Open new cannabis markets and all sorts of characters come out of the woodwork for a piece of what is sure to be a very profitable pie. This phenomenon can be observed in real time in Maryland now, as former politicians, law enforcement officials and even ex-DEA personnel have applied for licenses to grow medical marijuana. A state regulatory board is set to award up to 15 cultivation licenses this summer, and nearly 10 times as many companies have applied. Many, it’s believed, are seeking to get into the medical market with an eye toward recreational legalization at an unnamed future date.
While most cultivation license applicants are not especially public about their ventures, the Washington Post obtained the name of every company that has filed an application. Their reporting shows that the cannabis industry provides a potential second career for out-of-office politicians, lobbyists and one ex-NFL offensive tackle. There are also a handful of companies from other states that are looking to get in on the action.
Some prospective marijuana suppliers in Maryland even have ties to current Governor Larry Hogan. Forward Gro, for instance, includes Gary Mangum, a prominent Hogan donor, who served on the governor’s transition team and was appointed by Hogan to the Maryland Stadium Authority Executive Board. He is joined at Forward Gro by a former law enforcement superintendent who once led raids on state forest marijuana grows as well as a former sheriff.
In fact, a background in law enforcement is something of a theme among applicants. Alternative Medicine Maryland LLC is being advised by ex-DEA agent Charles Tomaszewski. Tomaszewski is up against numerous former judges, officers, agency officials and a special agent for the criminal division of the IRS. One of them, Ismael “Vince” Canales, used to be a strong proponent of criminalization as a member of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police. Now he and the former head of the Washington D.C. police union work with applicant Holistic Industries LLC. According to the Washington Post, at least 29 of the 144 applicants — that’s 20 percent — include people with ties to law enforcement. From a job experience perspective, this makes sense — people that have fought the marijuana trade ought to know it well. If cannabis were made fully legal, one wonders how many people currently enforcing criminalization would be just as happy on the supplier side.
Political experience is almost as common as law enforcement among Maryland cultivation license applicants — 24 companies include at least one former bureaucrat, elected official or lobbyist. There’s even a former governor, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who led Maryland from 2003-2007. He has teamed with the married democratic political donors Michael and Jennifer Bronfein on Curio Cultivation. Alternative Medicine Maryland LLC, in addition to its ex-DEA agent includes a former state senator, John Pica, a Democrat from Baltimore. Also in the game are a Baltimore housing commissioner, a sitting New Jersey assemblyman, and the general counsel for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.
It’s easy to mock these agents of criminalization for jumping to the profitable side of the issue, and it would be nice if more people damaged by prohibition were given a chance to profit under legalization. That said, people softening or switching their stance on cannabis is what’s gotten us this far in the legalization movement, and we’ll need more of that for medical and eventually recreational cannabis to be legal nationwide. For now, legalization is coming state by state, law by law, and many of the people nudging their way into this new lawful economy have seen first-hand how profitable it can be.
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