“Life throws you challenges. And with something like this your whole life and how you live it changes. You do things differently, your world shrinks, but it also expands. It motivates you.”
This from the man described in headlines like these:
“How a Reagan Veteran Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Weed Business.” (Daily Beast)
“During the ‘war on drugs’ he was a Reagan lawyer; now he owns a marijuana farm.” (Reuters)
“Septuagenarian Entrepreneur Navigates Challenges to Bring Quality Medical Cannabis to East Coast.” (New Cannabis Ventures)
The cultural irony of the turn taken by highly regarded Washington attorney and political player Edward Weidenfeld is almost irresistible on the headline level. But its seeds, if you will, lie a little deeper — in Weidenfeld’s personality and career history, as well as in the needs and necessities of the life he leads now.
If you glanced only at the headlines, and at his resume, you might think that an establishment pillar had somehow and of a sudden morphed into a successful dude of the burgeoning marijuana industry.
After all, even though cannabis — in its medicinal or recreational form or both — is becoming legalized in more and more states, it retains a certain kind of stigma on the purely recreational level, not to mention that its sale and use remain a crime in other states.
For Weidenfeld, the apparent about-face was neither sudden nor, in fact, opposed to how he had conducted his life up to that point. “I want to be clear that what we deal with here is cannabis for medicinal use, not the recreational or mind-altering sort,” he said in an interview. “I want to make that distinction, because there is a need for this product, to help people deal with various diseases, ailments and conditions.”
Weidenfeld is co-founder and co-manager of Phyto Management, LLC, a licensed medical cannabis cultivator, and of Maryland Cultivation and Processing in Washington, D.C. That is to say, he is co-owner of a marijuana farm and a warehouse in Northeast Washington, growing and selling medical marijuana to registered dispensaries in the city.
His partner in Phyto Management is Andras Kirschner, who holds a degree in sustainable agriculture.
Weidenfeld’s journey, which ended up with a business enterprise, was highly personal. His particular ailment, condition and medical issue is Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed seven years ago, and it was then that medical marijuana, about which he readily admits he knew very little, came to his attention as one of the possibilities for alleviating some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s — issues with speaking and tremors and painful anxiety.
“I started exploring, asking questions,” he said. “I asked my neurologist, who was skeptical but steered me toward the right direction. I use medical cannabis myself. And while I have regular medication, cannabis addresses and augments things that medicine can’t treat.”
Weidenfeld’s resume reads somewhat like a definition of how a man can embody public service, can reveal himself in a series of titles and policy challenges, during the course of working for six presidents over the years, from Gerald Ford to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Famous for his “war on drugs,” Reagan was a man for whom Weidenfeld still feels great affection and admiration, personally and politically. He was general counsel to Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.
Founder of the Weidenfeld Law Firm, P.C., and a practicing attorney specializing in estate and asset protection law, Weidenfeld has had a career studded with accomplishments on the national and international level. He held advisory positions on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships and the Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States. He served as co-counsel to the Democracy Project, which structured the National Endowment for Democracy. He negotiated the first free exchange between the U.S. media and the Soviet news agency Novosti. He represented the government of South Africa following the election of Nelson Mandela. Not to mention that, in 1999, he helped facilitate the return of Major League Baseball to Cuba.
Sheila Weidenfeld, his wife of 51 years, was press secretary to former first lady Betty Ford and hosted the television show “Panorama.” They have lived in Georgetown since 1971.
“All of that, I suppose, that’s not bad for a guy that grew up in a small town in the Midwest, in Akron,” he said.
At 75, he is still going strong, and the company is considered a financial success. “It came about because of what happened,” he said. “My belief that everybody should be able to receive the beneficial effects of what my business provides has been strengthened. It’s like a lot of things, the challenges, how it allows you to think in terms of the greater good. I’ve been able to do these things, personally, in all my work with this company.”
Parkinson’s, like many life-threatening or debilitating medical conditions, is a relentless opponent. “This has allowed me to be sharp, to think sharply, to move forward. It’s like Voltaire’s Candide, who at the end of all of his tragedies says it’s time to cultivate and make your garden grow.“
Weidenfeld’s voice is affected by Parkinson’s, but in a phone conversation, there is a memorable strength there, a quality that demands to be noticed and moved. Commonalities come up in the course of plainly speaking, and our subject matter ranged widely: Voltaire, Mark Twain’s allusions to politicians, Reagan, the absence of civil dialogue.
“I’m an optimist. I see a lot of studies that are being done … I hope I will see some of the results.”
Through the company he co-founded and co-owns, you might say that Weidenfeld is tending his garden, making things grow for everyone. Having dug a bit deeper, one uncovers not an irony but an affirmation.