Why Are Cannabis Industry Leaders Donating to Anti-Immigration Candidates?

A political action committee (PAC) founded in 2015 with the stated purpose of pushing immigration reform is, in fact, donating mostly to anti-immigration candidates for the 2018 election cycle. Perhaps more surprising—its donors are mostly from the cannabis industry.

The PAC, called What A Country!, or WACPAC, has so far donated $63,000 to congressional candidates across the country, all of whom are Republicans who tend toward hardline positions on immigration.

Cannabis industry leaders have contributed a total of $69,000 to the PAC between January of 2017 and the present. Thirty-one of the forty-one individuals who have donated to the PAC so far are cannabis investors or business owners. Top donors include executives from major cannabis companies such as MedMen Enterprises, Columbia Care, LivWell, and PalliaTech Inc. Contributions also came from CEOs of smaller companies, such as Medicine Man in Colorado and Remedy Compassion Center in Maine.

MedMen founder and CEO Adam Bierman donated $5,000 to WACPAC. MedMen’s political lobbying arm, MedMen Opportunity Fund II LP, donated an additional $5,000, its only donation this year. MedMen is one of the largest cannabis companies in the country, currently operating eighteen shops in California, Nevada, and New York (the company opened its flagship shop on Manhattan’s 5th Ave this year). The company says it has a $1.65 billion valuation and recently went public in Canada.

Bob Mayerson, president of Columbia Care subsidiary Patriot Care, based in Massachusetts, donated $2,000 to WACPAC. Columbia Care, which has a locations in New York’s Union Square and opened a shop in Delaware this week, claims it is “the nation’s largest and most experienced medical cannabis company.”

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Republican Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo, who is running for re-election this year, formed What A Country! PAC in 2015. In 2016, Curbelo told the Miami Herald that all representatives who received donations from WACPAC are in favor of “immigration reform” and support the PAC’s mission, which its Facebook page describes as “supporting candidates for U.S. Congress who are committed to reforming America’s immigration laws.” He said that support for DACA would be a “litmus test” for donation recipients.

But in fact most candidates who have received support from WACPAC have staunch anti-immigration views. Of the twenty six candidates who received donations from WACPAC, nineteen of them support penalizing sanctuary cities. Twenty support giving the government more power to deport and deny admission to immigrants suspected of gang activity, and twenty voted to withhold Affordable Care Act subsidies from people until their citizenship is verified. Curbelo himself has voted against penalizing sanctuary cities, but supports deporting suspected gang members and withholding health care subsidies.

Vern Buchanan, a Republican congressman from Florida—who describes his immigration stance as “No Amnesty. Secure the Border. Enforce the Rule of Law. Respect the Constitution”—received $2,000 from WACPAC. He has consistently argued against amnesty for undocumented immigrants and for tighter border security, and has sought to make English the official language of the United States. Others, like Lee Zeldin of New York, Jack Bergman of Michigan, and Peter Roskam of Illinois, supported President Trump’s ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

In the last election cycle, WACPAC contributed to several anti-immigration hardliners, such as Virginia Representative Barbara Comstock, who has said immigrants should be tracked like FedEx packages, and California Representative Duncan Hunter, who has sponsored legislation that would refuse funding to states with laws against disclosing information about citizenship status.  

Why the industry is pouring money into WACPAC is unclear. Cannabis Wire contacted individuals who gave to the PAC and all but one either declined to comment or did not comment by time of publication. A spokesperson for MedMen said, “We support causes and candidates who are aligned with our efforts to pass common sense cannabis-related laws at the local, state, and federal levels. Congressman Carlos Curbelo is a champion of cannabis reform and represents a state where an overwhelming majority of the electorate voted to legalize medical marijuana, just as a majority of Americans, regardless of party of affiliation, now support marijuana legalization across the board.”

One possibility: A favorable relationship with Curbelo could benefit business owners who are looking to invest in the cannabis industry in Florida. Two of WACPAC’s top donors from the industry have obtained licenses to cultivate medical cannabis in Curbelo’s home state of Florida. In a June 6th press release, MedMen Enterprises announced that it had purchased Treadwell Nursery, which is based in Florida and operates as Remeny Wellness, for $53 million. The acquisition allows MedMen to open twenty-five medical marijuana facilities in the state. Another donor, Joseph Lusardi, the CEO of PalliaTech Inc., gave $5,000 to WACPAC. PalliaTech Inc., which also has locations in New York and several other states, operates in Florida under the name Curaleaf and is one of thirteen businesses licensed to cultivate medical cannabis in the state. Boris Jordan, the CEO of the Moscow-based private equity firm Sputnik Group, which invested $100 million in PalliaTech, also donated $5,000 to the PAC.

Curbelo has consistently advocated for legislation that supports the legal cannabis industry. On the federal level, Curbelo has sponsored legislation that would amend the IRS code to allow cannabis companies to take more tax deductions and has spoken out against Jeff Sessions’ hints about cracking down on legal cannabis businesses. Several WACPAC donors from the cannabis sector have also donated to Curbelo’s re-election campaign. MedMen CEO Adam Bierman has personally donated $5,400 to Curbelo. Other donors include John Lord, owner of one of the largest Colorado cannabis shop chains, LivWell, who personally donated $5,100 to Curbelo and $5,000 to WACPAC.

Why WACPAC beneficiaries seem to lean toward hardline positions on immigration is also something of a mystery. Curbelo has been outspoken about his support for DACA recipients and says he supports a path to legal immigration. He has announced his support for an immigration reform bill that seeks a compromise between moderate and hardline immigration policies, the text of which was released earlier this month. The bill supports amnesty for DACA recipients as well as funding the border wall, $25 billion for border security, and the end of the diversity lottery. Though Curbelo has vowed not to support a budget that does not include funding for DACA, he voted in favor of a two-year budget deal without DACA provisions earlier this year.  

Curbelo’s WACPAC has also donated to Republicans with somewhat more moderate stances on immigration reform. Republican Tom Reed of New York praised Donald Trump’s executive order rescinding DACA but supports amnesty for the program’s recipients, contingent on strengthened border security. Pennsylvania representative Ryan Costello has expressed support for a bipartisan bill that would include a permanent solution for DACA recipients, saying he considers it an “essential aspect of the appropriate path forward on this issue.”

Both What A Country! and the Curbelo campaign could not be reached for comment.

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