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Marijuana Policy Project Welcomes New Executive Director

Marijuana Policy Project Welcomes New Executive Director

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s best-funded cannabis advocacy group, has named long-time social justice reform advocate Steve Hawkins as its next executive director.

Hawkins, who previously served as the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) and executive vice president of the NAACP, will assume responsibility for MPP’s national legalization advocacy efforts just months before a number of states vote to enact their own legal systems.

The decision was made after a “months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates,” MPP said in a press release.

“We are still battling the effects of decades of anti-marijuana legislation and propaganda in this country,” Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “Huge strides have been made when it comes to setting the record straight, but our work is far from over and there is still a lot of misinformation out there that needs to be addressed.”

“Fundraising and maintaining momentum is also a core challenge for the movement, which is in some ways a victim of its own success. Thanks to the major gains it has made in recent years, many people think legalization is inevitable and that their donations are no longer needed or that they don’t need to take the time to write their elected officials. These laws are not going to change themselves and there is more need than ever for resources and engagement to support federal and state-level reform efforts.”

Hawkins’s experience running successful criminal justice reform campaigns—including a bipartisan effort to end capital punishment for juveniles during his time at the NCADP—made him an apt candidate to spearhead the fight to end prohibition, Troy Dayton, chair of MPP’s board of directors, said in a statement.

“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,” Dayton said. “We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”

“The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Hawkins also previously held leadership positions at Amnesty International and the Coalition for Public Safety.

He told Marijuana Moment that his three decades of experience “defending civil and human rights” has informed his belief that we should “bring an end to marijuana prohibition, which has had a hugely detrimental impact, especially to communities of color,” and that we should “replace it with a more sensible system of regulation.”

“I also believe it is critical we ensure those populations that were so negatively impacted by prohibition are able to participate in and experience the positive impacts of such a regulated system.”

At MPP, Hawkins will succeed Rob Kampia, who late last year left the organization he founded in 1995 to start a for-profit cannabis policy consulting firm called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign. Kampia’s departure was announced shortly after sexual misconduct allegations against him resurfaced amid the #MeToo movement.

Kampia offered some words of advice for the next person to occupy his former seat in a phone interview with Marijuana Moment:

“View yourself as a fundraiser who has to engage in transactional fundraising with the marijuana industry in part, and view yourself as needing to come up with a smart, strategic plan for lobbying in state legislatures rather than doing ballot initiatives where no one else is going to touch it. Do not view yourself as a spokesperson.”

Or in other words, less of a focus on talk, and more on action.

MPP named Matthew Schweich as the interim executive director while the group scouted for a replacement. Scweich will now serve as MPP’s deputy director overseeing marijuana reform initiatives in Michigan and Utah.

In a statement, MPP board member Joby Pritzker said Schweich “provided critical leadership during a challenging transition period for MPP.”

“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.”

The past few years have seen a number of leadership changeups at national pro-legalization groups.

NORML brought on Erik Altieri as executive director in 2016 after Allen St. Pierre left the organization following 11 years of service. And last year, the Drug Policy Alliance announcedthat it had hired Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, who worked on international and domestic drug policies issues for 13 years at the Human Rights Watch, as the new executive director to replace retiring founder Ethan Nadelmann.

While the objective at all of these groups—promoting equitable drug policy reform in the United States—has remained the same, the nature of the movement has evolved. A majority of states have now legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, and though state-level reform efforts continue, calls for change at the federal level are increasingly resonant.

That is to say, these new executive directors will face a different set of challenges than their predecessors did.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Marijuana Policy Project Welcomes New Executive Director

New Pew Study: Americans Want Legal Cannabis

New Pew Study: Americans Want Legal Cannabis

The results of a recent marijuana legalization survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center was released on Tuesday, as millions were busily preparing tax returns. The numbers mostly reinforce existing studies by a variety of organizations that, while nuanced, reflect that the majority of Americans are in favor of legal marijuana, both for medical and recreational use.

As one might expect, more Americans support medical than recreational legalization. Support of marijuana legalization of any kind is significantly higher among younger people than those who are middle aged or the elderly. Overall, 53 percent of Americans favor full legalization, down a single point from last year’s Pew study. 41 percent of responses said their reason for supporting legalization was marijuana’s value as a medicine, versus the 36 percent who said their main justification was the fact that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.

More Voters Favor Legalization

The report also revealed that the limited success of the marijuana legalization movement, illustrated by four states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational cannabis and 24 states allowing some form of legal medical use, is convincing more and more voters that legalization is a good thing.

As more Americans learn the reality of medical cannabis and people become educated, they become much more supportive of legalization efforts and ballot initiatives (the classic domino effect). It could also be argued that greater numbers of legal, open cannabis consumers also serve to de-stigmatize the herb, showing those around them that it is actually a medicine and doesn’t carry negative side effects, like lower IQ or mental illness.

Said Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group:

“The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform.”

Among those 18-34, 68 percent support legalization. This is 16 points higher than the second most supportive age group of 35-50 year olds. The Pew survey revealed that millennials also supportive marijuana legalization across party lines, meaning a 20-year-old Republican might be in favor of legalization, while a 58-year-old Democrat might oppose it.  However, among Republicans as a group — regardless of age — only 39 percent support legalization. Although this sounds like a low number, it is the highest marijuana approval rating among Republicans since Pew began the survey in 1969.

Opponents Lack Logic

Opponents of legalization point toward their belief that it is both dangerous and addictive. Somewhat tellingly, and an excellent example of circular logic, 19 percent of those who oppose legalization say it is because marijuana is illegal.

However, even 54 percent of Republicans said that the federal government should not interfere with states that have legalized cannabis — along with 58 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Independents (an argument leading many political pundits to suggest that Hillary Clinton would be wise to support full legalization). Among outright opponents of legalization, even 38 percent said that the federal government should allow states to legalize and not interfere.

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