Northern Swan, a New York investment house specializing in the cannabis industry, just announced the appointment to two prominent political figures to its advisory board.
One is former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The other is former Rep. Joe Crowley — the long-entrenched incumbent who was famously defeated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 Democratic primary.
Northern Swan, with a corporate kicker of “Global Investments in Legal Cannabis,” is the financial muscle behind Clever Leaves, a Colombian company that hopes to export CBD products to the European market. With a shipment of samples for testing last month to German wholesaler Cansativa, Clever Leaves became the first Latin American cannabis company to complete an export to Europe.
As Bloomberg reports, Daschle and Crowley have been hired to help guide Northern Swan as it works to open Europe, Canada and potentially the U.S. to Colombian cannabis products. “Because we view smart cannabis investing as smart regulatory investing, I think it was important to bring to bear some seasoned experts around Washington to help us expand our business,” chief executive officer Kyle Detwiler told Bloomberg.
Northern Swan has raised almost $100 million in financing and hopes to go public late this year or early in 2020, according to Detwiler.
Clever Leaves has about 900,000 square feet of cultivation capacity in the Colombian town of Pesca, in the central Andean department of Boyacá. Julián Wilches, the company’s director of corporate affairs, is a former drug policy advisor to the Colombian government, again pointing to a corporate culture of drawing from public-sector officialdom. In a recent interview with Bogotá’s City Paper, he boasted that the company is the biggest employer in Pesca, with women, mostly single mothers, making up 75% of the workforce.
AOC Disses White-Dominated Industry
It is slightly amusing that news of Crowley’s appointment to Northern Swan comes weeks after Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (now representing his old district in the New York City boroughs of Queens and the Bronx) protested that legal cannabis is disproportionately benefitting the white and wealthy, as opposed to those communities that were disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
AOC, as she is popularly known, made her comments during a February hearing of the House Financial Services subcommittee on the question of banking services for the burgeoning cannabis industry. As Huffington Post reported, she charged that way the legal industry is unfolding is “compounding the racial wealth gap,” with non-white communities “last in the door.”
AOC cited statistics from Colorado and Washington, the first two states to have legalized, that 73% of cannabis business executives are male and 81% are white. She broached a policy of “affirmative-action licensing,” so that “frontline communities” can “reap the benefits or recoup some segment of costs that they bore in the 1990s during the war on drugs.” Calling the question a “justice issue,” she insisted: “Communities decimated by mass incarceration need to see investments with legalization.”
The Drug Policy Alliance praised AOC for her comments. “We must legalize marijuana in a way that recognizes and repairs the disastrous, disproportionate harms of the drug war… on people of color,” the organization tweeted after the hearing.
It should be noted that neither Crowley nor Daschle had the worst voting records on drug policy questions. On The Issues website finds that Crowley did vote to send drug war aid to Mexico, but nonetheless had a “+10” rating from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), characterized as a “pro-drug-reform stance.” As he tweeted last year, he was a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, even bemoaning: “The war on drugs has created vast racial inequality in America’s justice system — we must reverse its devastating impact here in #NYC and across the nation.”
Yet he has still become an exemplar of how legal cannabis is leaving intact those racial iniquities.
Conservatives Jump on Cannabis Bandwagon
But political figures far more problematic than Crowley and Daschle have also been riding the proverbial revolving door into a legal industry whose very emergence they all too recently opposed. Last April, former GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner — long an opponent of legalization — took a position on the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a British Columbia-based cannabis investment firm.
Upon the announcement, Boehner tweeted that “my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.” But he said nothing about reversing the social damage caused by cannabis prohibition.
It was perhaps even more surreal when it was reported that former Trump media mouthpiece Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci attended the Cannabis Pavilion on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January — at the invitation of Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Barak. Israel has also been witnessing the revolving-door syndrome, and Barak is one two of the country’s ex-prime ministers to join the cannabis business — along with Ehud Olmert.
Then, in February, it was announced that George Papadopoulos, a former advisor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign (who served a short prison term last year after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russiagate probe), was joining the board of advisors of the controversial California cannabis company C3 International.
Then there’s Roger Stone, the notorious GOP “dirty trickster” who is facing charges in the Russiagate scandal — and has paradoxically embraced the weed. After a boycott got him dismissed from a panel at the Cannabis World Expo in Los Angeles in September 2017, Stone promised to speak anyway, at a vape lounge near the confab. Stone, who began his career as a political operative for Richard Nixon back in the day, famously has a tattoo of Tricky Dick on his back. Nixon, of course, is the president who launched the Drug Enforcement Administration and first coined the term “war on drugs.”
Scaramucci’s prediction that Trump would legalize cannabis after the midterm elections has yet to show any sign of coming true more than seven months after the polls.
But at least these Republican born-again marijuana enthusiasts are supporting legalization on strictly free-market grounds, without any pretense of concern for the social injustices wreaked by prohibition.
TELL US, does it bother you to see former political figures enter the cannabis industry?