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How former DEA agents became pot proponents

How former DEA agents became pot proponents

Paul Schmidt knows a thing or two about drugs. Everything from cocaine to heroin to marijuana.

Schmidt is an expert on sophisticated grow lights and hydroponic systems. He can easily figure out how to tap into electrical grids to supply power to cultivate cannabis. But he's not a pot farmer or drug dealer.

He spent the last three decades in a law enforcement career, including 23 years at the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schmidt has been working with marijuana—specifically cracking down on it—since the early 1980s.

Schmidt has investigated over 100 organized groups and organizations that focused on the propagation of cannabis, smuggling and distribution of marijuana, and the unlawful sales of the product. His investigations resulted in arrests and successful convictions.

But after retiring with honors from the DEA as Oregon's highest ranking agent, Schmidt is now teaching seminars and advising medical marijuana dispensaries on how to best run their businesses legally.

DEA agent Paul Schmidt (center) receives honors for his work.
Source: Paul Schmidt

"No one screams when a DEA agent retires and goes to work for a pharmaceutical company. We look forward to the day where the cannabis industry is legitimized," said Schmidt.

(Read more: Career switch: From pot busters to pot protectors)

There are new job opportunities for people who have similar skills as Schmidt.

Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based venture capital firm focused on the cannabis industry, also hired a DEA agent, Patrick Moen.

Moen is now managing director of compliance and senior counsel to Privateer Holdings, which recently purchased the website Leafly.com, commonly known as the "Yelp of pot."

(Read more: The best cities to live for marijuana lovers)

Moen and Privateer Holdings's CEO Brendan Kennedy spend their days listening to shark-tank like pitches from pot entrepreneur hopefuls—from chocolatiers to growers to vaporization companies.

Kennedy says hiring Moen was a no-brainer. "Patrick is someone who's throwing a brick off of the Berlin Wall of cannabis prohibition."

But not everyone agrees that legalization is a good thing.

(Read more: Marijuana refugees face real estate challenges)

"We don't need a generation of stoners. I predict within about four to six years Colorado will want to turn this around because of the devastating impact of what this does to our country," said Thomas Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in Colorado.

Gorman, who actually worked on marijuana investigations with former DEA agent Schmidt decades ago, is not the only one who feels this way.

James Capra, the DEA's chief of operations, recently testified in Congress and addressed the legalization issue. "Going down the path to legalization in this country is reckless and irresponsible," Capra told Congress.

Still, Moen feels a DEA crackdown on marijuana is a waste of time and money.

"Fifteen years in law enforcement, I came to realize that targeting marijuana offenders was not a good use of resources," Moen said. "And so, I believe that prohibition needs to end. I believe the end of it is inevitable."

—By CNBC's Dina Gusovsky. Follow her on Twitter @DinaGusovsky.