Matt Gaetz (R-FL), pauses while speaking to members of the media on Capitol Hill

The Justice Department’s probe into Matt Gaetz continues to spiral. What began as an investigation into a low-level Florida official’s alleged criminal activity spurred the probe into allegations that Gaetz may have trafficked and paid an underage girl for sex. And now it’s expanded into an inquiry involving possible attempts to exploit the medical marijuana industry for personal gain.

In 2014, Gaetz co-sponsored Florida’s first statewide measure allowing for medical marijuana use. Before we throw him a parade, it should be noted that his bill–which only authorized the use of a high-CBD/low-THC non-smokable marijuana extract for patients with cancer or severe neurological conditions–was presented as a much more restrictive alternative to a ballot measure heading to the polls that same year that would have legalized broader medical marijuana use. A few months after Gaetz’s bill was signed into law, the ballot measure ended up failing by only 2% of the vote.

There also appears to be mounting evidence that Gaetz may have helped his friends and donors cash in on the state’s $1.2 billion medical marijuana industry, and that those friends may have had a hand in shaping the legislation to begin with.

According to the Associated Press, Gaetz’s bill allowed for only five nurseries to be licensed to grow and dispense medical marijuana. The guidelines for qualification were strict and required nurseries to have been operating for at least 30 years–something that disqualified Black farmers in the state, thanks to the government’s historically discriminatory lending practices.

One nursery that did qualify and ended up getting one of the five licenses belonged to the family of Halsey Beshears, who was not only a friend of Gaetz, but also a fellow lawmaker in the Florida House. But Beshears failed to file a conflict of interest report when voting on the bill.

Another longtime friend of (and donor to) Gaetz who is being looked into is Jason Pirozzolo, a hand doctor and amateur pilotPirozzolo was present in the Florida House the day legislators voted on the bill, and he watched as an amendment was introduced requiring all dispensaries to employ a doctor as a medical director.

The AP writes:

Eight days later, Pirozzolo started a consulting firm connecting marijuana businesses with medical directors, the Orlando Sentinel reported. He later co-founded a group called the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association, which advocates for doctors who recommend medical cannabis.

Gaetz has spoken at least twice at the association’s annual conferences, including an appearance with longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, according to the group’s social media posts and the recollections of a member.

The 2014 bill was not the only legislation set to benefit Gatez’s friends. In 2016, he introduced another bill expanding on what constituted legal medical marijuana use. And in 2018, as a member of the U.S. Congress, “he introduced legislation that would increase the number of entities that would conduct cannabis research. The legislation included provisions similar to what Pirozzolo’s group was pushing to also expand research,” per the AP.

All of this information seems to be tied to the probe into Gaetz’s alleged sex trafficking via a trip the three took to the Bahamas in 2018, just a few months after Gaetz introduced that last bill. According to reports, a group of young women also joined the men on the trip and the DOJ is looking into whether they were paid (with actual money, free travel, drugs, and/or other gifts) to join them.

Sources told the AP that investigators are looking into whether the men may have tried to secure government jobs for those women. It also sounds like there’s a question of whether the trip–including payments to the young women–may have been “part of an orchestrated effort to illegally influence Gaetz in the area of medical marijuana,” according to CNN.

In his disastrous interview with Tucker Carlson back in March when these allegations first came out, Gaetz insisted that “providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”

That is true. That’s also definitely not what Gaetz has been accused of!

(via AP, image: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
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