Patrick Moen and Paul Schmidt left the Oregon DEA to work … in the medical marijuana industry?

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Patrick Moen, a DEA agent in Oregon, quit his job in late 2013 and now works for Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that acquires businesses related to the medical marijuana industry. As for why he switched gigs?

“There was no ‘aha’ moment. I had been contemplating career moves, looking for new challenges. It was partly a reflection of the general dysfunction of the federal government. Gridlock in D.C. has trickled down to affect every employee. It hurts morale. I’ll leave it at that.”

Ah, morale and gridlock — sending the DEA over to “the other side” (not really, but to the “legal other side”).

FWIW, here’s his take on the war on drugs, via The Seattle Times:

Yes, at this point in history it’s something we have to do. When I say that about hard drugs, I think it’s undeniable that they cause significant harm to society, and we can’t just roll over and allow them to destroy a generation of youth … I’ve seen what they do to families and it’s devastating. Marijuana is not even in the same category. In my mind, you can’t talk about them in the same sentence.

The big line you see in most articles about Moen is him saying it’s “not a contradiction” but rather “an evolution.” I’m fine with that. It’s not like he went to work for a cartel, you know? That would be flipping.

Paul Schmidt is the other story, also in Oregon. Paul Schmidt was the highest-ranking DEA official in Oregon until about 2010; he retired and now works as a medical marijuana business consultant.

Pete Tashman, a business school professor at Portland State University, makes a good point about all this at the last link: oftentimes, the big pharma industry will hire former government regulators — either when they become available via retirement or needing a change of scenery, or via poaching (higher salary). It’s a “revolving door” strategy that helps business development; in a similar-ish vein, a lot of people pointed to Google buying Nest for $3.2 billion as partially because Nest has about 100 former Apple employees in-house. Get to know the other side.

There are a couple of weird cross-purpose things going on in the bigger discussion here. First, the DEA has admitted that the legalized pot movement ‘scares’ them, specifically:

James L. Capra, the chief of operations at the DEA, was responding to a question from a senator Wednesday when he admitted authorities are nervous about the prospect of legalization measures, which are becoming more popular throughout the US after decriminalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington.

I have to say this…going down the path to legalization in this country is reckless and irresponsible,” he said. “I’m talking about the long term impact of legalization in the United States. It scares us.”

OK. But then there’s the DEA ‘threat assessment’ document, which has a section devoted to marijuana but generally calls it “widely available” and often seems to downplay any threats (i.e. Obama).

And here’s Schmidt on how people within the DEA and policing perceive marijuana:

“If you go to the newer law enforcement – somewhere 45 years and younger – and you talk to them about cannabis, they are just like, ‘Man, why isn’t it legal? I have got other things to do.'”

Marijuana was a major trend line in the U.S. (and somewhat within the world) in 2013. This Super Bowl — Denver vs. Seattle — is only going to further the narrative for a couple of weeks as people make cracks about the two legal cities, etc. The fact is, the attitudes have shifted dramatically over time, becoming more liberal in the process. It’s almost a waste to have the DEA focusing on pot at all, except in large quantities or as a money front for the cartels (some Mexican cartels use it that way, and cutting out that supply — thus hurting their bottom lines — is good, obviously). Why would the DEA need to care about anything else, strategy-wise? It doesn’t seem logical. Moen and Schmidt are just two reported cases; there will probably be more. People go to (a) work that interests them and (b) money, and right now, medical marijuana might be higher up on both than base-level federal DEA work, even at a supervisory post.

Ted Bauer

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