The FBI Just Launched a Corruption Probe Into the Weed Industry
Did some pot entrepreneurs bribe their state officials to receive their special weed licenses? The FBI is now digging in to find out.
Published on August 19, 2019

The FBI recently launched a nationwide investigation into the burgeoning US marijuana industry. The bureau’s aim? To root out any corrupt state officials or weed entrepreneurs who may have gamed their state’s licensing systems.

Every state that has legalized medical and/or recreational weed has a licensing system in place. Licenses are only granted to business owners who have criminal records clean of felonies (with the exception of non-violent pot offenses, in many states) and plenty of seed money to ensure they can afford to even run a pot business in the first place.

But the very existence of a licensing system means that the state officials in charge of granting those licenses can be bribed, either monetarily or through favors. And according to the FBI, the feds have reason to believe that, yes, some bad actors in the weed industry have made bribes, and yes, some corrupt officials accepted those bribes.

“As an increasing number of states change their marijuana legislation, the FBI is seeing a public corruption threat emerge in the expanding cannabis industry,” FBI spokesperson Mollie Halpern said during a podcast that the FBI released last week.

"The corruption is more prevalent in Western states where the licensing is decentralized — meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials," she continued.

Gallery — Fuck-Tons of Weed That No One Is Smoking Except Cops:

The FBI, however, is not following up on some hypothetical corruption scenarios. Several public officials and cannabis business owners have already been charged, tried, or imprisoned for bribing or attempting to bribe public officials or for accepting said bribes.

For instance, last year, a Humboldt County planning and building inspector was arrested after investigators claimed he accepted up to $100,000 in bribes to expedite approvals for local pot businesses. 

In November 2017, a city council member from Adelanto was arrested for accepting at least $10,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a licensed marijuana cultivator to rezone an expansion of cannabis cultivation spaces. Several months later, the FBI detained Adelanto’s mayor for other corruption charges related to weed licensing.

“Corruption is always worse at the local level because there are so many more local officials and they aren’t under as much scrutiny as those in Sacramento,” Dale Gieringer, the director of the pro-legalization organization California NORML, told the LA Times in March. He added that state agencies “have been doing their best to expedite licensing, but too many local players have been getting their hands in the pie.”

Currently, the FBI is asking the public for any information related to corruption in the US weed industry. The operation isn’t just restricted to California, either. In July, Missouri officials confirmed that the FBI had interviewed them regarding corruption, licensing, and weed facility contractors.

Does this mean that the American weed industry is getting too rich, too quickly, and its meteoric rise is beginning to warp the sensibilities of entrepreneurs and public officials alike? Not really. Corruption and big business have always gone hand-in-hand. It was inevitable that the licensed weed industry would also walk down this slimy path, following in the footsteps of Big Oil, Big Telecomm, Big Pharma, and Big Firearms

Although bribing government officials to get your way is both unethical and illegal as hell, corruption is the grim reality wherever money talks and shit walks.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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