Why do ex-cops keep getting picked to run cannabis startups?

It turns out that someone who knows how to bust a grow-op is also pretty good at running one

This week, former Israel Police commissioner Yohanan Danino settled into his new job as chairman of Together Pharma, an Israeli medical cannabis distributor.

In doing so, Danino joins an ever-lengthening list of ex-cops getting cannabis gigs. A surprising number of executives leading the worldwide cannabis boom, in fact, started their careers throwing people in jail for the stuff.

Kash Heed, a former West Vancouver police chief, is on the board of directors for Grow Global, whose website touts his background in “drug and gang enforcement.” Norman Inkster, a former RCMP commissioner and president of Interpol, now works with with the cannabis retailer Fire and Flower. The board of Agraflora Organics International counts two longtime Toronto Police officers on its board.

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Kash Heed, as West Vancouver Police chief, pictured in 2008.

The same thing is happening throughout the United States. In Colorado, two former police officers founded Blue Line Protection Group, an armoured car company catering to the state’s legal pot industry.
Cannabis start-ups are quickly becoming as reliable an employer for retired cops as security companies or private investigators.

The trend has naturally infuriated long-time cannabis activists, many of whom have faced jail thanks to the same people now championing legal joints. Jodie Emery, wife of previously jailed pot campaigner Marc Emery, has said that “hypocrisy & greedy profiteering” was driving the influx of “narcs” into the cannabis trade.

“The government has turned the pot economy over to the people who lost the drug war: the cops and politicians who were responsible for destroying so many lives by turning pot smokers into criminals,” reads a 2018 Guardian editorial by Rosie Rowbotham, who spent 20 years in a Canadian jail for pot smuggling.

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But it persists largely because of the counter intuitive fact that someone who knows how to bust pot dealers often has a pretty good handle on how to grow and sell it.

Kim Derry, a former deputy Toronto Police chief, is now president of Met-Scan Canada, a security company for cannabis growers. In a 2017 interview with Reuters, he said that his policing career had given him an intimate knowledge of how to run a grow-op.

“I know all the pieces, through a chain of supply, where there’s weaknesses,” he said.

Cops are also better equipped to know the complex legal environment surrounding cannabis, particularly in the iffy early days of medical marijuana when a wrong move could get a company raided.

“One of the ideal groups of candidates to slide into those positions were former law enforcement personnel,” Derek Ogden, a former head of the RCMP’s drug squad, told the BBC in late 2017. Ogden, who is now president of National Access Cannabis, first got started in the medical cannabis trade in 2014 when companies began bringing him on as a security consultant.

Hiring a bunch of ex-cops is also an easy way to confer legitimacy on a cannabis business. Edmonton-based Fire and Flower, for instance, uses their partnership with former Mountie Norman Inkster to assuage community concerns whenever they open a new location. Inkster helped them develop “robust proprietary security protocol to ensure the highest standards of safety for surrounding communities,” writes the company in a recent press release.

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Norman Inkster testifying at the Air India inquiry in 2007.

Ex-police have also occasionally emerged as some of the most high-profile advocates for legal or decriminalized marijuana. Yonahan Danino, for instance, was still Israel’s top cop when, in 2015, he called for the country to “reevaluate its traditional position” on the drug.

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For years, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police campaigned for marijuana decriminalization. And in Vancouver, an entire industry of pre-legalization pot shops was able to stay open primarily because the police had explicitly promised not to bust them.

“I’ve been advocating this position (to end marijuana prohibition) for well over 20 years. It’s common knowledge,” Senator Larry Campbell, a member of the RCMP drug squad during the 1970s, told Postmedia in 2014. At the time, Campbell had just been picked for the advisory board to Vodis Innovative Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company looking to market medical marijuana.

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Senator Larry Campbell.

However, this isn’t to say that the industry doesn’t also contain a few ex-cops who are only a few years removed from railing against the very thing now paying their salary. Most notable is Julian Fantino, a former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner and Conservative MP.

In 2015, Fantino was expressing his completely opposition to cannabis legalization, and even criticizing other ex-cops getting jobs in the industry.

“There’s a lot of money in it,” Fantino told the Toronto Sun, before adding “I would never do it.”

A mere two years later, Fantino was cutting the ribbon on Aleafia Total Health Network, a medical cannabis clinic he opened in Vaughan, Ont.

When asked by the CBC how this squared with his once-fervent opposition to any and all consumption of pot, Fantino replied that he had been “addressing a different era at that time.”

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