The boyish grin and clean-cut persona. The white button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves. The uncanny resemblance to Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

It was all there Wednesday in Las Vegas as South Bend, Indiana mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg toured a pair of minority-owned cannabis facilities in Sin City, attempting to “dig into” the legal cannabis industry in advance of February’s presidential primary here.

The stops at GFive Cultivation and Top Notch THC Dispensary took about 90 minutes and, according to Buttigieg and those who accompanied him, included a load of new material for the candidate.

“I think people have a certain imagery of dispensaries and the marijuana industry that dates back to outdated stereotypes,” Buttigieg said after the tour. “When you go to a place like this, it almost reminds you of an Apple Store, how tidy and carefully it’s laid out. Knowledgeable employees and a legitimate business.”

“It’s still a struggle because federal policy hasn’t caught up,” he added. “It has been very helpful to see for myself.”

Visiting GFive and Top Notch THC

The 37-year-old Democratic contender explored Nevada’s seed-to-sale tracking system and a state-of-the-art propagation setup at his first stop, a closed-to-the-media visit at GFive. He stood at a distance from sectioned-off press at Top Notch THC while walking and chatting with co-owners Kema Ogden and John Heishman, and disappeared for a few minutes into the inventory room before holding a brief Q&A session with press on hand at the end.

Buttigieg, a combat veteran who served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve from 2009 to 2017, said he only used cannabis “a handful of times, a long time ago,” but has met fellow veterans on the campaign trail that consume the plant to treat symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He told reporters he fully supports federal legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, and that medical use of cannabis would be covered by health insurers and approved by the VA if he was elected president.

“Legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered as any therapy ought to be,” Buttigieg said. “It should go through the same highly-rigorous process that any pharmaceutical therapy would.”

A criminal justice stance

The South Bend mayor said his most passionate cannabis-related stance involves criminal justice. He wants previous criminal convictions of simple marijuana possession wiped off the record for those charged in the past, and vowed that low-level possession of any narcotic substance under a Buttigieg administration would not lead to jail time.

He said federal legalization would remove the “patchwork” of varying state laws that create problems for legitimate businesses like Top Notch THC and GFive, and also help solve crippling banking and tax issues.

Ogden, one of the few local dispensary owners left in Nevada’s corporation-cannibalized industry, is also one of the few women to own a cannabis store in the Silver State. She said Buttigieg was “all-ears” as she discussed her desire for more women and minorities to have ownership stakes in cannabis businesses.

‘Opening up opportunities’

“I think just opening up opportunities on a scale that would allow more minorities to apply where it doesn’t take millions of dollars and political influence, because that’s just not realistic for everyday people,” Ogden said. “Right now big corporations are manipulating the diversity point scale in application processes by putting minorities on their boards.

“There’s opportunity for minorities at the lower-level, but we want help in leveling the playing field at the top, too,” she added. “I felt (Buttigieg) was sincere in his interest and was impressed by how much he listened.”

Indiana: Not legal at all

Buttigieg is the second Democrat 2020 contender to explore the Las Vegas cannabis scene. New York businessman Andrew Yang also toured Essence Cannabis Dispensary during a campaign stop in April.

Wednesday’s tour was set up after Buttigieg’s campaign reached out to the Nevada Dispensary Association in early October, looking for a way to combine cannabis and minority outreach. Riana Durrett, the NDA’s executive director, accompanied the Democratic candidate at both stops. Durrett said Buttigieg paid close attention, and speculated his home state’s lack of experience with legal marijuana—Indiana still has yet to legalize even medical cannabis—incentivized Mayor Pete to absorb as much as he could from his Sin City cannabis experience.

“He came across like he wants to learn about what has become a fairly complicated industry,” Durrett said. “He talked with everyone he crossed paths with, it wasn’t just the owners. He took today very seriously and you can tell he wants to get on top of the issue.”

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