Patrick Moen began his law-enforcement career at 20. As a police officer in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., he arrested drunken drivers before he could legally drink.
At 25, he joined the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and rose to Supervisory Special Agent in Portland, running operations mainly against heroin and methamphetamine rings, but also against pot, OxyContin and Ecstasy dealers.
Now, Moen has started a new career.
Last month he joined a Seattle private-equity firm, Privateer Holdings, that doesn’t touch marijuana because of the ongoing federal prohibition against pot. But Privateer, founded by Yale MBAs Brendan Kennedy and Michael Blue, invests in businesses ancillary to legal marijuana, such as Leafly, a website that reviews strains of pot.
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Moen’s job change was first reported in The Wall Street Journal under the headline, “Drug Agent Joins Budding Industry.” Giddiness followed in subsequent headlines and tweets.
But not everyone in the pot business is happy to have Moen on their side.
Mitchell Stern, owner of Burning Bush Nurseries, a clone factory in California, took to Twitter last week to lambaste Moen.
Stern called Moen a “rat” and “opportunist.” Stern urged others in the medical-marijuana field to not seek funding from Privateer.
“This man made a career of putting people like me, my friends and my co-workers in jail,” said Stern in an interview, adding that he’s never been arrested. “I don’t think he’s in this to right a wrong. He’s in this to make money for his own personal benefit.”
In an interview with The Seattle Times, Moen, 36, explained his decision, his job as in-house counsel and compliance director at Privateer and his views on drugs and the federal government.
This interview was edited for brevity.
Why did you join the DEA?
Among law enforcement, DEA was considered the cream of the crop. I wanted something more challenging. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to get out of the town I was born and raised in.
Instead of taking drugs at 25, why did you want to arrest people for that?
It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to arrest people for drugs … I don’t think I had a higher moral compass. At the time I had a clear sense of right and wrong and I just felt comfortable doing that work. I don’t think I was that different than any other kid my age … I also believed that the vast majority of problems I was dealing with as a police officer were caused by alcohol and drugs.
Do you agree with state consultant Mark Kleiman that by legalizing and taxing weed, Washington is feeding and depending on abuse and addiction?
Marijuana is not physiologically addictive. There are a small percentage of users who become psychologically addicted. But it’s not like alcohol or nicotine. It’s disingenuous to suggest the market will rise and fall on the backs of addicts and heavy users. People I talked to, most of my friends, family and colleagues, they’re all open to it. Those are the kinds of people who will be the target market of the future.
Is the war on hard drugs still justified?
Yes, at this point in history it’s something we have to do. When I say that about hard drugs, I think it’s undeniable that they cause significant harm to society, and we can’t just roll over and allow them to destroy a generation of youth … I’ve seen what they do to families and it’s devastating. Marijuana is not even in the same category. In my mind, you can’t talk about them in the same sentence.
Did your own experience using pot influence your decision to leave the DEA?
I have been asked many times whether I use cannabis. I’ve consistently declined to answer. But I’ve got some push back from friends and family, so I’m going to answer that question. Have I ever used it? Yes. Have I used it in the last 20 years? No. Do I think I need to be a concurrent consumer to operate in this industry? No, I don’t, not for the role I’m playing … We have access to plenty of consumers to get their opinion and I’m comfortable where I’m at.
Are attitudes in law enforcement changing about pot?
It’s hard to generalize because it’s all local. Attitudes in Seattle and Portland are vastly different than in major U.S. southwest metropolitan areas … I think it’s going to take awhile.
What did you think of Seattle police handing out Doritos at Hempfest?
Brilliant. It’s just a great community outreach mechanism. From everything I’ve read, the Seattle Police Department has made amazing efforts to reach out to what has been the counterculture and antagonists to foster a sense of community trust and that’s great. It says Seattle police have higher priorities to focus on.
How did you arrive at your decision to join Privateer?
Over the course of years I realized that the targeting of marijuana was not an effective use of resources. There was no ‘aha’ moment. It was a steady evolution involving discussions with friends and colleagues … I needed some buy-in, you know. I didn’t want to make this transition and be an outcast …
I had been contemplating career moves, looking for new challenges. It was partly a reflection of the general dysfunction of the federal government. Gridlock in D.C. has trickled down to affect every employee. It hurts morale. I’ll leave it at that.
What kind of reaction did you receive?
The reaction was very positive. I was actually more concerned about family and friends than colleagues. I had a pretty good sense of my colleagues. We talk about this all the time. I was really nervous about friends and family … then everybody opened up and said, ‘This is an incredible opportunity and I totally agree.’
Is marijuana a gateway to harder drugs?
No. I think that myth has been thoroughly debunked. When people talk about hard-drug users also using marijuana what they’re talking about is correlation, not causation.
Why does Privateer need you as compliance director if it’s not doing anything illegal?
We’re trying to establish a compliance operation from the ground up, with an eye to future operations. We also have to consider all investment opportunities. We have to carefully evaluate every vendor, consultant and company seeking investment, their position in the market and consider their actions and business plans in light of all local, state and federal laws.
Describe your first meeting with Brendan Kennedy, who, at the time, did not know he was meeting a DEA agent.
I met Brendan at a Portland coffee shop. I said, ‘I know you, but you don’t know about me.’ I gave him a business card. His face probably got a little white … we talked for hours.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @potreporter