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Indicted Ukrainians sought Nevada cannabis licenses in all the wrong ways


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Sep 19, 2009
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Mariposa County CA
From Leafly
Indicted Ukrainians sought Nevada cannabis licenses in all the wrong ways

Chris KudialisOctober 11, 2019
Two Ukrainian associates of Rudy Giuliani were arrested on Wednesday night and charged with funneling foreign money into US elections, an illegal activity. The headlines have been dominated by the pair’s alleged donations to a pro-Trump super PAC last year, but there’s another charge hidden in the indictment that has left some in the cannabis industry—and many in the state of Nevada—scratching their heads.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman weren’t just courting influence within Trump circles. They also allegedly donated foreign cash to a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Nevada, with the aim of gaining one of the state’s highly coveted cannabis licenses. But those who know politics and cannabis in Nevada are bemused by the fact that the Ukrainians targeted Adam Paul Laxalt: He’s one of the most anti-cannabis politicians in the American West.

Before running for Nevada governor last year, Laxalt spent his four years as the state’s attorney general fighting against legal cannabis.

A Republican, Laxalt denounced Nevada’s retail sales initiative during the 2016 campaign cycle, arguing among other things that edibles would endanger children and that the initiative put “profit over public health.”

When his campaign to stop legalization failed, Laxalt became the only attorney general from adult-use states at the time to not sign a letter sent to leaders in Congress in favor of the SAFE Banking Act, in January 2018. That same month, when former US AG Jeff Sessions infamously repealed the Cole and Wilkinson Memos, Laxalt stopped short of taking a clear position.

“My office has expeditiously facilitated the implementation of the (retail cannabis) law in the face of considerable uncertainty about the status of federal enforcement activity,” he said, in response to the Sessions memo.

Donations from foreign businessmen

But Laxalt’s history, according to a 21-page indictment released Thursday, apparently wasn’t enough to deter at least two prominent former Soviet Union-born businessmen from donating to his campaign last year in hopes of buying influence for a proposed marijuana business. These businessmen are also now at the center of the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Igor Fruman, a Belarus-born businessman who lived in Ukraine before immigrating to the US, and his associate Lev Parnas, were arrested and charged in a New York district court with funneling $1 million from an unnamed foreign national into a US bank account, and giving $10,000 donations in Fruman’s name to Laxalt and Nevada Attorney General candidate Wes Duncan last fall.

The charges are alleged as part of a bigger scheme in which Fruman and Parnas, along with Ukrainian-born businessman Andrey Kukushkin and Miami-based businessman David Correia, tried to buy influence from political leaders across the US for business ventures in Russia and Ukraine.

As part of the plan, the four worked on the unnamed benefactor’s behalf in hopes of securing a Nevada cannabis dispensary license during a state lottery for 64 available permits last fall. Dispensary licenses in the Silver State are limited by state law.


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