As Maryland’s momentum builds for full-on cannabis legalization in 2022, a pair of lobbyists from both sides of the aisle have formed an association to represent minority business interests in the industry.
As first reported by Maryland Matters this week, former Maryland Republican Party chair John Kane and ex-Prince George’s County Del. Michael Arrington, a Democrat, announced in a press release that they recently founded the Maryland Minority Cannabis Business Association. Per a registration form filed with the state in August, the nonprofit trade group has been “created specifically to further the interest of minority participation in the cannabis [industry].”
In Maryland, the initial round of licenses to grow and process medical cannabis — the most lucrative categories — were infamously doled out to an almost entirely white cast of business owners in 2016. Even factoring in the subsequent launch of the retail sector, which includes 95 total dispensaries at this point (with more on the way), a Capital News Service investigation in 2020 determined only one in 10 investors in the state’s industry are people of color — and their equity in those companies is often smaller than that of white shareholders.
Arrington, who runs the Annapolis lobbying firm Capitol Connections, told Maryland Matters “we’re going to be advocating… to make sure that those opportunities are available this time around in the recreational market.”
Kane, a businessman who was the head of Maryland’s GOP from 2002 to 2006, opened up his own Annapolis-based lobbying shop in 2019 called Aton Strategies.
The Maryland Minority Cannabis Business Association’s advisory board includes former Baltimore Mayor Jack Young; Sharon Pinder, who served as special secretary of minority affairs for Republican Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich; Sophia Jyeh-Shin Parker, founder of federal health care IT contracting firm DSFederal; and Don Moragne, a tax accountant who serves on the advisory board of the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce, per its website.
Other board members will be added, Arrington said.
While legalization bills failed to advance beyond even committee in this past year’s legislative session, House and Senate leaders have set the stage for a serious push next spring. There are two ways that could happen. House Speaker Adrienne Jones in July announced her support for a referendum, which, if approved by the legislature, would put the decision up to voters in November 2022. A Goucher College poll from March indicated Marylanders would likely approve, with two-thirds having said so in the survey.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, meanwhile, appears to be advocating for legalization directly via legislation. The Baltimore Democrat told WBAL Radio in July, “it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly to put forward a framework… I’m hopeful we get that done this year; we’ll see about the whole ballot issue. I think this is something the General Assembly should lead on.”
A panel of Maryland delegates appointed by Jones began meeting this summer to discuss a framework, including criminal justice reforms like expungement of past cannabis-related charges, an issue that has disproportionately affected people of color. Those changes wouldn’t be introduced via legislation until 2023, House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said at the first meeting in September.
Arrington told Maryland Matters the Maryland Minority Cannabis Business Association will focus on social justice advocacy, and will also work to facilitate partnerships between investors and Black and brown businesspeople looking to join the young industry.