Cannabis & Crony Capitalism: From Matt Gaetz to Trulieve

The sex scandal investigation of Florida’s much-ideal Rep. Matt Gaetz interlocks with a controversy regarding favoritism in handing out health care cannabis licenses in the Sunshine Condition. And one particular of the key beneficiaries appears to be Trulieve — now the major operator in Florida and one of the major cannabis businesses in the United States.

Trulieve is at present successful headlines around its effort to purchase Harvest Wellness & Recreation, the premier cannabis operator in Arizona and also a big operator in Florida, in a inventory offer valued at $2.1 billion. As Forbes experiences, the transaction, if approved by regulators, will build a person of largest hashish organizations in the US, expanding Trulieve’s footprint to 126 dispensaries and 22 cultivation facilities throughout 11 states.

But protection gushing above a cannabis company accomplishment tale ignores the origins of Trulieve, which trace again to a nexus of well known Florida Republicans, like names at this time earning belly-churning countrywide headlines. Chief amid these are the Beshears brothers — just one of whom is directly implicated in Gaetz’s alleged sex junket to the Bahamas.

2018: Crucial Yr for Gaetz and Trulieve

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers

A key turning place for Trulieve arrived in 2018 when it merged with a Toronto-based mostly previous mining company, Schyan Exploration. With this significant funds infusion, it unambiguously joined the ranks of Big Bud.

Curiously, 2018, Trulieve’s breakthrough calendar year, was also the yr of the essential occasion in the Matt Gaetz scandal that has now come to be a nationwide embarrassment for the Republican Get together.

The youthful star of Trump’s brave new GOP has been a person of the most important loudmouths endorsing the pernicious fantasy that the 2020 elections had been stolen by Biden. But Trump and the celebration leaders are now dropping Gaetz like the proverbial incredibly hot potato as the FBI investigates his suspected sexual intercourse trafficking — together with accusations of paid out sex with an underage female.

And this is but the most salacious ingredient of a broader internet of community corruption also explained to be underneath federal investigation. Yet Gaetz carries on to trumpet Trumpian rhetoric about “draining the swamp,” getting post-fact irony to genuinely surreal stages.

Bawdy in the Bahamas

In September 2018, Gaetz took a vacation to the Bahamas, which has now emerged as the major episode in the investigation.

The origins of Trulieve trace back again to a nexus of notable Florida Republicans tied to disgraced Congressman Matt Gaetz.

With him on the trip was Halsey Beshears, a seven-12 months Florida state legislator from Jefferson County who stepped down as main of the state’s Section of Company & Skilled Regulation as the Gaetz scandal unfolded. Also together for the fling in the Bahamas was Dr. Jason Pirozzolo, an Orlando hand surgeon and hashish entrepreneur. Pirozollo is the a single who is considered to have paid out for the vacation costs, lodging, and female escorts.

As Politico notes, Gaetz flew industrial, but Beshears was on a personal flight. Also section of the entourage were being at minimum five young women of all ages, 1 of whom was under the age of 18 at the time. When they arrived again in Florida on Beshears’ private aircraft, they ended up briefly stopped and questioned by US Customs officers for hunting suspiciously youthful.

The Wingman

A further figure less than scrutiny by the feds in relationship with the Bahamas trip is Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg. Greenberg has been named as the “wingman” who recruited “attractive youthful women” on the web for Gaetz and arranged for payments in return for sex. The Tallahassee Democrat studies that some resources also spot Greenberg along on the identical Bahamas excursion, presumably for this kind of unsavory uses.

Matt Gaetz

On Might 14, Greenberg pleaded guilty to 6 federal prices, including intercourse-trafficking of an underage woman, and agreed to cooperate with the Section of Justice investigation.

Greenberg is also the determine whose failure to protect his tracks led to publicity of the complete affair. As the New York Situations claimed on April 9, what began as a probe into irregularities in the Seminole County Tax Collector’s business office has expanded into the current media debacle for the GOP.

