U.S. News

During the 'war on drugs' he was a Reagan lawyer; now he owns a marijuana farm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Edward Weidenfeld is a successful Washington lawyer with ties to the political elite. He has worked as a senior adviser to six U.S. Presidents, including serving as general counsel to Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.

The 75-year-old is also part owner of a large-scale marijuana farm: a large warehouse in northeastern Washington.

Weidenfeld co-owns Phyto Management, which grows and sells medical marijuana to registered dispensaries in the nation’s capital.

And he is not only an owner. He is a user of medical marijuana to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s, which affects his speech.

“I have the cannabis which treats the conditions that the medication doesn’t treat. So, I feel blessed to have a full life,” he said while admitting that he still suffers from balance problems.

“(Cannabis) relieves me of anxiety, it causes a focus on the present,” he said. “Anybody with a degenerative, neurological condition can understand.”

To appreciate Weidenfeld’s journey from Republican political insider to marijuana farmer, one has only to recall President and Mrs. Reagan’s campaign against illegal drug use.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan escalated President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” by implementing harsher penalties for illegal drug use. His policies led to a major increase in arrests and imprisonment for drug offenders. Meantime, Mrs. Reagan launched the widely publicized ‘Just Say No’ campaign against illegal drug use.

“I respected Mrs. Reagan and the ‘Just Say No’ program, but the more I learned about the war on drugs, the more I learned it was really a war selectively fought against minorities in the country,” said Weidenfeld. “So I don’t think much like a Republican anymore,” he said with a grin.

Marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession are still federal crimes in the United States, but about 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of recreational or medical use of marijuana.

And as marijuana laws become more liberal, Weidenfeld and his business partner, Andras Kirshner, are among the latest to enter the budding $11 billion cannabis industry in the United States.

Phyto Management’s first harvest was in early 2017, and the company now produces 80 to 100 pounds (36 to 45 kg) of marijuana a month, according to Kirshner. While about 50 percent of the product comes in the form of the dried flower, the business also makes THC capsules and has plans to increase production to make tinctures and lozenges. Business is good.

Weidenfeld believes cannabis has helped him stay sharp while battling a debilitating disease, and he advocates for new laws that will allow all Americans to have access to medical marijuana.

“There is no good reason for limiting a person’s access to medicinal cannabis,” he said.

As possible evidence of a shift in attitudes about cannabis, last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first cannabis-based drug to treat a rare form of epilepsy.

Reporting by Angela Moore; editing by Jonathan Oatis