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Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Tours Marijuana Dispensary And Grow House

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg toured a marijuana grow house and dispensary in Las Vegas on Wednesday. During the event, which Marijuana Moment attended, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate spoke with business owners about the challenges they face under federal prohibition and expanded on his vision for cannabis reform.

Buttigieg visited Top Notch, a minority-owned marijuana shop that says it services more than 1,000 customers and patients per day. He asked the staff questions about how people choose cannabis products that are right for them, the manufacturing process and what legislative fixes are needed at the federal level to ensure that these businesses have access to financial services available to most industries.

He did not purchase any cannabis during the visit, however, despite acknowledging that he has indulged a “handful of times a long time ago.”

“I’m on the clock and it’s going to be a long work day for me,” he said before departing for a town hall event.

Buttigieg said that “people have a certain imagery of dispensaries or the marijuana industry that dates back to outdated stereotypes,” but when you visit a shop like Top Notch, “it almost reminds you of an Apple store, how tidy and carefully it’s laid out, knowledgeable employees and a legitimate business that still struggles because federal policy hasn’t caught up.”

“It was very helpful to be able to see it myself,” he said.

The mayor weighed in on a variety of cannabis-related issues following the dispensary tour, including his proposal to decriminalize possession of all drugs because oftentimes, “a sentence has done more harm than the offense that it was intended to deal with” when it comes to low-level drug charges.

Buttigieg, who served in the military, told Marijuana Moment that he’s “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.”

He voiced support for allowing doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis to veterans and said that federal legalization could “pave the way for [the policy] to be supported with the VA.”

“We also see a lot of chronic pain conditions that are being medicated with opioids where there might be an alternative,” he said. “It’s very clear that the policies around this are not based on science or reason, they’re based on habit and in some cases prejudice, and we have an opportunity to change that.”

Asked whether he felt that medical cannabis should be covered under health insurance plans, Buttigieg told Marijuana Moment that “legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered, as any therapy ought to.”

“Now there are questions about what should be approved for what indications. This should go through the same highly rigorous process that any pharmaceutical therapy would,” he said. “But there’s no reason that it should be excluded. When we get to legalization, that’ll change.”

He also ruled out the prospect of using executive action to decriminalize marijuana, stating that it “needs to be [achieved] legislatively so that this is not the whim of the president, it’s the direction our country is taking.”

The trip to the dispensary reminded Buttigieg about another issue he’s dealt with as mayor: synthetic cannabinoids.

“One of the things that went through my mind as I saw just how carefully they monitored the safety of the products sold here is the danger of something that doesn’t get talked about enough, which is so-called synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabinoids, many of which have nothing at all to do with actual cannabis,” he said. “They’re incredibly toxic, they’re often legal—sold at gas stations in communities like mine—and disproportionately consumed by and harming people of color, even while things that don’t have those same toxicity are being made available in a smart, well-regulated way in places like Nevada.”

“It is time for the laws of the country to evolve,” he said, “and I think we can learn a lot from how Nevada has developed the right legal.”

The site of the shop tour was intentional. Buttigieg lauded Nevada’s regulatory system and the economic benefits of legalization, but he emphasized that federal reform should be pursued with a “lens on equity and on health” and should “empower a diverse workforce, make sure that there’s diverse ownership and support independent or family-operated businesses.”

Top Notch is a rare example of such a business in Nevada, owned and operated Kema Ogden, the state’s first female minority owner of a cannabis dispensary.

Ogden told Marijuana Moment that the mayor “basically just wanted to get an idea of the flow and how things work for us and how we got into this—how it started and some of our obstacles that we go through and what would federally help us.”

Larry Smith, managing member of G Five Medical Consultant who also participated in the tour, said that a major congressional priority should be, at minimum, rescheduling cannabis under federal law “so it can open up banking” for businesses like his.

This story has been updated to correct Smith’s title. A previous version described him as a co-owner of Top Notch.

Senate Marijuana Hearing Highlights How Schedule I Status Blocks Research

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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