Top lob­by­ist rep­re­sents one win­ning bid for Md. cannabis

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Dresser

The top-earn­ing lob­by­ist in An­napo­lis rep­re­sents a com­pany that was awarded a lu­cra­tive Mary­land mar­i­juana-growing li­cense af­ter a state com­mis­sion pulled it from the ranks of losers and gave it a win­ning slot.

As a re­sult of the con­tro­ver­sial switch, lob­by­ist Ger­ard E. Evans’ son-in-law stands to make a lot of money.

State records show that Evans rep­re­sents Holis­tic In­dus­tries LLC, which counts Evans’ son-in-law Richard Polan­sky among its eq­uity in­vestors. Polan­sky is mar­ried to Evans’ daugh­ter and lob­by­ing part­ner, Hay­ley Evans.

Holis­tic orig­i­nally was ranked too low to re­ceive one of 15 state growing li­censes. But mem­bers of the state’s Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion re­con­sid­ered an ear­lier vote and re­moved two com­pa­nies from the winners’ list on the grounds that it lacked “ge­o­graph­i­cal di­ver­sity.”

As a re­sult, Holis­tic and an­other com­pany were moved up into the top 15 that qual­i­fied for li­censes. The two down­graded com­pa­nies have since sued the state.

The com­mis­sion has stressed that it used a “dou­ble-blind” process in which eval­u­a­tors didn’t know the iden­ti­ties of

any of the ap­pli­cants. Mem­bers de­cided to re­verse their ear­lier de­ci­sion with­out out­side in­flu­ence, com­mis­sion spokes­woman Vanessa Lyon said.

But the watch­dog group Com­mon Cause is con­cerned about the ap­pear­ance, es­pe­cially be­cause Hay­ley Evans, also a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist for Holis­tic, could ben­e­fit from her hus­band’s good for­tune as a re­sult of a govern­ment de­ci­sion. Holis­tic also won a state li­cense to process med­i­cal cannabis.

Mary­land’s ethics and dis­clo­sure laws pro­hibit lob­by­ists from get­ting pay­checks con­tin­gent on their suc­cess. The head of the State Ethics Com­mis­sion said the law does not re­quire a lob­by­ist to dis­close a spouse’s stake in a busi­ness the lob­by­ist rep­re­sents.

“The let­ter of the law may be lim­ited to a very nar­row def­i­ni­tion of lob­by­ists’ pay, but this is an ex­am­ple of a per­sonal ben­e­fit that will ac­crue only if the lob­by­ist is suc­cess­ful,” said Jen­nifer Be­van-Dan­gel, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Ger­ard Evans told The Bal­ti­more Sun that he has no fi­nan­cial stake in Holis­tic and had noth­ing to do with Polan­sky’s in­vest­ment.

“It was a great op­por­tu­nity for him and he took it. He’s a busi­ness­man on his own,” Evans said.

Evans said he aided Holis­tic by mon­i­tor­ing leg­is­la­tion and help­ing to pre­pare the com­pany’s ap­pli­ca­tion. He said he did not lobby any of the com­mis­sion­ers or their staff. Hay­ley Evans reg­is­tered as a Holis­tic lob­by­ist out of “an abun­dance of cau­tion,” her fa­ther said. He added that she ended up play­ing no role in the com­pany’s bid.

Polan­sky is a lawyer and owns an auto parts and scrap metal com­pany in Ce­cil County. He could not be reached for com­ment. Hay­ley Evans did not re­spond to sev­eral re­quests for com­ments.

Lyon said lob­by­ists have no role in the rank­ing or ap­proval process for ap­pli­ca­tions. The com­mis­sion hired the Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute to re­view and rank the 146 ap­pli­ca­tions to grow, 124 ap­pli­ca­tions to process and 811 ap­pli­ca­tions to dis­pense the drug. The process was done in a “dou­ble-blind” man­ner that redacted iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion about the ap­pli­cants.

Dr. Paul Davies, the com­mis­sion chair­man, is­sued a state­ment when asked whether any ap­pli­cants or rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ap­pli­cants had con­tacted any com­mis­sion­ers to ad­vo­cate for in­clu­sion in the win­ning list.

