Yes, another layer in the onion that is #GaetzsGate…
The Feds are looking into whether a trip in 2018 to the Bahamas involving Congressman Matt Gaetz (and several young women) illegally influenced Gaetz in the area of medical marijuana.
According to CNN,
Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section are examining whether Gaetz took gifts, including travel and paid escorts, in exchange for political favors.
Investigators are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to medical marijuana, both in terms of legislation he’s sponsored and his connections to people involved in the industry, searching for so-called pay-to-play arrangements.
Gaetz has a long history of advocating for medical marijuana and has introduced several pieces of legislation seeking to loosen laws regulating the drug, both as a state representative in Florida and as a member of Congress. A number of his close associates have ties to the industry, including Jason Pirozzolo, a Florida doctor who founded a medical marijuana advocacy group and has in past news coverage in Florida been described as a “marijuana investor.”
According to reports, Pirozzolo accompanied Gaetz on the 2018 trip to the Bahamas that investigators are scrutinizing.
Shortly after arriving in Washington in 2017, Gaetz began introducing medical marijuana-related legislation, though none was ultimately successful. In April of that year he proposed a law to classify marijuana as a schedule III controlled substance, which would ease federal marijuana restrictions related to medical prescriptions and research.
A year later, in April 2018, Gaetz introduced the Medical Cannabis Research Act, a bill designed to establish a new, separate registration process for manufacturers of cannabis for research.
Before introducing it, Gaetz hand-delivered a fully written draft of the bill to his staff suggesting that Gaetz’s staff did not play a role in crafting it. The legislation overlapped significantly with the agenda Pirozzolo’s group had been pushing to ease federal limitations on research involving medical marijuana.
Three months after Gaetz introduced the bill, Pirozzolo appeared on a podcast called Ganjapreneur to talk about the need to lift restrictions on medical research of marijuana. He singled out Gaetz for his efforts in Congress. He told listeners,
“Congressman Matt Gaetz is in the process of working on legislation up in Washington, D.C., that will help facilitate research on a nationwide level.”
In 2019, Gaetz reintroduced his bill in the House and put out a news release echoing some of the same points Pirozzolo had made on the podcast. The House approved by voice vote a different bill expanding medical marijuana research from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, in December. Gaetz was a co-sponsor.
Pirozzolo paid $50,000 to be listed as a chair of a reception for then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in 2018. He also contributed to Gaetz’s congressional campaign, making two of $1,000 contributions to Gaetz in 2016 and 2017.
But the connection between Gaetz and Pirozzolo goes back years. In Gaetz’s 2020 book, Firebrand, he refers to Pirozzolo as one of
“my best friends.”
Pirozzolo’s access to the congressman is seen in a 2018 video (viewed by CNN0 where he’s seen landing a helicopter near his home in a suburb of Orlando. Gaetz emerges as his passenger and the two men are greeted by several women, one hugs Gaetz.
It’s unclear what, if anything, Pirozzolo stands to gain financially from loosened marijuana laws. There is little publicly available information on his financial stake in the industry.
Neither Gaetz nor Pirozzolo has been accused by Justice Department officials of wrongdoing or charged with a crime.
(Photos, Gaetz website, screen grab, Wikimedia Commons; via CNN)