As Maryland marijuana legalization gains steam, nonprofit wants to be ‘voice’ of Black business

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

A technician inspects the leaves of cannabis plants growing inside a controlled environment. (Photo by Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Bloomberg Creative via Getty)

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

With the General Assembly likely to approve a marijuana legalization bill next year, advocates for entrepreneurs of color are taking steps to make sure the state’s future pot industry is as diverse as possible.

Two veteran lobbyists — former Del. Michael Arrington (D) and former Republican Party chairman John Kane — recently announced the formation of the Maryland Minority Cannabis Business Association.

The association, an Annapolis-based non-profit, will “serve as the voice for minority businesses to guarantee opportunity, education, and equality for the communities devastated by the war on drugs,” the pair said in a press release.

A House of Delegates workgroup created by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) met earlier this month to begin planning for the potential legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Currently pot is legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C.

Jones wants a 2022 voter referendum on the matter.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in July that he thinks it’s “the responsibility of the General Assembly to put forward a framework” that resolves issues surrounding legalization, telling WBAL, “we’ll see about the whole ballot issue.”

If the state ends up going with a referendum, polls suggest it would pass. The onus would then be on the legislature to work out details in 2023.

In an interview, Arrington said the new association will press to avoid a repeat of what happened the passage of medical-use cannabis bills in 2013 and 2014, when nearly all of the initial licenses went to white-owned businesses.

“We’re going to be advocating… to make sure that those opportunities are available this time around in the recreational market.”

The association will have a board of advisors to offer legal, accounting and other advice to its members.

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the head of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he welcomes the creation of the association to benefit business owners of color.

“We need to look at equity and inclusion more closely,” he said. “Having an organization like them kind of rallies the troops together, to educate, train and mobilize them in a way that no individual can do by themselves.”

The association’s advisory board includes former Baltimore Mayor Jack Young (D); Sharon Pinder, former special secretary of minority affairs for Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R); businesswoman and author Sophia Jyeh-Shin Parker; and Don Moragne, managing partner of a financial and management consulting firm.

Arrington said other experts will be added.

While part of the association’s work will be facilitating partnerships between Maryland-based Black and Brown businesspeople with companies looking to invest in the marijuana industry, he said social justice will also be a priority.

“The African-American community has been completely victimized because of the criminal-justice system policies,” Arrington said.

“The ‘war on drugs,’ the encounters that particularly African-American males have with law enforcement over the smell or scent of marijuana in the car that results in altercations, that results in sentencing … from a social justice standpoint, we’re committed to making sure that the community that has been the most victimized has the opportunity to benefit.”

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