“It would be un­ac­cept­able for any com­mis­sioner to have ex parte dis­cus­sions with any­one as­so­ci­ated with a po­ten­tial li­censee, par­tic­u­larly dis­cus­sions that could pro­vide un­fair guid­ance or an ad­van­tage,” Davies said.

Com­mis­sion­ers also signed a sworn af­fi­davit, un­der penalty of per­jury, that they would not dis­cuss any ma­te­rial within the ap­pli­ca­tions dur­ing their re­view.

Ap­pli­cants cho­sen must prove they have the money and ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties to carry out their plans be­fore their pre­lim­i­nary li­censes are made fi­nal.

An­a­lysts say Mary­land’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana mar­ket is par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive to in­vestors be­cause of the lim­ited num­ber of li­censes and the broad base of po­ten­tial clients. Just 15 com­pa­nies will be al­lowed to grow the drug, but it can be rec­om­mended by doc­tors, den­tists, po­di­a­trists and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers for a broad range of ail­ments.

Cal­i­for­nia-based re­search com­pany Ar­cView Mar­ket Re­search es­ti­mates the legal cannabis mar­ket na­tion­wide will reach $22 bil­lion by 2020, which would ex­ceed how much the Na­tional Foot­ball League ex­pects to take in that year.

The law­suit filed by a com­pany that failed to se­cure a li­cense, GTI Mary­land, al­leges the li­censes are “by all ac­counts val­ued at tens of mil­lions of dol­lars.”

Holis­tic had ini­tially been rated 20th among bid­ders by the Re­gional Eco­nomic Stud­ies In­sti­tute — well out of the run­ning for the 15 slots. On July 27, the grow­ers sub­com­mit­tee unan­i­mously ap­proved the 15 prospec­tive grow­ers ranked high­est by RESI af­ter a process in which the eval­u­a­tors were not told the iden­ti­ties of the in­vestors or their in­vestors.

But two days later, at the bid­ding of the sub­com­mit­tee’s chair­man, the panel took a new vote that took li­censes away from the No. 8 and No. 12 bid­ders and gave them to Holis­tic and the bid­der ranked No. 21.

The sub­com­mit­tee chair­man, Chev­erly Po­lice Chief Harry “Buddy” Rob­shaw, ex­plained that the group reshuf­fled the or­der of bid­ders to achieve more “geo­graphic di­ver­sity.” He said the orig­i­nal top15 did not in­clude rep­re­sen­ta­tion from South­ern Mary­land or the Lower Eas­ten Shore.

Holis­tic, which plans to grow in Prince George’s County, was pro­moted to the No. 14 slot to rep­re­sent South­ern Mary­land. No. 21 Shore Nat­u­ral, which plans to grow in Worces­ter County, moved up to No. 15 to rep­re­sent the Lower Shore.

Bumped from the top 15 were No. 8 Mary­land Cul­ti­va­tion and Pro­cess­ing and No. 12 GTI Mary­land, which had pro­posed to grow in Fred­er­ick and Wash­ing­ton couni­ties.

Re­ports filed with the State Ethics Com­mi­sion show Ger­ard Evans billed Holis­tic $90,000 for his work from Novem­ber 2015 through April 2016, while Hay­ley Evans re­ported no earn­ings from the firm.

Most ap­pli­cants for mar­i­juana growing li­censes did not re­port hir­ing a lob­by­ist.

Ger­ard Evans peren­ni­ally tops the list of the top-earn­ing lob­by­ists in Mary­land. The for­mer mem­ber of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller’s staff re­ported billing his clients nearly $2 mil­lion dur­ing the six­month re­port­ing pe­riod, which in­cludes the Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion.

Ger­ard Evans’ suc­cess comes de­spite a 2000 fed­eral con­vic­tion for mail and wire fraud as a re­sult of a scheme un­der which he ar­ranged for in­tro­duc­tion of bills that threat­ened his clients’ in­ter­est so that he could bill them for more ser­vices. He was sen­tenced to 21⁄ years in prison.

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