Former DEA Agent Quits Job, Joins the Marijuana Industry


Patrick Moen, a 36-year-old from Portland, Oregon, recently made a dramatic career shift. Tired of leading a team of Portland-based DEA agents in arresting drug traffickers, he has joined a firm in Seattle, Washington that invests in budding marijuana businesses.  

Torben Bjørn Hansen\Flickr

"The potential social and financial returns are enormous," Mr. Moen, who is becoming managing director of compliance and senior counsel of Privateer Holdings Inc., told The Wall Street Journal. "The attitudes toward cannabis are shifting rapidly."

According to The WSJ, Moen's shift was inspired by an interest in the legal marijuana industry. Perhaps not surprisingly, his job interview was a little weird:

Mr. Moen…said he was pondering career moves when one day on the ride to work, he heard Mr. Kennedy [Chief Executive of Pirvateer] interviewed on the radio. The legal marijuana business had interested him, and he reached out to Mr. Kennedy online. They set a meeting at a Portland-area coffee shop. Mr. Kennedy says he was nervous; all he knew of Mr. Moen was that he was affiliated with the Justice Department.

When he sat down and Mr. Moen slid him a business card, "I started to sweat a bit," Mr. Kennedy says. An envelope followed. "I thought, 'This is bad.'"

"This is my resume," Mr. Moen said.

When he announced his career change, it was Mr. Moen's time to be nervous. "I was concerned about blowback from colleagues and from friends and family," he says. "On the surface, it seems like a pretty abrupt about-face." 

Kennedy said that he hired Moen in order to help his business navigate compliance issues in the legally murky field. So far the firm has not had difficulty raising capital from investors (who range from "New York financiers to West Coast liberals [to] Texas ranchers with libertarian leanings"), but has struggled with finding investments that won't run afoul of federal law.

If Privateer were to do business with growers, processors, or distributors in the U.S., it could risk a federal investigation and seized assets. So the company primarily invests in marijuana-related industries such as Leafly.com, a website that allows users to rate and review marijuana strains and dispensaries and a company in Washington that builds business parks leased to growers. It also does business with growers and distributors in Canada, where a federal licensing system for medical marijuana makes for a less risky environment.  

"People from outside this industry don't quite understand how complicated it is," Kennedy said.

Since Moen announced the decision to his friends and family, most of the reactions have been supportive. Moen told them he "thought he could have more impact helping to bring professionalism and best practices to the marijuana business," the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Moen joins a growing list of former police officers who have left the agency to do some decidedly anti-anti-drug work. In the early 90's, veteran undercover officer Michael Levine published a book on the "incompetent" DEA's tendency to excaerbate societal drug problems. In 2002, five veteran police officers founded Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a non-profit composed of current and former law enforcement officials who oppose prohibition. 

When asked by the Wall Street Journal for comment on Moen's decision a DEA spokesperson declined to comment.