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Published on Feb 26, 2014

While Washington State is still adjusting to many changes since legalizing recreational marijuana—from growing space size to the number of licenses to give out—one of the biggest changes may be Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employees going to work in the private sector. Reason TV sat down with Patrick Moen, a former supervisory special agent with the DEA, who now works as compliance director and senior counsel at Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that invests in cannabis.

“The more law enforcement officers acknowledge that prohibition [of marijuana] is wrong, the better off society is going to be,” said Moen. At the DEA he specialized in wiretaps and worked on cases varying from busting heroin and methamphetamine rings to rooting out pot and painkiller dealers. “Taking that first step is often the most difficult one, it just so happened that I was the one to take it.”

Moen says that he got a lot of support from friends and former colleagues, the latter of which privately asked him for jobs. He says people may be surprised to know that an overwhelming majority of agents he interacted with didn’t feel marijuana should be a priority for the DEA.

“Well, my own personal point of view is that drugs like methamphetamine and heroin have legitimate, observable, harmful effects to the user and people around the user and you definitely cannot say the same thing about cannabis,” says Moen.

Reason TV presented Moen with numbers from the Department of Justice’s 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment indicating an increase in the availability of methamphetamine and heroin in the U.S.

“There are some cases of mine in particular that I am very proud of that I can look back at and say that I had a measurable effect on this community for some period of time before it bounced back,” says Moen. “I don’t think anyone was under the illusion that we were going to stop it, that we were going to win the war on drugs.”

Moen is aware of the criticism of the DEA and the war on drugs in general.

“I think there is a certain subset of the population that views DEA agents as jackbooted thugs, that have an agenda to oppress them…. But it’s just another job, and there are guys there that are competent, and there are guys there that are less so, but they are all trying to do the job the best that they can.”

Privateer Holdings is looking to invest in businesses that surround the legal marijuana industry like the cannabis review site, Leafly.com, which also helps users find different strains and locations of cannabis around them. Leafly claims to have a website and app that generate more than more than 2.3 million visits a month.

The private cannabis industry isn’t without worries though. CEO at Privateer Holdings, Brenden Kennedy, told Bloomberg TV on January 28, that banking in the marijuana industry was nearly impossible because banks were concerned with the taboo nature of the product. “We have been kicked out of two banks, two large banks, very unceremoniously,” said Kennedy, who also said at least one employee at Privateer Holdings had experienced trouble with his personal bank account.

“The biggest risk we see is from the federal government. Bureaucrats and politicians are always the last ones to accept change,” said Kennedy.

Approximately 10:07.

Produced and edited by Paul Detrick. Shot by Alex Manning. Music is “A Freak” by Moby.

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