Bipartisan Lawmakers Push Attorney General To Investigate Link Between State Marijuana Legalization And Chinese-Owned Illicit Farms

Bipartisan congressional lawmakers with diverging views on marijuana policy are jointly asking the Justice Department to investigate the nexus between state-level legalization and the “proliferation” of illicit cannabis farms linked to the Chinese Community Party (CCP)—including the possibility that some are banked by U.S. financial institutions.

In a letter signed by 50 members of the House and Senate and sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday, the lawmakers said they are “deeply concerned with reports from across the country regarding Chinese nationals and organized crime cultivating marijuana on United States farmland.”

“In some cases, the grow operators were also engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, drug trafficking, and violent crime,” they said. “These farms are most commonly in states with legal marijuana programs where illicit growers try to disguise their operations in communities where law-abiding Americans live and work. The thousands of illicit Chinese marijuana growing operations pose a direct threat to public safety, human rights, national security, and the addiction crisis gripping our nation.”

The letter, first reported by The Daily Caller, was led by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Angus King (I-ME), as well as Reps. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Jared Golden (D-ME) and David Valadao (R-CA).

It cites a leaked U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo from August 2023 that estimates there are up to 749 illicit marijuana grows operated by Asian transnational criminal organizations in Maine and Washington State alone.

What’s notable about the letter is that it’s signed by bipartisan and bicameral members who share opposing perspectives on the overall idea of marijuana legalization. Among signatories, for example, Sessions has developed a reputation as one of the most vociferously anti-cannabis congressman, while Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), for example, supports legalization.

The lawmakers are asking the Justice Department to hold a “briefing on this subject at the earliest possible opportunity,” but no later than February 23. The letter says that, “at a minimum,” DOJ should be prepared to answer seven questions that are “critical to the safety of American communities and to national security.”

In addition to generally inquiring about the status of any DOJ investigation into CCP-involved cannabis operations and the scope of the market, the letter also specifically asks how state-level legalization has “affected the proliferation of CCP-affiliated marijuana farms.”

“How many CCP-affiliated marijuana farms have obtained state-issued licenses to grow marijuana, either directly or through a shell company?” it also asks. “How many American banks offer financial services to CCP-affiliated marijuana farms? What is the nature of these services?”

The lawmakers further want to know whether the Justice Department requires additional authorization to intervene and crack down on the illicit marijuana operations.

DOJ has been fielding multiple legislator-led letters concerning cannabis policy in recent months, as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) works to complete a review into marijuana scheduling after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

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Just last week, for example, a Republican congressman who has long opposed marijuana reform told DEA that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came to a “misguided conclusion” to recommend rescheduling cannabis— challenging the health agency’s scientific standards and imploring DEA to dismiss them.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who authored the letter, also joined two other prohibitionist lawmakers, Sessions and Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), in introducing a concurrent resolution that raises concerns about high potency THC products and calls on federal agencies to research the potential harms.

A separate letter sent to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram last week—led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other champions of marijuana reform—urged DEA to go further than rescheduling by fully removing cannabis from the CSA.

Doing so would present a “rare opportunity to shape the new cannabis industry from the ground up, designing a federal regulatory system untainted by the corporate capture that has influenced alcohol and tobacco regulations, and advancing federal cannabis reforms that acknowledge and repair the harms of cannabis criminalization,” they said.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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