As public opinion and legislation surrounding marijuana shift rapidly, it is increasingly important to consider the implications of this changing landscape and its effects on different populations in the US and abroad. By examining the current state of marijuana policy and what the future may bring, we can start to understand how it could shape our societies.
Toi Hutchinson, a recently retired Illinois Senator representative of the 40th District, is an inspirational leader who has been at the forefront of progressive change in her state. From her time in the Senate (2009 - 2019), where she championed causes such as protecting women and children from violence, modernizing the state’s tax structure, and legalizing cannabis, to her latest role as the first woman President & CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, Hutchinson's unwavering commitment to equity has been felt throughout the nation.
In the 26th episode of the Kaya Cast podcast, Toi Hutchinson looks back on her tenure in the Senate, highlights her involvement in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), and shares her views on the future of cannabis legalization and regulation in Illinois.
“Every single time we talked to someone, they were like, ‘we really wish we had thought about the equity part. We really wish we had thought about the criminal justice reform’, because what ended up happening is that we had an industry that started burgeoning across the country at the same time that we were still arresting hundreds of thousands of people for what we're now explicitly saying is legal.”
For Toi Hutchinson, the world of cannabis was not something she necessarily intended to enter. Her work in cannabis policy took off when she visited Colorado for its Amendment 64 celebration, learning how each state handled taxation and revenue. Through her research and conversations with legislators, it became apparent that equity needed to be part of the conversation. This realization became the foundation of her policy-making.
When Governor Pritzker offered her the chance to stand up for Illinois' cannabis industry, she seized the opportunity with a passion for creating long-lasting change. Despite Covid-19 hitting in February 2020, they surpassed liquor tax revenue by January 2021 with only 122 cannabis licenses.
When it was time to move on from her work on cannabis policy reform, it was no surprise that she caught the attention of many. The Marijuana Policy Project reached out to her the day she left, offering her a job and recognizing her indispensable role in winning incremental change for many.
At Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the mission is clear: to change laws and change lives. To that end, MPP has an incredible team of experts in the field, led by director of State Policies, Karen O’Keefe, and director of State Campaigns, Matthew Schwa.
“It's not just about talking to black and brown people about not going to jail. It's also talking to black and brown people about being a part of this nascent industry that is now liquor in 1933.”
Their strategy is to build coalitions in each state, which involves getting citizens and policymakers on board to push for reform — something that is made more challenging by the divisive political climate.
To create more awareness around this issue, Hutchinson has undertaken a joint program with Seth Rogen's cannabis company Houseplant. Through the bipartisan initiative called "Why State Sucks”, Hutchinson and Houseplant are working to spread awareness on how individuals are losing their livelihoods and generations are experiencing long-term damage.
Hutchinson hopes this program will help people understand the full scope of the consequences of economic injustice. She emphasizes the importance of not only talking to African-American and Latino communities about avoiding jail time, but also involving them in the growing industry.
Through their joint effort, Hutchinson and Houseplant are working to stop this issue at its root and ensure that individuals do not suffer the consequences of economic injustice.
“When you invest in women, women invest in the community.”
It has been a time of great political discord and difficulty, with people feeling exhausted and worn out by the heavy and intense discourse. And yet, there is still a sense of excitement in the trenches of this policy change — a chance to create something better for everyone.
Toi believes that if we start talking about cannabis in terms of its reclamation by indigenous cultures, zero waste possibilities, and climate change abilities, then we can move away from just talking about adult-use as inebriation and really appreciate what the power of the plant is.
Furthermore, Hutchinson encourages us to normalize cannabis and talk about it like we would talk to our children about alcohol. By bridging this gap in language and understanding, we can educate young people on how to use cannabis respectably without succumbing to the stigma still attached to it.
“My hope is that we spend a lot of time talking about freeing the plant and freeing the people.”
Hutchinson highlights the importance of investing in women to help better families and communities, noting that when women have an opportunity to enter the conversation, they bring a unique perspective rooted in femininity and insight — which is exactly why we need new entrants, new voices, and new perspectives on cannabis to truly understand its potential as a tool for growth and healing.
“As long as there's one state that's still a prohibition state, we're not there.”
If you're looking to join the fight and contribute to the work of the Marijuana Policy Project, there are numerous ways to support their mission. From becoming an entry-level member for $25 and getting a sticker, all the way up to joining their policy council and helping to shape legislation for businesses, MPP offers a range of ways for individuals, vendors, and organizations to get involved.
For more details on how you can join MPP's efforts, check out their website at www.mpp.org or call your local state senators and state representatives at both the state and federal levels. It's time we changed our current policies and embraced a better way!
Toi has a wealth of wisdom and experience to share. Listen to episode 26 of the Kaya Cast podcast to hear Toi's inspiring story and invaluable insights into how they are working to change the narrative around cannabis policy.
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