Get ready to juggle some acronyms. It might feel like a game of Scrabble, but the results are far more important.
A whistleblower from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused Attorney General William Barr of organizing investigations into cannabis business mergers that were based entirely around his marijuana position. But the DOJ says that antitrust prosecutors didn’t violate any rules or regulations and is letting itself off the hook.
A June 11 memo from the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) said, “Two anonymous whistleblowers made allegations that the Antitrust Division (ATR) violated the Clayton Act and the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act by conducting pretextual investigations of, and placing onerous demands on, merging companies in the cannabis industry through the issuance of Second Requests, even though such mergers presented no competitive concerns.”
The memo states that the whistleblowers identified a number of transactions in which they claim Barr inappropriately targeted cannabis company mergers for antitrust investigations.
During a congressional committee hearing on oversight of the DOJ, Rep. Steve Cohen brought up the issue and asked John Elias, one of the department whistleblowers, about the allegations. “You’ve testified to cases that [DOJ] and [ATR] took up concerning areas that … your Justice Department superiors didn’t think were worthy of antitrust investigations. One was cannabis. Did that cost the cannabis folks a lot of money?” Elias answered that it had. “So it was harassment by Bill Barr of an industry he didn’t like. Is that right?” Cohen asked. “I think that’s a fair way to categorize it,” Elias answered. Elias told the committee that mergers in question were “not even close” to meeting the criteria to warrant an investigation.
The ATR denied the allegations and argued that even if they were true, there would have been no violation of any laws or regulations. The agency said that the cannabis industry “exploded overnight, with multiple mergers taking place in a matter of months.” The speed with which the industry was expanding and consolidating—argued ATR—made it impossible for the agency to fulfill its obligation to conclude whether the mergers taking place provided “competitive concerns” within 30 days. Nothing to see here.
We need to talk about City Councilor Pat Davis. Most of you will remember Davis from our pages as an advocate for cannabis legalization and the chairman of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s late marijuana legalization working group. Last year we even interviewed him for our quarterly Cannabis Manual (the summer edition will be out soon). He’s graced the pages of this modest column more times than I can count.
Last week ProgressNow New Mexico—associated with the Progressive Champions PAC—accused Davis of upholding racist institutions because of an incident from his time as a Washington D.C. cop in which he shot a black man in the shoulder. It’s calling for his resignation as city councilor. The ironic part? Davis is the founder of ProgressNow New Mexico.
“ProgressNow New Mexico finds it imperative to continue calling out racism when we see it and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions,” said Alissa Barnes, Executive Director of the political group. “No matter who that person is.”
Davis responded that his past was an open book and his record speaks for itself. He’s publicly told his version of the story in the past, saying that during a routine traffic stop over a seat belt violation, he spotted a semiautomatic weapon in a suspect’s car and tried to grab it. After reportedly struggling with the officer, the suspect drove away. Davis said he felt he was in danger and fired at the fleeing suspect. According to police reports, the man was later found with a gunshot wound in his shoulder.
In a blog post written by Pete Dinelli and cited by ProgressNow New Mexico, court records are reproduced that support Davis’ story. “There is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense for which he is before the Court, that is, Assault on a Police Officer While Armed.” But Dinelli criticizes Davis for potentially escalating the situation (by all accounts, the suspect was in the process of trying to hide the weapon, not pointing it at the officer) and for using deadly force when it may have been unnecessary. It’s also notable that the case was ultimately dismissed.
Davis responded to the accusations last week, telling KOB, “My evolution from an officer trained to fight the war on drugs and criminalize communities of poverty and color into a policy leader who has decriminalized marijuana, passed sanctuary city legislation and passed laws giving sweeping new civilian oversight powers over APD is exactly the type of culture change we want to see in policing across the country, and especially here in Albuquerque.”
While I’m not able to swear on my copy of Batman Returns that Davis isn’t a racist stalking the night to kill black men, I also can’t really say that I found ProgressNow New Mexico’s arguments to be very compelling. It definitely seems a little regressive to attempt to remove someone from office who is known for their progressive stances on cannabis and police reform based completely on conjecture.
It also seems a bit strange that the very organization that Davis founded would be unaware of his publicly known record up until this moment. Davis gave a high-profile interview on the subject to the Albuquerque Journal back in 2017—the very year he parted ways with the organization. It seems like three years is a very long time to wait before “holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
So I’ll be sending those angry tweets I wrote about Davis to “draft” while I wait to see how this pans out.