Cannabis policy work is never done.
California has been enjoying the 2018 moment, our first year of legal adult-use cannabis, including the beginnings of the critical expungement movement. But not all Americans enjoy these hard-won victories, which are hardly complete. When states legalize, the policy work doesn’t stop – it really just begins.
For the remainder of 2018, Eaze will match all donations up to $20,000 to the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., whose efforts are shaping marijuana laws and policy in real-time. Your donation provides the MPP with resources to organize voters, engage public officials and change laws in “every corner of the nation,” according to the MPP.
Eaze spoke with MPP Executive Director Steve Hawkins (who’s had leadership roles at the NAACP, Amnesty International USA and the National Coalition for Public Safety) about his first three months in the position and the policy battles ahead as more states grapple one-by-one with a complex movement that could turn on a federal level at any moment.
You’re still fairly new in this role. What path brought you to the Marijuana Policy Project?
Hawkins: I’m coming to this work having spent my career, which has spanned about three decades now, working on criminal justice as a human rights attorney and activist. I spent so much of my time looking at the back-end of failed drug war policies, destroyed lives, all of that. Coming to MPP has been an opportunity to work on front-end solutions to end this senseless prohibition.
How did you come to partner with Eaze?
Hawkins: I’ve been the new head of MPP for 3 months now, and have been working with [Eaze Public Affairs Director] Katie Kincaid and [Communications & Public Policy SVP] David Mack in helping to get laws passed, and how to shape regulations in ways that really further rights of consumers. To me, transportation – or delivery, to be accurate – is key. It’s part of the world that we live in. People are used to things getting delivered, but it’s also a matter of safety and access for the elderly [and disabled].
What is the top priority for MPP at this critical moment?
Hawkins: I see our work in three core areas: insuring personal freedom, that people have the right to use secure cannabis for personal use; expanded economic opportunities for business and the jobs that are created; and social justice, to insure we reach a day when no one is in jail or no one is arrested anymore for marijuana possession.
What’s your take on where the movement stands? Can anything slow this momentum?
Hawkins: We have the political wind at our back. We’re at a point where we are no longer talking about one state every other year moving toward adult use. There’s at least a half-dozen that are active in 2019. We have a strategy to move 15 more states toward ending prohibition to allow for responsible adult use. If we’re at a point where half of states will have ended prohibition, our view is that will be the tipping point.
It sure seems like when legalization happens, that’s when your work is really cut out.
Hawkins: We certainly recognize that even as we pass laws and see markets open up for responsible adult use and medical use, that does not end our work. We have to be active in making sure that the regulations that are put in place are reasonable for consumers, reasonable for the business community, and don’t create such a burden from a tax-and-fee perspective that the legitimate market becomes secondary to the continuation of a black market.
It does sort of seem like each state is reinventing the wheel a bit. Is that changing?
Hawkins: I have seen a lot of discussion going on among the states. One of the things I recognized coming in the door is that MPP will have to play a far more relevant role in terms of regulations, and I’m hoping we can be at the vanguard of helping the business community set up a real framework that can then guide the next 15 states. We have enough information now that we can put to gather best practices for the industry, how to have it shelf ready … that’s kind of a knitting I hope that we can do.
Are you prepared for a federal de-scheduling? And can anyone really be?
Hawkins: We have to prepare for the inevitability of the end of federal prohibition, and with it, the arrival of federal oversight. And the more we can be prepared for that day, with our own internal standards around regulations that work for consumers and the business community, the better off we’ll be. Those are steps we need to take.
What sort of battles lie immediately ahead, with a new congressional makeup?
Hawkins: I am optimistic about the next session of Congress. I do think that some changes will certainly be easier than others. We can look at a rider on [an appropriations bill] that would stop the feds from going after business that cater to adult use, that would give a lot of business owners peace of mind. … We’re at the very beginning of an industry, and as much as it has its challenges, I feel like we’re all privileged to be writing history, and setting markers that will be there for the future.