Barr DOJ Weaponized Antitrust To Launch Flimsy Inquiries Into Legal Weed Companies

from the ill-communication dept

We've long noted how Bill Barr, a former Verizon lawyer (and forefather of our domestic surveillance apparatus) isn't a big fan of this whole "rule of law" thing. It had already been established that he'd been wielding the DOJ's antitrust authority as a personal Trump bludgeon, using it to launch capricious, unnecessary probes (the whole short-lived and nonsensical inquiry into California automaker emissions), and prop up the interests of companies willing to kiss Trump's ass voraciously enough (the decision to rubber stamp the Sprint/T-Mobile merger while ignoring all objective data).

But in testimony this week before Congress, longtime agency employee turned whistleblower John Elias made it very clear that it's all dumber and worse than we had previously known. The cornerstone of his testimony (pdf) involved noting that Bill Barr and DOJ antitrust boss Makan Delrahim routinely ignored staff advice and waged all manner of vindictive, facts-optional, politically motivated assaults on industry under the auspices of "antitrust."

Barr's biggest target appears to be the legal marijuana industry, investigations into which consumed upwards of 29% of agency resources. In many instances, he notes, Barr's DOJ launched inquiries into marijuana companies and smaller mergers that in no way posed competitive or monopolistic threats. In many instances, the merging companies didn't even compete with one another. Yet the inquiries pulled agency resources from investigations into, you know, actual monopolies:

"At one point, cannabis investigations accounted for five of the eight active merger investigations in the office that is responsible for the transportation, energy, and agriculture sectors of the American economy. The investigations were so numerous that staff from other offices were pulled in to assist, including from the telecommunications, technology, and media offices.

Reminder: most objective experts noted that the T-Mobile Sprint merger was a terrible idea, inevitably resulting in less competition, higher prices, and layoffs. The DOJ not only ignored its own staff's advise to block the deal, Delrahim personally helped usher the deal to completion via his personal email and text messaging accounts. Every last shred of objective data showing the deal was a bad idea was ignored. What wasn't ignored? Small legal weed companies that were targeted simply because King Dingus (and likely evangelicals, and the pharmaceutical and alcohol lobby) don't much like legalized marijuana.

In his testimony, Elias makes it clear that Delrahim's staff are frequently and fully aware that these inquiries are baseless bullshit:

"The head of the Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Delrahim, responded to internal concerns about these investigations at an all-staff meeting on September 17, 2019. There, he acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular “on the fifth floor,” a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building. Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.

You don't say. Elias, throughout his testimony, also very politely makes it clear that the DOJ's antitrust responsibilities have been hijacked to cater to the daily Trump brain fart du jour, perfectly represented by the dumb and now defunct California emissions effort:

"When news of the investigation became public and spread within the Antitrust Division, many of my colleagues, who are familiar with the “state action” defense as well as the NoerrPennington doctrine, questioned why the Division was investigating conduct that appeared to be prompted by a state regulator. In response to criticism of the investigation, on September 11, AAG Delrahim circulated an all-Division email in which he stated that he “strongly believe[s] that the Division has a basis to investigate and that the standards for opening a preliminary investigation were more than satisfied based on the available facts.” AAG Delrahim simultaneously announced an all-staff town hall meeting for September 17. There, he stated that staff was not rushed into initiating the investigation. That representation conflicted with the recollection of a staff member who had assisted with the opening memorandum."

Keep in mind, this is the same Barr DOJ many journalists and "experts" somehow believe will not only conduct a fair inquiry into giants like Google, but will deliver valid, good faith remedies for the very real problems Google helped create (as opposed to say problematic remedies focused on aiding aspiring Google ad competitors like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon).

Like so many policy subjects (the environment, encryption, an open internet, police brutality, on and on and on...) Trump arrived at the worst possible time for a litany of reform efforts. That's doubly so for the government's antitrust authority, which has been steadily eroded for years and is in dire need of meaningful reform in the Amazon era. Instead we get... whatever the fuck this is supposed to be.

Filed Under: antitrust, automobiles, doj, marijuana, politics, retaliation, william barr


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 11:05am

    Legal?

    The DOJ is a federal agency, and as far as I'm aware, almost all of these "legal" companies are illegal federally. And it's well established—surprising as it may be—that drug posession within a state, even with no intent to transport across state lines or sell it, counts as "interstate commerce" for Constitutional purposes, giving the feds the ability to regulate it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 11:41am

      Re: Legal?

      All of which has nothing to do with anti-trust, or in this case abuse of anti-trust.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 1:54pm

      Re: Legal?

      The war on drugs is a complete failure, it was intended to be a bludgeon for beating hippies and people of color and has only led to the creation of a police state at great cost to society. It affects will take decades to reverse.

      and yeah ... what's that go to do with this story?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 2:59pm

        Re: Re: Legal?

        and yeah ... what's that go to do with this story?

        Uh... the headline is "Barr DOJ Weaponized Antitrust To Launch Flimsy Inquiries Into Legal Weed Companies". If the DOJ is actually investigating illegal activity, that kind of changes things.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 2:00pm

      Re: Legal?

      If it is illegal in its entirety, then they can treat it as illegal if they want to go for it. There is zero basis for otherwise attempting to regulate an illegal sector, other than shutting it down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2020 @ 3:09pm

        Re: Re: Legal?

