Biden’s drug czar nominee consulted for cannabis company last year, ethics disclosure shows
Christian Tyler Randolph/Charleston Gazette-Mai/AP

Biden’s drug czar nominee consulted for cannabis company last year, ethics disclosure shows

President Joe Biden’s drug czar pick, Dr. Rahul Gupta, spent nine months last year working as an adviser to a Maryland-based cannabis company, recently released government ethics documents show.

Gupta, who was formally nominated to be the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy earlier this month, advised Holistic Industries — a multistate cannabis operator with processing facilities, dispensaries, and products like edibles and a Jerry Garcia-themed marijuana line. The disclosure says he was directly paid $10,000 for his services.

A White House spokesperson said the prospective drug czar’s work pertained to medical marijuana compliance efforts.

“Dr. Gupta’s work for Holistic Industries involved consulting on regulatory compliance matters for prescribing medicinal cannabis in West Virginia where medical cannabis had already been legalized. He had overseen the development of such a program in the state as required by state law,” the spokesperson said.

While Gupta was serving as West Virginia’s state public health officer, the state enacted a law that allowed residents to use marijuana for a certified medical use.

Gupta signed a federal ethics agreement that states he will not participate “personally and substantively in any particular matter” involving Holistic Industries for one year after he last provided services.

His disclosure also shows he testified in court as an expert adviser to a law firm that represented a Wyoming nurse practitioner who was sentenced to one year of probation with six months home detention last year for improperly acquiring a controlled substance. The nurse practitioner was initially indicted by the Justice Department in 2018 on charges of unlawful distribution of controlled substances including fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and alprazolam, as well as two counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substance resulting in death. All charges but one — she pleaded guilty to acquiring “a controlled substance by misrepresentation, deception or subterfuge” — were dismissed.

According to a court document, Gupta provided court testimony in the case that was slated to “cover pain management policies, guidelines, and the standard of care for primary care physicians when treating pain patients.”

The White House confirmed Gupta “did medical liability consulting work for Haytham Faraj, a law firm that focuses on personal injury, including alleged medical negligence.”

CNN has reached out to Holistic Industries and the law firm that hired Gupta to be an expert witness in the Wyoming case for comment.

Earlier this week, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the country is facing a “collision” of rising overdose deaths and deaths from Covid-19.

Drug overdose deaths rose by nearly 30% in the United States in 2020, hitting their highest number ever recorded, according to CDC data released last week. Overall, US life expectancy in 2020 dropped by more than a year due to factors such as Covid-19 deaths and an increase in unintentional injury deaths, which includes drug overdose deaths.

If confirmed, Gupta would be the first physician to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. His work as a practicing physician, a former West Virginia public health official and the chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes have all been touted by the White House. He was a member of the Biden-Harris presidential transition team and taught at a number of major medical and pharmacy schools.

According to his ethics disclosure, Gupta also worked with states and localities as an adviser or expert witness in a number of cases of states or localities seeking legal action against pharmaceutical companies for the opioid crisis. According to the disclosure, he also must not participate in that line of work for one year after he last provided services.

Public perception of marijuana is moving toward legalization. Three major polls released this year, for example, indicated that a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization.

But the Biden administration has indicated the President hasn’t changed his stance on the issue, despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent draft of a bill that would decriminalize marijuana on a federal level.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week in response to the draft bill that “nothing has changed” about the President’s views on marijuana.

Biden has previously said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana, but he hasn’t gone as far to say he supports its legalization.

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