Day by day Beast cites unnamed sources expressing that Greenberg is making ready to identify 15 gals Gaetz paid for intercourse with — including “paid escort” and Instagram model Megan Zalonka, with whom Gaetz is reported to have snorted coke at a Trump fundraiser where by he was the highlighted speaker in Orlando in October 2019. Greenberg allegedly set Zalonka up with a “taxpayer-funded no-display position.”

Gaetz denied all this in a Washington Examiner op-ed April 5, in which he accused: “The swamp is out to drown me.”

The Bahamas trip is what’s important — irrespective of regardless of whether Gaetz individually acquired his arms soiled with the cash or farmed this out to Greenberg. “Traveling throughout point out traces is what produces a federal hook for a prosecution,” Arlo Devlin-Brown, a previous federal prosecutor, explained to CBS Information. “It doesn’t issue that [Gaetz] individually compensated them as very long as he appreciates anyone is carrying out that.”

Gaetz & Florida’s Cannabis Cartel

The interlocking connections between Gaetz, Beshears, and Pirozzolo increase past an obvious mutual penchant for lechery. Gaetz and Halsey Beshears served together in the Florida Legislature, and federal documents expose that Pirozzolo made two donations of $1,000 every single to Gaetz’s campaign arm, “Friends of Matt Gaetz.” But as the Connected Press notes, they also experienced a different mutual desire: Florida’s $1.2 billion healthcare cannabis market.

Gaetz and other Florida legislators rewrote the professional medical cannabis monthly bill to restrict who could get in on the floor flooring of a billion-dollar company.

In addition to all the other sleaze, investigators are mentioned to be wanting at Gaetz’s connections to the hashish biz — such as irrespective of whether Pirozzolo and others sought to influence point out laws Gaetz sponsored.

It was Gaetz who ushered via the Dwelling variation of the 2014 legislation that grew to become Florida’s professional medical cannabis law. That legislation, the Compassionate Health-related Hashish Act, to begin with only permitted low-THC varieties (this kind of as the famous Charlotte’s World-wide-web). But it continue to unleashed a “green rush,” as traders and entrepreneurs raced to seize a share of the fledgling industry.

That identical regulation, having said that, strictly minimal who could dollars in on the rush. As recalled by an exhaustive tale in the Orlando Sentinel (also run by the Tampa Bay Times and other Florida papers): “Less than 24 hrs ahead of the Florida Legislature handed the state’s initial health care marijuana legislation in Could 2014, Matt Gaetz and other members of the condition Property of Representatives rewrote the monthly bill to limit who would be able to get in on the ground ground of what has because turn into a billion-dollar enterprise.”

The revision set rigid vertically built-in benchmarks for companies, which could utilize to grow to be just one of five “dispensing corporations.” The picked out handful of would be dependable for each and every step of the method from cultivation to processing to distribution to retail product sales. Only state-certified nurseries could implement — and only individuals that experienced been in operation for at the very least 30 many years and experienced at least 400,000 vegetation.

A Bro Offer

A person businessman who created the cut was Thad Beshears – the brother of Gaetz’s then-fellow point out Rep. Halsey Beshears, who of training course voted for the Compassionate Professional medical Cannabis Act, and went together with its last-moment revision. Thad Beshears, a co-owner of Simpson Nurseries, outdoors Tallahassee, was also a main Republican Bash donor, giving $50,000 in just one working day in the course of the 2016 presidential election to political action committees supporting Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Countrywide Committee. All through the 2020 marketing campaign, Beshears donated much more than $200,000 to professional-Trump and Republican committees.


Ballard Companions workplace in DC

Halsey Beshears, a former president of the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Affiliation, had also labored for Simpson Nurseries until finally 2013, according to economic disclosures cited by the Orlando Sentinel.

