MedMen has requested a refund from the political action committee What A Country! after an article from Cannabis Wire revealed that the PAC, which was formed by Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo in 2015 and was donating thousands to anti-immigration candidates, was funded almost exclusively by leaders in the cannabis industry. MedMen is one of the largest cannabis companies in the country, currently operating eighteen shops in California, Nevada, and New York.
MedMen donated $5,000 to What A Country!, also known as WACPAC, on March 20th of 2018 and told Cannabis Wire this week that the company had been unaware of the PAC’s purpose.
“Regarding the donation to What A Country! PAC by our CEO Adam Bierman, it should be noted that we asked the PAC for a refund of the donation on July 6,” Daniel Yi, MedMen’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations, wrote in an email to Cannabis Wire on July 19. “The PAC is led by Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo. Mr. Curbelo is a strong champion of marijuana legalization, and we believed we were supporting a leadership PAC. We later learned that some candidates who were supported by the PAC held positions contrary to our values, and we respectfully asked Congressman Curbelo for a refund, to which he complied. We remain a supporter of Congressman Curbelo and his efforts to legalize marijuana.”
This email from Yi came on the heels of backlash from advocates responding to the Cannabis Wire article, which ran June 27. On July 18, the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC), a non-profit advocacy organization that supports the “safety and well-being” of cannabis users, decided to withdraw its sponsorship of a job fair partially sponsored by MedMen, in protest of the company’s donation to What a Country! The July 25 event, called Equity and Opportunity: A Jobs Fair for a New Economy, which will also have a legal clinic focused on record sealing, is being held by the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, a non-profit organization whose “mission is to be the convener, voice, and advocate for the Commonwealth’s cannabis business community.”
In a statement from MRCC regarding its decision to pull out of the event, the organization demanded that MedMen “…remove funding from anti-immigration efforts that separate families and harm individuals affected by the war on drugs.” (The dispensary Patriot Care is also attending the fair in search of new employees. Patriot Care donated $2,000 to WACPAC.)
In an email response to MRCC, MedMen’s Yi wrote that the group’s decision to pull out of the job fair was “…very regrettable and I am afraid you have been fed misinformation. The allegations you have heard are unequivocally and patently false.” In the email, Yi says MedMen was unaware that the PAC had supported anti-immigration candidates.
“What a Country! is a leadership PAC and some of the candidates the PAC has supported in the past had positions on immigration that do not align with MedMen’s values,” wrote Yi. “When we learned of that we immediately requested a refund of our contribution.” In his email to MRCC, Yi claims that Cannabis Wire did not reach out to MedMen for comment before publication of the article, “Why Are Cannabis Industry Leaders Donating to Anti-Immigration Candidates?” However, Yi gave a statement regarding the donation to Cannabis Wire on June 25th, which was included in the piece.
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In an email to MRCC and other job fair sponsors that was obtained by Cannabis Wire, Jay Youmans, a founding member of Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, and a senior advisor to the commissioner of the state’s health department, said he believed that MedMen was unaware of the purpose of the What a Country! PAC, adding that it was unfortunate that Curbelo had used WACPAC funds to support candidates with anti-immigration views. In the email, Youmans writes that the purpose of the job fair was to connect people to more than 200 jobs as well as provide legal services. MRCC was a sponsor of the event, along with other advocacy organizations, dispensaries, and business leaders. “As an aside,” Youmans wrote in the email, “www.cannabuswire.com [sic] was created days before this piece was written and has largely only covered this one issue.”
WACPAC was formed in January of 2015, and Curbelo has publicly discussed the purpose of the PAC to multiple news outlets. Curbelo told The Miami Herald in 2015 that the mission of the PAC was to “…support candidates who understand the importance of overhauling our nation’s immigration laws to secure our borders, promote legal immigration, and reward those who contribute to our economy.”
Curbelo also discussed the purpose of the PAC in a statement to NBC News: “I can assure you that there is a silent majority of House Republicans that believe that it is critical to overhaul our country’s immigration law from A to Z,” said Curbelo. “This is part of the effort to support them and to continue building momentum for this necessary reform.”
That Curbelo’s immigration PAC has donated to anti-immigration candidates was also made public prior to MedMen’s contribution, in a June 2016 article from the Herald. WACPAC has been donating to immigration hard-liners since its formation in January 2015.
In response to MedMen’s email, MRCC’s co-founder Sonia Espinosa called on MedMen to provide a receipt of the refund from WACPAC. “Children are currently sitting in detention centers, this is not something we take lightly,” wrote Espinosa. Cannabis Wire obtained both MedMen’s email and Espinosa’s response. At press time, MedMen had not yet responded to Espinosa’s email.
“There’s two things I want to be careful about,” said Yi in an interview with Cannabis Wire. “We’re not a political entity. We’re a business. And we’re in the business of cannabis. And in the business of cannabis, obviously we have not just a business interest in cannabis reform, but as an industry and as people who work in this space, we want to support cannabis reform at every level.” Yi added that MedMen is dedicated to non-partisanship, and that the company is “constantly looking at our political donation process, and I think this was a learning experience for us.” Yi said the company has not yet received the refund from WACPAC, but that the organization has committed to refunding the money. Cannabis Wire contacted Curbelo to confirm this, but did not receive a reply by publication.
In the letter requesting a refund from WACPAC, MedMen’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Morgan Sokol, reiterated the company’s support for Curbelo. “Regrettably, it has come to our attention that WAC PAC’s efforts have supported candidates who do not align with our values, goals, and cannabis reform-minded mission.” Sokol adds that MedMen is looking forward to working with Curbelo on “policy issues of mutual concern.”
Additionally, CEO Adam Bierman has donated $5,400 to Curbelo’s re-election campaign. He also donated $1,000 to Republican Senator Rand Paul and $1,500 to the New York State Republican Campaign Committee. MedMen has also donated to Democratic candidates, including $10,400 to Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and $10,800 to Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.
In an email to Cannabis Wire, Espinosa made note that MRCC had received $800 from the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association for the jobs event before they knew MedMen would be involved. “We used this money to fund an event and we don’t plan on giving it back,” Espinosa said.