Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday toured a Las Vegas marijuana dispensary to tout his pro-cannabis views.
The mayor of South Bend, Ind., after his visit to the Top Notch The Health Center dispensary, said the legalized marijuana industry was knocking down false, stereotypical imagery with its ultramodern sales areas. “When you go into a place like this, it almost reminds you of an Apple Store,” he said.
Buttigieg has made legalization of marijuana on the national level one of his campaign issues. Federal legalization, he said, will help for a number of reasons — including giving dispensaries the ability to work with banks without bankers fearing getting into trouble with federal banking regulators.
“First of all, without legalization, you’re going to continue to see a patchwork of different state laws that create a lot of problems for legitimate businesses like this one,” he said. “For example, without federal legalization, it’s very difficult to use the banking system.”
Buttigieg also has called for the expungement of marijuana-based criminal records and an end to incarceration as a punishment for drug possession.
“I’ve … encountered a lot of people whose lives have really been shaken by the old ‘war-on-drugs’ approach,” he said. “There’s case after case where a sentence has done more harm than the offense that it was intended to deal with. Nowhere is that clearer than drug possession.”
Buttigieg said Congress needed to rewrite laws involving drug possession and punishment to ensure any change regarding marijuana was entrenched.
“I think that needs to be done legislatively so that this is not the whim of the president, this is the direction that our country is taking,” he said.
Buttigieg said cannabis products could have a helpful effect on medical treatments.
“I’ve met a lot of veterans who rely on cannabis for the treatment of diagnosed or undiagnosed issues, often service-connected issues like post-traumatic stress (disorder),” he said. “Another benefit of decriminalization is that it could pave the way for this to be supported with Veterans Affairs.”
He is also open to cannabis being covered by health insurance in some circumstances.
“Certainly, legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered as a therapy ought to,” he said, noting that marijuana should go through the same “highly rigorous (vetting) process that any pharmaceutical therapy would.”
Riana Durett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said Nevada was becoming increasingly accepting of the marijuana industry. She encouraged people unfamiliar with legal dispensaries to tour one, as Buttigieg did, to see how strictly the industry was regulated.
“Our generation grew up on misguided information about it, and so the more education gets out there, the more familiarity gets out there, the better,” she said. “It’s not for everybody, but once people get accurate information, they’re definitely more comfortable with it.”
Kema Ogden, one of the co-owners of the dispensary, said she was excited the legalized marijuana industry was getting time in the political limelight.
“I think it’s wonderful that these presidential hopefuls come through and learn about the industry,” Ogden said. “I think it’s really important for the voters out there to know what’s happening in here and what they actually care about when it comes to this industry.”
She said that she was not surprised, though, by the attention. The marijuana industry, she said, touches on a wide range of issues of interest politically.
“This industry is very new. There’s a lot of jobs and money being made … a lot of people who come here are voters,” she said. “They care about this topic and issue and it touches a lot of different areas, from employment and expungement to social justice issues to diversity issues.”
Employment and workforce development in the marijuana industry were two of the issues Buttigieg brought up after the tour.
“One thing that we’re seeing is that there are tons of jobs being created, thousands of jobs right here in Nevada in this field,” he said. “When you look at the growing and cultivation side as well as production, some of these are also very highly technical jobs. We’re talking about science-driven work in botany and engineering, as well as the point-of-sale side that you see here.”
While Buttigieg did admit to having tried marijuana in the past, he did not purchase any products after the tour.
“I’m on the clock, and it’s going to be a long workday for me,” he said.