This week, the Marijuana Policy Project announced they had found their new executive director after a months-long search that saw many reputable candidates, but in the end, longtime advocate Steve Hawkins edged out the pack to take the reins of a crucial organization to the last decade’s progress. And he isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon.
“We are thrilled to welcome Steve Hawkins as the new executive director of MPP,” said Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors. “Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change. We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”
Prior to joining MPP, Hawkins had been on the cutting edge of rights advocacy for nearly three decades as a policy strategist, nonprofit leader and foundation executive.
Hawkins got his start in changing discriminatory laws as a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he challenged the criminal justice system for disproportionately impacting people of color. From there, Hawkins worked his way up through the organization eventually serving as executive vice president. In that capacity, he helped lead efforts to stop the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization.
“Throughout my career, I have witnessed the counterproductive effects of the war on marijuana and its especially devastating impact on communities of color,” Hawkins said.
“MPP has been at the vanguard of changing public perceptions and public policies surrounding marijuana, and I am proud to join this incredible team of advocates at such a critical moment in the movement to end marijuana prohibition,” he said.
While the wave of cannabis legalization has made significant progress in creating thriving new commercial markets, it has seen much less successful in mitigating the damages that the War on Drugs wreaked on communities of color. With his focus on criminal justice reform and racial equality, Hawkins is likely to continue to focus the MPP’s lobbying efforts not just on legalizing cannabis, but also on building an equitable industry.
“Great strides are being made with every election cycle and legislative session, but there is still much to be done, both at the state and federal levels,” Hawkins said. “I look forward to working with MPP’s nationwide network of grassroots supporters, organizational allies and members of the legal cannabis industry to keep the momentum going and put an end to marijuana prohibition once and for all.”
Over the past decade, the MPP has organized successful initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use in Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, as well as the successful medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Michigan and Montana. They also played a big role in coalitions in other states that passed medical marijuana or decriminalization laws, such as Washington, D.C., Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
While some of the states left yet to make positive reforms to their cannabis policy may seem daunting challenges, Hawkins should be up for the task. Before the NAACP, he also served as president of the Coalition for Public Safety — the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels, as executive director of Amnesty International USA and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation put him over the top. JEHT stands for “Justice, Equality, Human Dignity, and Tolerance. There he directed early advocacy efforts to end mass incarceration, including groups working to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
“The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dayton said. “Steve is the perfect choice to oversee that work and lead MPP into the future.”
Hawkins is taking over for the MPP’s interim executive director Matthew Schweich, who was no slouch either. Schweich will assume the role of deputy director to focus on the MPP-supported ballot initiatives to regulate marijuana for adult use in Michigan and to establish a medical marijuana program in Utah. Schweich took over after the MPP’s founder Rob Kampia stepped down from his role as executive director, in the early days of the #MeToo movement, as past sexual harassment allegations against him resurfaced.
“Matt provided critical leadership during a challenging transition period for MPP,” said longtime MPP board member Joby Pritzker. “He maintained the effectiveness of our advocacy operations, managed our fundraising efforts and oversaw ballot initiative campaigns in multiple states, while at the same time leading our staff and assisting the board with the executive director search. We greatly appreciate Matt’s tireless dedication to MPP and his heartfelt commitment to the marijuana policy reform movement. He stepped up to the plate when we needed him most.”
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