        If it is illegal in its entirety, then they can treat it as illegal if they want to go for it. There is zero basis for otherwise attempting to regulate an illegal sector, other than shutting it down.

        It's not illegal in its entirety, and in fact the US government supplies it to a couple of people (literally just 2 people). A facility operated by the University of Mississippi is licensed to grow it for research. The market has been "regulated" almost out of existence, such that it's almost a mockery to call it "regulated" rather that "banned", but courts have been okay with it so far (they're wrong, but stubborn).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Annonymouse, 26 Jun 2020 @ 10:19am

          Re: Re: Re: Legal?

          As in most cases of the misuse of words the word stubborn translates into other words like stupid racist fascist authoritarian and much more colorful vocabulary.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 25 Jun 2020 @ 7:26pm

      Red herring

      None of which is relevant, if Barr and the DOJ want to shut down cannabis use in states that have legalized it's use then anti-trust investigations aren't the proper way to do so, and are in fact nothing less than a blatant abuse of power and waste of resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.

      "The head of the Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Delrahim, responded to internal concerns about these investigations at an all-staff meeting on September 17, 2019. There, he acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular “on the fifth floor,” a reference to Attorney General Barr’s offices in the DOJ headquarters building. Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Jun 2020 @ 12:04pm

    Trust whom?

    Why does the term anti-trust make me think of not trusting the government that is supposed to wield those laws to protect us? I think of it as against trusting the feds.

    The concept that one or two phone companies (give them time, it will come) is OK but the emerging market of cannabis where non competing entities merge leaving lots of competition requires investigation tells us a lot about where election funding is coming from (give the cannabis industry a bit of time to catch up). That election funding controls where law enforcement efforts are expended is more than a little disconcerting.

    What will be interesting is if they actually bring their 'investigations' to a court of law for adjudication whether the judges will stop laughing long enough to administer a laugh test.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 25 Jun 2020 @ 12:13pm

    Keep in mind, this is the same Barr DOJ many journalists and "experts" somehow believe will not only conduct a fair inquiry into giants like Google, but will deliver valid, good faith remedies for the very real problems Google helped create (as opposed to say problematic remedies focused on aiding aspiring Google ad competitors like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon).

    Gell - Mann Amnesia is a far more common disorder than is generally recognized.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 25 Jun 2020 @ 12:22pm

    What do you call corruption of the DOJ?

    Em-barr-assment.

    Thank you, I'll show myself out now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 25 Jun 2020 @ 12:59pm

    Just for fun

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_in_Washington,_D.C.

    In 1906, Congress introduced An act to regulate the practice of pharmacy and the sale of poisons in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes, requiring that certain medicines, including cannabis, be limited to licensed pharmacists and prescribed

    Initiative 59 was a 1998 Washington, D.C. voter-approved ballot initiative that sought to legalize medical cannabis. The short title of the initiative was "Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998".[5] Though the initiative passed with 69% of the vote in November 1998, its implementation was delayed by Congress's passage of the Barr Amendment, which prohibited DC from using its funds in support of the program. This Amendment delayed the start of the medical marijuana program until it was effectively overturned in 2009, with the first DC customer legally purchasing medical cannabis at a dispensary in the District in 2013

    In May 2010, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana. The Congress did not overrule the measure within the 30-legislative-day period, and as a result medical cannabis became legal on January 1, 2011.[7] Though carefully regulated through a lengthy permitting process, dispensaries began opening [8] and cultivation centers were allowed

    Congress sought to block D.C.'s decriminalization through another rider. On June 25, 2014, House Republicans, led by Maryland representative Andy Harris blocked funding for the D.C. law.[10] The Harris amendment bans the D.C. government from spending any funds on efforts to lessen penalties for Schedule I federal drug crimes.[14] Harris argued that the D.C. law was "bad policy" assessing a fine of $25—a fraction of the $100 fine in Maryland. In response, activists launched the Boycott of Maryland's 1st District, Harris' constituency

    reading the whole of this story is very funny.

    Something strange tho, as In my younger days it was said that MJ was legal in Wash. DC, mostly because its NOT considered part of the USA..its not a state. Its an independent of any state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Jun 2020 @ 7:21pm

    Follow the leader

    Seems pretty obvious that Barr has taken tips from Trump, as both look at their position and authority first and foremost through the filter of 'how can this benefit me?', treating government powers as though the public serves them rather than the other way around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 26 Jun 2020 @ 12:58am

      Re: Follow the leader

      Im really wondering about trump...

      He didnt get he idea he has to suppose about 2000 jobs for persons to Watch over the system..
      Those SUPPLIED, were probably from the REPS...THEIR SUGGESTIONS...
      HE dont know anything. They were their supplied. and he has been FIRING MOST OF THEM.. It seems he dont like/trust them.
      WONDER aint it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 26 Jun 2020 @ 5:43am

        Re: Re: Follow the leader

        Uh, Trump has to fire long-running but boring members of the cast. Every reality show director will tell you that it is essential for maintaining ratings and interest in the show.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dickeyrat, 26 Jun 2020 @ 4:25pm

    This is how tax dollars are pissed away by Blump's Boy, the Bulbous, Babbling, Bilious Billy Barr. This is also how things go down in a Fascist dictatorship run and maintained by drooling idiots. Your orders are: GET USED TO IT!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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