Whistleblower testifies that Bill Barr’s “personal dislike” of cannabis fueled unwarranted investigations into legalized industry as DOJ corruption scandal grips Washington

Jun 25, 2020

On Wednesday, Department of Justice whistleblower John Elias testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, telling members of Congress that Attorney General William P. Barr’s “personal dislike” of the cannabis industry was the foundation of an all-out witch hunt into the legal marijuana trade.

Elias, a career official at the Justice Department, told the committee that Barr had his staff investigate upwards of 10 mergers in the cannabis industry because of political motivations, according to a prepared statement. In one stunning example, Barr dismissed the recommendations of career department officials and pressed on with an investigation of a planned merger between MedMen and PharmaCann. According to Elias' statement, the resulting delays and lack of regulatory approval eventually led to the merger falling apart, with MedMen’s stock price falling by about one-third.

The cannabis industry investigations were about 30 percent of the department’s overall “full-review merger investigations” for the 2019 fiscal year.

According to Elias, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim told Justice Department staff that Barr’s motivations were political. “[Delrahim] acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular “on the fifth floor,” a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building,” said Elias in his opening remarks. “Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.”

Elias’ accusations, which were part of a broader investigation by House Democrats into President Donald Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone were reviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. A New York Times report obtained an email showing that an internal Justice Department review determined Barr’s office “acted reasonably and appropriately.”

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee pounced on that detail, using it and other bits of information to try and discredit Elias. At Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans were visibly upset and made several attempts to obstruct witnesses. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, banged his desk loudly and repeatedly while witness Donald Ayer was speaking, causing some on the Democratic side to ask for the Sergeant-At-Arms. 

The outburst, which lasted well over five minutes, caused a considerable stir in the House chambers as Republican representative Doug Collins lobbed insults at Democratic Chairman Herry Nadler, who tried, in vain, to herd everyone back to order.

Reports of Barr’s political motivations have taken on an air of credibility within the cannabis industry and around Washington, especially when weighed with other eyewitness accounts. One such testimony came from Aaron Zelinsky, a lawyer who worked on the Mueller investigation. He testified that Roger Stone was "treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President."

Taken together, these whistleblowers tell a consistent story of corruption in the Department of Justice that has had serious adverse effects on the cannabis industry. 

International hemp and business law attorney Rod Kight of North Carolina agrees that Barr's allegations appear both credible and disturbing. Kight, who represents businesses in the cannabis industry in the US and internationally and helps governments draft cannabis legislation told PotNetwork in an email Wednesday that while he does not have specific information about any of the 10 investigations Barr began into the marijuana industry, he understands that none of them appear to be warranted.

“Career Justice Department antitrust lawyers deemed them to be "frivolous" and based on Barr's personal dislike of the marijuana industry rather than a rational assessment of whether or not there was a reasonable basis to expend taxpayer dollars initiating the investigations,” Kight told PotNetwork.

In his opinion, the situation represents the treacherous waters in which the cannabis industry has been stuck for quite some time.

“The primary takeaway is that even as the industry continues to expand and become normalized it remains subject to the whims and biases of law enforcement and political ideologues until marijuana is finally removed from the Controlled Substances Act,” said Kight. “Neither Trump nor Biden have ever expressed an unqualified intention to do so. Until that happens, the marijuana industry will remain an investment backwater despite widespread public acceptance of cannabis.”

On Wednesday, Barr told reporters that he would testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on July 28. 

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