Prosecutor: AG Barr ordered politically motivated probes of marijuana mergers

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A federal prosecutor will testify before members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday that U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered “politically motivated” reviews of 10 marijuana business mergers.

The expected testimony to the House Judiciary Committee will come from John Elias, the acting chief of staff for the assistant attorney general and part of the Department of Justice’s  antitrust division.

The testimony is part of the committee’s investigation into Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump.

According to a prepared version of Elias’ opening remarks, he will testify that the 10 investigations were not “bona fide” but, rather, driven by Barr’s personal dislike of the marijuana industry.

The investigations in sum totaled 29% of the antitrust division’s “full-review merger investigations” in the 2019 fiscal year, Elias alleges.

Elias wrote in his statement that one of his superiors said in September 2019 that “the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular ‘on the fifth floor,’ a reference to the location of Barr’s office at DOJ headquarters.

“Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation,” Elias wrote.

At least one of the investigations, a probe into a planned merger between MedMen and PharmaCann, led to the collapse of the deal in late 2019 because of regulatory delays.

Elias’ statement blames Barr for those delays and alleges the DOJ staff originally concluded that the deal was “unlikely to raise any significant competitive concerns.”

Nevertheless, Barr ordered a further investigation.

“The rationale for doing so centered not on an antitrust analysis, but because he did not like the underlying nature of their business,” Elias wrote in his statement.

The MedMen-PharmaCann merger investigation concluded in the fall of 2019 with no enforcement action taken, Elias wrote, but “the merger collapsed nonetheless, with MedMen citing unexpected delays in obtaining regulatory approval.”

In the interim, Elias noted, MedMen’s stock price dropped by about a third.

The other nine investigations were not identified in Elias’ statement.