Wes Moore, Maryland’s new governor, says the opening of state’s cannabis market will be quick but also equitable

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Political newcomer Wes Moore triumphed in Maryland’s gubernatorial race in November, along the way sparking chatter about how a White House campaign could be in his future.

The Democrat prevailed by a 33-point margin over Republican Dan Cox, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but not by Maryland’s outgoing GOP governor, Larry Hogan, who was term limited.

Moore’s state was one of three where the governor’s seat flipped to Democrats. Arizona and Massachusetts were the other two.

Just as voters delivered a red ripple rather than a red tsunami in last month’s U.S. congressional elections, gubernatorial contests also weren’t hit by a big Republican wave. While Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis won re-election by a 19-point margin, only one governor’s seat flipped to Republicans, with Nevada turning red.

So now what’s next for Maryland’s new governor?

In a phone interview with MarketWatch, the 44-year-old Moore brushed aside questions about running for president, but the author and former CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation (which has no connection to the trading app Robinhood

) talked at length about his state’s decision to ramp up its cannabis industry
his past work in banking and other topics.

Moore was sworn in as governor Wednesday.

The Q&A below with Moore, conducted in mid-December when he was still the governor-elect, has been edited for clarity and length.

MarketWatch: You worked on Wall Street and were CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York-based anti-poverty organization known for its annual conference that provides investing ideas from big names. How do you think that the banking and Robin Hood jobs set you up for your new line of work?

Moore: I was very interested in policy. An old football coach said if you want to do policy, policy is really budgets, and you’ve got to understand how budgets work. At that time he was working for Deutsche Bank

as a trader. He said, “Let me introduce you to some people,” and I ended up getting an internship. And it really was incredibly illustrative to me, because I found out he was absolutely right.

I worked for Deutsche Bank. I worked for Citi
I started my own business and then ran Robin Hood. All the skillsets that I was learning are things that I utilize.

MarketWatch: From your time at Robin Hood, do you have any favorite investing calls that some big names made, or other moments that stand out?

Moore: I think some of the some of the investments that we made in Robin Hood, specifically where we started doing work in the world of policy. We did not have a policy wing at Robin Hood until I became the CEO. So much of the work that we were doing, it was helping to address issues that broken policies actually helped to create. We built out a policy wing with the exclusive focus of making sure that we were addressing issues from a systemic perspective and not exclusively from a philanthropic perspective.

MarketWatch: Maryland voted in November to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older, and the approved constitutional amendment also directs the state legislature to address distribution, regulation and taxation. Other states already have gone down this route, so what are states that have approaches that you think are worth emulating?

Moore: We now have more states that have adopted policies, whether on medical or recreational cannabis, than not. Maryland is going to pay attention to a lot of other states and what they have done well.

Maryland is not going to be the first state, even in the region, to make the transition into having a recreational option for cannabis. And so we’re going to be spending our time ensuring that the opening of the cannabis market is going to be thoughtful, it’s going to be equitable, and it’s going to be quick, because we think that all of these things are going be important to ensure that we’re taking the lessons learned from other states who have done this.

MarketWatch: But is there any state or state program that stands out to you or that’s inspiring?

Moore: Well, there’s a uniqueness to Maryland. While there’s a lot of states who have moved in front of us, such as Colorado and New York and Pennsylvania and Virginia, we’re always going to be very focused on making sure that we’re leveraging Maryland’s assets in our growth.

MarketWatch: Up until March, you were on the board of a large cannabis company, Green Thumb Industries

What did you learn from your work with that company, and what are you doing to address any concerns about possible conflicts of interest from having Green Thumb stock?

Moore: As you’re talking about the growth of an industry, I think about why Green Thumb actually approached me in the first place. I was always very consistent on this idea that we cannot talk about the benefits of legalization, if you’re not also talking about the consequences of criminalization — and also making sure that we’re talking about equitable growth within the industry. When I first joined the board, I was one of two African-Americans on the board of any top cannabis company. And so that was something — how we’re focusing on the diversity of the industry, how we’re focusing on dealing with not just social justice issues, but economic parity issues. That was something that I pushed the entire time when I was on the board, and it’s something that the industry has to continue focusing on.

On ways to show there’s no conflict — not only have I not been on the board for a while now, I’m actually in the process of placing all of my assets in a blind trust, which is the most aggressive approach that anyone can take. That’s far more aggressive than any candidate or any governor in the history of the state of Maryland. So people in Maryland can rest assured that the only priority that I’m going to have as I enter into the office is their priorities.

MarketWatch: What are your estimates for new tax revenue that will come from legal marijuana, and what estimates do you have on the social impact, such as reducing prison populations and providing jobs?

Moore: We just voted to be able to legalize recreational, and we’re still 36 days away from inauguration, so we’re not prepared yet to talk about what the taxation structure is going to be. That’s all things that our teams are already working on, but we’re not prepared to roll out any form of tax system structure on cannabis just yet.

MarketWatch: What about social impact? Have you looked at how prison populations might fall, and the potential for jobs?

