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Cops Get Into Medical Marijuana Business

Former NJ State Police officer John O'Brien (left) and former New York City police officer Phillip Banks III (right).

On the East Coast, top-ranking former law enforcement officials are working their way into the medical cannabis industry. 

When New Jersey appointed the first director of the Medicinal Marijuana Program in 2011, many hoped that it would be someone with a background in healthcare. Instead, NJ State Police veteran John O’Brien got the job.

While O’Brien stepped down from the MMP position earlier this year, he’s re-emerged as thecompliance director for PalliaTech, which is vying for a medical marijuana license in neighboring New York. The same group already owns the NJ alternative treatment center, Compassionate Sciences, Inc., in New Jersey, but have never opened their doors or served a single gram of marijuana to a registered patient in the Garden State.

Another New Jersey medical marijuana operator, the Weisser family is applying in New York as well. They run the Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge, which actually does grow and supply cannabis products to patients. Now the Weissers have assembled a crack team of cops to apply in the Empire State, tapping former DEA and Interpol official Paul Higdon and Michael Balboni, a former New York State senator, whose last job was the Homeland Security Director for New York City.

New York applicant, Compassionate Care Center of New York, boasts an even more unlikely team member – former NYPD Chief of Department, Phillip Banks III, who resigned after 28 years with the department in October.

In Delaware, former State Trooper Mark Lally runs the First State Compassion Center, the only medical marijuana facility to obtain a license there so far. It’s been four years since the Delaware medical marijuana law was signed, but Lally’s facility has yet to open or serve any patients.

Across the country, many investor groups looking to win medical marijuana or even recreational cannabis licenses are putting cops on their Boards of Directors or in management positions. These are not police who have criticized the Drug War or marijuana prohibition. In fact, they’ve spent careers busting cannabis consumers. Now they hope to leverage their law enforcement experience and political connections into companies by selling marijuana to severely ill patients.

Are cops a good fit for these types of businesses? “I don’t have a problem with it,” Jack Cole, board chair for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), tells Freedom Leaf. “I just couldn’t do it.”

He spent years as an undercover narcotics cop with the New Jersey State Police before founding LEAP. “I’m not here to make money on this,” Cole concludes. “I’m here to get people access.”