In the past decade, 15 states have legalized a regulated marijuana market for adults over 21, and another 17 have legalized medical marijuana, reported Politico. But in their rush to limit the numbers of licensed vendors and give local municipalities control of where to locate dispensaries, they created something else: A market for local corruption.
Almost all the states that legalized pot either
require the approval of local officials — as in Massachusetts — or impose a
statewide limit on the number of licenses, chosen by a politically appointed
oversight board, or both. These practices effectively put million-dollar
decisions in the hands of relatively small-time political figures — the mayors
and councilors of small towns and cities, along with the friends and supporters
of politicians who appoint them to boards. And these strictures have given rise
to the exact type of corruption that got Correia in trouble with federal
prosecutors. They have also created a culture in which would-be cannabis
entrepreneurs feel obliged to make large campaign contributions or hire
politically connected lobbyists.
government contracting and licensing is subject to these kinds of forces,” said
Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who authors a blog on
marijuana policy. But “there are unique facets to government contracting in
[the cannabis] space that makes it uniquely vulnerable to corruption.”
It’s not just local officials. Allegations of
corruption have reached the state level in numerous marijuana programs,
especially ones in which a small group of commissioners is charged with
dispensing limited numbers of licenses. Former Maryland state Del. Cheryl Glenn
was sentenced to two years in prison in July for taking bribes in exchange for
introducing and voting on legislation to benefit medical marijuana companies.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is the target of law enforcement and legislative probes into the
rollout of its medical marijuana program.
“The state Is given full control in an industry
where there is so much competition — where everyone realizes how valuable these
licenses are,” said Lorenzo Nourafchan, CEO of Northstar Financial Consulting,
which works with cannabis businesses.
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