Moore: The idea that we can have people who are sitting in prison and continue to have records for something that is now going to be a legal industry and a thriving industry is something that we’re going to have to address as a state. That does mean being thoughtful about everything from record expungements to looking at the utilization of pardon privileges. So these are all things that we will be examining and moving on.

MarketWatch: New York, where you used to live, had a particular equity approach for cannabis, where New Yorkers with marijuana-related convictions were the first people to get chances to sell it legally. What’s your take on that, and what equity-related cannabis efforts do you want to see in Maryland?

Moore: Yeah, that’s one of the policies that we’re looking at. New York has done some innovative things along those lines, and that is one of the things we’re examining. But what is absolutely right is you cannot continue to add restrictions for people who have cannabis records restricting their ability to re-enter society successfully.

And so that means, for people who have cannabis convictions, if it’s the cannabis conviction that is challenging their ability to gain employment, have access to public housing, have access to to governmental support or college aid — those are all things that will fall into our equity calculation when it comes to the rollout for cannabis.

MarketWatch: A third of Maryland voters opposed the marijuana legalization amendment. They might see pot as a nuisance or a source of air pollution. What would you say to skeptics who feel that this isn’t a move that the state needs to make right now?

Moore: The process that we’re going to have is not just how are we actualizing the will of the majority of the people of this state, but it is about how are we bringing the rest of the state along. There’s still going to be an education process. There’s still going to be a process where we are helping to show people why it matters that Maryland does this right.

MarketWatch: In a nutshell, what is your view on on how November’s elections turned out all over the country?

Moore: Well, I live in the state of Maryland, and we ended up winning our race by the largest margin of any gubernatorial race in 40 years in Maryland. We ended up not just not overwhelmingly winning Democrats, but also independents, and even taking a good chunk of Republicans.

And so you saw a consolidated and a very hopeful message that was sent out by Marylanders, who were saying that we’re ready to move together, we’re ready to be bold, and we’re ready to go fast, but we’re ready to be unified in our vision to “leave no one behind.” The “leave no one behind” agenda was one that I learned when I was in the military when I was 17 years old.

MarketWatch: Some Democrats are excited about how how things went in Maryland, and they see you as a presidential candidate if President Biden isn’t running. What can you say about your thinking about running for president?

Moore: I’d say I’m excited to support President Biden’s re-election campaign. The reason that I say that this is going to be Maryland’s decade is not because I’ve been looking to do something else.

This is going to be Maryland’s decade because we are focused and committed to ensuring that Maryland is going to lead the way. I believe that the assets in the state of Maryland are the best assets in this country. The challenge is that we’re asset rich and strategy poor. So we have to and we will ensure that our state is going to be more competitive and also be more equitable. And we also believe that in this time, in this moment, that Maryland will lead, and I’m excited to be its leader in that process.

MarketWatch: One ranking of the best U.S. states for doing business puts Maryland at 27th, while Virginia is third and North Carolina is first. What are your proposals for improving Maryland’s economic competitiveness?

Moore: Well, one, we have to do a better job of leveraging our assets. If you look at the state of Maryland, we’re the home to over 50 military installations. We’re the home of the National Institutes of Health, the home of the Applied Physics Lab, the home of the National Security Agency, the home of Johns Hopkins University, the home of the Port of Baltimore, the home of four top historically black colleges and universities. The assets in the state of Maryland are vast. So we’ve got to do a better job of being able to leverage those things and create economic growth.

We also need to make sure that we are centering our economy around economic growth, and that means having an education system that is teaching our students how not just to be employees, but how to be employers. It means making sure that we’re having fair wages and good wages for individuals, because you cannot have a society where where you’re dis-incentivizing work by having people who are working in some cases multiple jobs and still living below the poverty line. And we’re going to be a state that is going to be aggressive about closing the racial wealth gap. And the reason why that’s so important is because the racial wealth gap has cost this country $16 trillion in GDP over the past two decades.

MarketWatch: You have been a Rhodes scholar, a paratrooper with the famous 82nd Airborne Division, a banker, a startup founder, a foundation CEO, an author, a TV producer, and now you’ll be a governor. We have to ask, only part jokingly, why can’t you just pick one thing and stick with it?

Moore: My wife asks that question all the time. [Laughs] I am so excited about being Maryland’s governor, because when I think about the work that I’ve done for my entire adult life, I think that if you look at the threads behind so many of the things that I’ve done, service has been the consistent thread.

I believe deeply in this country. I believe deeply in its promise. I believe deeply that each and every person has a responsibility to be a good steward and to preserve its future.

I’m excited about what I believe is going to be a really powerful and explosive decade for the state of Maryland, because it’s really taking all of the lessons learned that I’ve taken from various professional experiences that all have had a foundation of service, but now saying, “Let’s create systems that can make individuals’ lives better.”

Now read: Mitch McConnell criticizes year-end push for cannabis banking bill, and it’s left out of big defense package

And see: How gambling markets got the midterms wrong, and why Biden’s a ‘great bet’ for 2024

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