By STEPHEN NEUKAM,
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore has a cannabis-related conundrum.

In 2018, Moore received more than $1.6 million in stock in a marijuana company that does major business in Maryland and served on its board while a candidate. His connection to Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries (GTI), one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, represents a possible conflict of interest if he becomes governor as the office appoints the commission to oversee the state’s medical marijuana industry.

According to the 2021 Security and Deposits Report to the Foreign Exchange Commission (SEC).

Two of the dispensary licenses and the treatment license are up for renewal in 2023, when a new administration takes over in Annapolis.

Moore’s connection to cannabis highlights a dilemma for a single candidate, with sprawling financial interests consisting of large stakes in numerous private companies. His marijuana possessions, while only a small portion of his overall assets, are just one illustration of how his portfolio could put him at odds with the administrative duties of being governor.

The State Ethics Act states that “in most cases, a public servant or employee may not have a financial interest in or be employed by any entity having or negotiating a contract with the agency to which he is affiliated”.

Financially, Moore is an outlier.

Capital News Service reviewed the ethics records and financial disclosures of leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates and found that while some hold stakes in individual companies, none of them have a portfolio matching that of Moore in terms of size and range, and few invest in individual companies. Most of their holdings consist of personal property and investment or retirement funds that contain a mix of assets.

Moore, meanwhile, owns thousands of shares worth millions of dollars in dozens of companies in different industries, including pharma, tech, beauty and retail giants.

In addition, he is the co-owner of several companies. Moore’s business interests put him in a position where, as governor, he could be called upon to regulate or contract with companies in which he also has a financial interest, an obvious conflict of interest.

John Pelissero, senior government fellow at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said it’s important that candidates for executive office rid themselves of any appearance of conflict of interest.

Candidates can achieve this by divesting the assets or placing them in a blind trust run by an independent third party without consultation with the candidate, said Pelissero, who is also a professor emeritus of political science at Loyola University Chicago.

“Naturally, they’ve been in the private sector where they’ve collected money and revenue from these kinds of holdings, which is perfectly legal and honest,” he said. “But what you want to do in public service, as a governor, for example, is to assure the public that the public interest is what is on your mind above all else.

“Unlike a state legislator, who might also have holdings like this, he might simply recuse himself from voting or participating in discussions about regulating the cannabis industry. But an executive cannot do An executive has to make decisions.

If elected governor, Moore would appoint 15 members of the 16-member Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission to serve four-year terms. The commission licenses growers, processors, and dispensaries of medical marijuana in the state.

The governor’s role in regulating the industry is expected to increase if adult recreational cannabis use is approved as expected by voters in November.

Moore’s campaign declined to discuss any potential conflicts inherent in his association with GTI or confirm that he still owns stock in the company or any other marijuana industry entity in the state.

But in response to questions about Moore’s ties to the company, his campaign said in a statement that his financial assets would be placed in blind trust if the best-selling author, military veteran and former CEO of a non-profit organization was elected.

“The Moore-Miller administration will fight for what is in the best interests of Maryland families only,” the statement said.

Moore was named to the board of directors of Green Thumb Industries in 2018, one of the few black people in the country to hold such a position, and received more than $1.6 million in stock. The company also gave him $25,000 in cash, according to company filings with the SEC.

Last year, Moore acquired at least another 1,000 shares of the company, valued at more than $100,000, according to his state ethics filing. He resigned from the board in March.

People currently and formerly with the company have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Moore and his running mate, Aruna Miller.

Current GTI officials, including the CEO and three board members, contributed a combined $17,000 to Moore’s campaign, according to his annual fundraising report.

Co-founder and former CEO Peter Kadens contributed $6,000 each to Moore and Miller and contributed $50,000 to Moore’s super PAC, Opportunity Maryland PAC.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who will leave office in 2023 due to term limits, entered the governorship after running a successful real estate business. Its financial assets are managed by a trust, but not a blind trust, through an agreement with the state ethics commission.

Three other prominent Democratic campaigns have said they do not hold any financial holdings that would constitute conflicts of interest or that they will take steps to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s press secretary, Jordan Bellamy, said in a statement that Franchot had “no assets that present a conflict of interest.”

Former US Labor Secretary Tom Perez said in a statement that he would take “steps to eliminate conflicts of interest that arise at any time.”

Former US Education Secretary John King’s campaign said he would take appropriate action to avoid financial disputes.

“John King . . . has no financial dealings that would pose a conflict of interest if elected,” communications director Maryam Ahmed said in a statement. pension or college savings accounts became a conflict of interest, he would, of course, take the necessary steps to remedy it, such as placing them in a blind trust.”

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