A Department of Justice whistleblower will testify today that nearly one-third of the agency’s Antitrust Division merger investigations targeted cannabis businesses due to Attorney General Bill Barr’s personal negative feelings about the industry, according to a CNN report.
John Elias, a career department employee, said in written testimony that Barr pushed for such an investigation last year, ordering Second Request subpoenas – the divisions most comprehensive type of merger probe – “against the analysis of career staff.”
“The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the nature of their underlying business. … These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do not meet established criteria for antitrust investigations.” – Elias in written testimony
Elias also claims that last year Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the head of the Antitrust Division, “acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building,” he wrote in his testimony. “Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.”
The claims come in a probe by the House Committee on the Judiciary seeking information on the alleged politicization of the Justice Department under Barr. The investigation is primarily focused on the agency’s involvement in the sentencing of Roger Stone – an ally of and former advisor to President Donald Trump.
In 2017 Stone launched the now-defunct U.S. Cannabis Coalition and was invited to give the keynote at that year’s Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo but was removed from the role after at least 30 exhibitors and speakers, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association, threatened to boycott the event over Stone’s involvement.