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Apr 29, 2022 Andrew Perez

The Manchin Family’s Short-Lived Cannabis Dream

Joe Manchin says he isn’t thinking about marijuana — but his son once considered getting into the business.
The Manchin Family’s Short-Lived Cannabis Dream
(Jim Lo Scalzo/AP)

Joe Manchin is setting himself up again to serve as a major roadblock to another popular idea within the Democratic party: making cannabis legal.

This week, in the wake of the House of Representatives passing legislation that would decriminalize marijuana nationwide and create a process for expunging records of non-violent cannabis offenses and arrests, HuffPost asked Manchin if he supports legalization. Manchin joked: “Marijuana? I haven’t even thought about marijuana. Jesus Christ, you smoking?”

But one member of the Manchin family has thought a bit about marijuana, and how to make money from it: his son, Joseph Manchin IV.

While the idea of legalizing cannabis nationally is broadly popular among the public, legalization is unlikely to move forward in the Senate due to opposition from a few conservative Democrats, including Manchin, despite the fact that they represent states that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medicinal use. Manchin recently told The Hill he supports medical marijuana, but has concerns “about legalizing recreational marijuana.”

In Manchin’s case, shortly before West Virginia’s medical marijuana law was set to go into effect in 2018, his son Manchin IV registered a limited liability company, Wonderfully Wild LLC, for the purpose of getting into the cannabis business. (The company’s name is a reference to the state slogan, “Wild Wonderful West Virginia.”)

The company’s articles of organization, filed with the West Virginia secretary of state, say its business purpose is “to engage in any and all legal activities related to the growth, manufacturing, processing, distribution, and dispensation of cannabis or marijuana as authorized by the laws which govern such activities.”

Sen. Manchin’s office declined to comment for this story and referred any questions to his son.

“The conversation was going on in our state about medicinal marijuana,” Manchin IV told The Lever in an interview. He said he “did not apply for growth, processing, or retail” licenses from the state, explaining: “Retail doesn't make any sense right now, because there's still a heavy federal tax on that end. So you have to be in the growth and processing side of it to make the retail work.”

“I haven't done anything as far as the cannabis business,” added Manchin IV, who runs the family’s lucrative coal brokerage.

In late 2018, Manchin IV used Wonderfully Wild LLC to buy several tax liens, which are legal claims filed by governments when people fail to pay property taxes. Some states allow people to buy tax liens, and it can be a lucrative investment opportunity: Investors either get their money back, plus fees and interest, or, if the lien isn’t paid off in time, they get ownership of the property, generally for a fraction of what it would cost.

Wonderfully Wild LLC received tax deeds to four properties, including two with homes on them, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Manchin IV said he didn’t know much about the tax lien process and “was just looking for land,” so he reached agreements with those people to allow them to stay in their homes.

“They are actually making payments and very close to fulfilling the obligation that we both agreed on,” he said. “They'll get the deeds back.”

Asked whether he believes his father should support efforts to legalize marijuana nationwide, Manchin IV said, “I can't speak for him. The biggest thing, in West Virginia, I've just seen the complete devastation that has happened to our state through opioids. And anything out there that can get people away from what I think is just a horrible medicine, the opioid business, I would keep an open ear for.”

A growing body of evidence suggests that legalizing medical and recreational cannabis could be associated with reductions in pharmaceutical prescriptions and opioid use.

Manchin IV’s sister, Heather Bresch, was previously the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Mylan. While Mylan was best known for hiking the price of EpiPens, a small portion of its business involved manufacturing generic opioid products. Bresch left the company when it merged with Pfizer’s Upjohn unit to become Viatris.

Although Manchin IV has an interest in legalized cannabis, he didn’t take a strong stand on federal legalization.

“Does that go to straight recreation nationwide?” he said. “I don’t even know what the pulse is. I just know what I’ve seen in West Virginia… I keep an open mind to anything that will get people turned around because right now, we are losing a generation of people and it's sad.”


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