Patrick Moen’s story screams “movie deal.”
A few years ago, the 39-year-old quit his job as a supervisor at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to join one of the most rapidly expanding industries in the world: cannabis.
Moen now works as the in-house lawyer for Privateer Holdings Inc., a Seattle-based private equity firm that invests in cannabis industry-related businesses and aims to “represent a group of investors from around the world seeking to end cannabis prohibition and the social harms it causes.” Last year, Privateer Holdings became the first cannabis company to raise more than $100 million dollars, effectively bringing the industry to Wall Street.
According to Moen, marijuana was never a major concern for him or other DEA agents on his team, who preferred to go after more dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.
“My personal belief is that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy, which is why the industry first caught my attention,” Moen told Herb.
While some may call him hypocritical, it’s worth considering the positives of Moen’s career switch: if a former DEA agent is actively supporting the legalization of marijuana, it becomes difficult for someone of lesser experience to make a case against it.
“I saw an opportunity to help bring professionalism to the industry, contributing my background and knowledge of regulation and compliance. In this industry, it’s essential all actors operate responsibly and in compliance with the law,” says Moen. He hopes that by publicizing his position on legal marijuana and his credentials, he’ll help legitimize an industry still struggling for validation.
For now, Privateer Holdings is careful to only deal with companies that are weed-related—consultants, insurance companies, and online weed databases, for example—rather than companies which directly grow or sell cannabis. In fact, Privateer Holdings’ first big purchase was the online cannabis directory Leafly.
That doesn’t mean that Privateer Holdings necessarily has impunity. As UCLA professor Mark A.R. Kleiman tells USA Today, the company could still potentially get into legal trouble if the companies they deal with are established with cash sourced from the marijuana black market.
Still, if Privateer Holdings’ niche clientele does result in trouble with the law, it’s hard to imagine better legal representation than the man who was once in charge of enforcing drug crime. “As more states move to legalize and establish robust regulatory frameworks for medical and adult-use cannabis, our challenge is to work with stakeholders to help them craft smart regulations,” Moen said. “Stakeholders from all sides of the issue—including state and federal regulators, local lawmakers, industry voices, and other experts—need to come together to create solutions that encourage responsible business practices while working to eliminate the illicit market.”
Privateer Holdings, founded by two business students from Yale, Brendan Kennedy and Michael Blue, aims to build “the first all-inclusive name brand in the cannabis business,” said Kennedy to USA Today. “And it doesn’t include Bob Marley or the Grateful Dead…” In short, Privateer Holdings is part of the industry-wide push to integrate cannabis with other agricultural crops in the public imagination.
“As a company, we’re also interested in opportunities in other countries that have legalized cannabis in some form like Canada, Germany, and Australia. Many people think cannabis legalization is just a localized phenomenon, but it’s really a global movement,” says Moen.
Moen may have once been the man who enforced laws targeting drug users as criminals, but as the great Dave Chappelle once said, “I don’t do drugs…just weed.”