Named as important in Florida’s managed green rush is Ballard Partners, an intercontinental lobbying firm with workplaces in Tallahassee. It is led by notable Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard, and right up until April of this yr also utilized former Florida point out Rep. Chris Dorworth, who Gaetz after named as his political “mentor.”

Ballard Companions procured financial commitment interests in at least a few corporations that gained cannabis licenses. Two of these were being Hackney Nursery of Quincy and Might Nursery of Havana — which later on joined with Simpson Nursery to kind the corporation that in 2016 became Trulieve. And Thad Beshears joined Trulieve’s board of administrators.

Right now, Trulieve pays Ballard Associates $160,000 a yr to serve as its lobbyist in Washington DC, according to congressional lobbying information. And Thad Beshears remains on Trulieve’s board.

Jason Pirozzolo also appears to have been instrumental in securing a sweet deal for Gaetz’s buddies. As the Orlando Sentinel writes, Pirozzolo “helped craft that 2014 laws and then started off numerous cannabis enterprises, together with a consulting agency that labored with corporations implementing for marijuana licenses and a professional affiliation that sells sponsorships to cannabis distributors.” That is the American Health-related  Marijuana Medical professionals Association, which names Pirozzolo as co-founder and chairman of the board.

A ‘monopoly for a number of entities’

The Florida professional medical marijuana application has been expanded around the earlier a long time, mainly as a final result of Modification 2, the 2016 voter-authorised initiative. THC solutions are now authorized, and there are currently 22 licenses for Health-related Marijuana Cure Centers, as they are currently named.

“Florida’s health care marijuana industry will stay closed-off, restricting independence of prospect, weakening the free of charge sector, and top to ever-increased costs for people.”

But Modification 2’s enabling laws barred genuine smokable cannabis flower, retaining in location a restriction penned into the 2014 laws. This was challenged in the courts by clinical hashish people, together with Lou Gehrig’s condition sufferer Cathy Jordan. They received in a point out appeals court docket in 2018. The concern was headed to the Florida Supreme Courtroom when the point out Legislature and new Gov. Ron DeSantis blinked in March 2019, passing a monthly bill to make it possible for smoking of herbaceous flower.

And Amendment 2’s enabling laws also stored in area the “vertical” design that Gaetz helped craft in 2014, favoring large, perfectly-related operators. This has specially produced protest from African American farmers hoping to get a piece of Florida’s hashish pie.

On May perhaps 27 of this year, the Florida Supreme Court docket upheld that vertical design, rejecting arguments that the regulations violate the intent of the voters in Amendment 2.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried denounced the ruling, creating in a statement: “Florida’s professional medical cannabis business will stay closed-off, proscribing liberty of chance, weakening the cost-free marketplace, and leading to ever-bigger price ranges for people.”

The ruling came in response to a challenge released by Tampa-dependent Florigrown LLC, which prevailed in the reduce courts. During arguments prior to the Supreme Courtroom last Oct, Florigrown lawyer Katherine Giddings portrayed the 22 licensed operators as unfairly privileged. “This is undoubtedly a shut class because no 1 can ever acquire the very same privileges that these have had,” she advised the courtroom. “This is anything but a free of charge market. It has created a monopoly for a few entities. That is why the licensing plan is inappropriate and arbitrary.”

Turpitude in Tallahassee

Parallel to the Gaetz sleazefest is yet another scandal underneath federal investigation — and prosecution — in Tallahassee. Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers is married to actual estate developer John “JT” Burnette, who faces federal racketeering costs, accused of bribing Tallahassee town commissioner Scott Maddox to destroy a downtown resort project that would have been competition for 1 his possess developments. Tallahassee Downtown Advancement Authority director Paige Carter-Smith is also named as a co-conspirator in the case.

Maddox and Carter-Smith pleaded responsible to fraud expenses in August 2019, and at this time await sentencing. They deal with up to 45 decades in prison. The situation against Burnette has been pending for two yrs, repeatedly postponed due to the pandemic.

