijuana legalization is "one of the stupider things that's happening across our country."
To his credit, Bloomberg announced in February 2013 that people arrested for possessing small amounts of weed would be given an appearance ticket and released, rather than be locked up overnight. But this did not address the issue of arrests themselves. In 2012, more than 40,000 people were arrested for low-level marijuana arrests, according to the NYC Criminal Justice Agency.
Thousands of those arrests came courtesy of another controversial stance that Bloomberg defended yesterday: stop and frisk. Under that program, police would detain and search citizens based on a reasonable suspicion they were armed. Though as the New York Civil Liberties Union has noted, police recovered just 729 firearms in 2012 due to stop and frisk. By contrast, more than 26,000 people were stopped on suspicion of alleged marijuana possession, leading to roughly 5,000 arrests.
In Bloomberg's mind, stop and frisk helped lower the city's murder rate. He said:
We focused on keeping kids from going through the correctional system, where they just came out worse than they came in, kids who walked around looking like they might have a gun, remove the gun from their pockets and stop it, and the result of that was, over the years, the murder rate in New York City went from 650 a year to 300 a year when I left.
Bloomberg's argument is flawed. As Sullum noted in September, crime in New York actually started declining in the '90s. And while that decline continued while stop and frisk was in full effect, the homicide rate still went down by 43 percent between 2011 and 2017—as the program was being phased out!
Stop and frisk was also unconstitutional—police shouldn't be able to stop people without probable cause. And as a federal judge ruled in 2013, the program affected mostly innocent people and minorities. "Nearly 90 percent of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest," wrote then-Judge Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, according to The New York Times. She also said the New York City Police Department engaged in a "policy of indirect racial profiling" by regularly stopping "blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white."
Bloomberg, meanwhile, said yesterday that "we certainly did not pick somebody by race." Rather, police "went to a place where there was somebody that had been murdered…and that's where you looked for kids who might have a gun." Of course, that's hardly good enough justification to stop and pat down tens of thousands of innocent people.
Bloomberg's comments yesterday came as he considers whether or not to run for president in 2020. "I said I'd take a look at it in January, February. We're still in January," he said.
If he does run, he has a "slim, none, and fat" chance of winning, as Reason's Matt Welch explained in November. That's probably for the best. There's are plenty of reasons, after all, why Reason highlighted him as one our "45 Enemies of Freedom" in the 45th anniversary issue in 2013.