In December 2019, trader analyst firm Grizzly Research issued a scathing report on the affair, alleging that the romantic relationship concerning Rivers and Burnette is a lot more than personalized: “Our analysis indicates that Burnette is Trulieve’s important construction associate.” The report mentioned: “CEO Kim Rivers and her spouse JT Burnette are at the very center of a political crime ring the FBI has subpoenaed, and we have demonstrated the multiple formerly not known connections concerning Trulieve and Burnette. We anticipate really serious effects for CEO Kim Rivers and Trulieve.”

In a push release, Rivers denounced the Grizzly report as a smear-work meant to benefit short-sellers who wager from the value of Trulieve inventory: “We request that our investors be mindful that the Report displays the views of an acknowledged shorter seller, whose sole desire is in profiting from a drop in the price tag of the Company’s shares. I have entire self confidence in our management staff and their skills to continue on to serve our clients with out being distracted by these baseless allegations. Trulieve reserves all of its rights to get suitable authorized motion towards those people accountable for the Report.”

And in truth, Trulieve proceeded to sue the analyst business for libel. By then, Trulieve shareholders experienced previously launched their own course-action match against the business.

Cannabiz Tycoons Underwrite the Suitable

If a time-traveler from the Woodstock generation had been to land in modern day The united states, it would possible occur as a shock how quite a few captains of the lawful cannabis business are supporters of a Republican Bash that is now lurching further into response than even Nixon dared to desire of on his worst working day.

Legalization was supposed to just take cannabis out of the fingers of criminal networks, but the new model typically appears to be like like crony capitalism.

Remember the headlines of 2019, when 4 Rudolph Giuliani associates were being busted on suspicion of impact-peddling connected to the cannabis field in California and Nevada — and two of them were being specifically connected to Giuliani’s Ukraine intrigues. Fees are nonetheless pending against the quartet.

An investigation very last yr by Hashish Wire observed that extra than a dozen cannabis executives and buyers concentrated their 2020 election funding on political action committees backing Republicans.

Amid these was Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, who gave $2,800 to the Tillis Daines Greater part Committee — backing Republicans Steve Daines in Montana and Thom Tillis in North Carolina in their effective bids to hold on to their Senate seats.

One-problem politics might be a partial explanation here. Cannabis Wire writes: “Neither Senator Tillis nor Senator Daines has expressed aid for cannabis legalization. Even so, in the previous few of many years … Senator Tillis co-sponsored a professional medical cannabis research bill, and Senator Daines launched an amendment to expand healthcare cannabis accessibility for veterans.”

Both equally Tillis and Daines voted towards impeaching Trump right after the January 6th Capitol insurrection.

Jason Vedadi, the former govt chair of Harvest Wellbeing & Recreation (Trulieve’s acquisition target), previous calendar year gave $1,000 to the Tillis Daines Bulk Committee.

This is a considerably cry from the graphic Trulieve seeks to encourage of alone. In a November 2020 press release, Trulieve boasted of its $40,000 donation to the Final Prisoner Project, a group trying to get clemency for cannabis prisoners. The donation was element of the Very last Prisoner Project’s “Roll it Up for Justice” marketing campaign, which encourages cannabis enterprises to aid its clemency efforts. The press release boasted of “Trulieve’s ongoing endeavours to help initiatives aimed at bringing restorative justice to the life of individuals unfairly impacted by previous cannabis convictions.”

These types of attempts are to be applauded, but for all those who perspective hashish legalization in the context of a broader struggle for social justice, there is an unsettling dissonance here. Legalization was supposed to choose hashish out of the palms of criminal networks, but the new design generally looks like crony capitalism.

Bill Weinberg, a Project CBD contributing author, is a 30-yr veteran journalist in the fields of drug coverage, ecology and indigenous peoples. He is a former information editor at Superior Periods journal, and he produces the web sites and Worldwide Ganja Report.

Copyright, Challenge CBD. May not be reprinted without authorization.