When another state legalizes the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the headlines are always attention grabbers. Legalization always seems to be big news. What doesn’t always grab the spotlight and is not discussed nearly as frequently are the efforts behind the scenes to make the cannabis business safe and profitable for growers and retailers.
Enter New York’s first cannabis czar Dasheeda Dawson, a native of East New York in Brooklyn. The Department of Small Business Services tapped Dawson, a former Portland cannabis program manager, to lead a new agency called Cannabis NYC. What does this mean for New York’s blooming cannabis industry? It may mean new trails are blazing ahead in the Big Apple.
Who Is Dasheeda Dawson? What Does She Know About Cannabis?
Dasheeda Dawson is a native of East New York, Brooklyn, and a global cannabis advocate. She earned her MBA from Rutgers Business School before completing an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at Princeton University. In her professional life, Dawson has led cross-functional teams for the United Way, Target Corporation, and Victoria’s Secret. With almost 20 years of strategic business development experience under her belt, she went on to focus her efforts on a new passion project: cannabis.
Dawson is an outspoken cannabis advocate and the credited founder of The WeedHead. She is praised in both corporate and cannabis circles for her pioneering cross-over work into the cannabis industry, bringing her business-savvy ideas with her. She is also a bestselling author, writing “How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry,” and the co-founder and Chief Strategist of the Cannabis Health Equity Movement. Dawson serves as Board Chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition.
Dawson leveraged her strategic business experience and passion for cannabis to become one of the most successful experts in the cannabis industry. In 2020, she was tapped by the City of Portland to supervise their regulatory, licensing, and compliance initiative for the city’s now-legal recreational and medical marijuana industry. Now, she brings her expertise and skills to New York as head of Cannabis NYC. The new agency seeks to support the creation of jobs, prop up small businesses, and offer sustainable economic opportunities through community outreach and advocacy efforts.
What Is Cannabis NYC?
Cannabis NYC is a newly created program established by the New York Department of Small Business Services. Its mission is to support the development of New York’s emerging cannabis industry and inspire cannabis entrepreneurs. The organization hopes to achieve its goals through strategic outreach, community involvement, and advocacy efforts. For her part, Dawson will serve as the organization’s primary liaison between the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, elected officials, community boards, and city agencies.
Beyond serving as a cannabis liaison, Dawson hopes her new position will be transformative. In news reports, Dawson has spoken out on the damage New York cannabis prohibition caused, especially to young Black residents. She painfully recalls the days when she was unnecessarily stopped, searched, and treated like a criminal, suspected of ingesting a plant she had never even touched. Dawson sees her new position as a chance to bring all New Yorkers to the table and discuss ways of making New York’s growing cannabis industry equitable and innovative.
Moving Full Steam Ahead
While attitudes about cannabis have changed in New York, there is still much work to be done crafting a more equity-centered approach to the cannabis industry. Recreational cannabis use was only just legalized in 2021, allowing those 21 and older to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for personal use. It is believed to be the second-most used recreational drug in New York City after alcohol.
For all its popularity, there is still a stigma attached to recreational use, a stigma that is particularly directed at people of color. Data from the NYPD shows that in 2020, people of color made up more than 94 percent of marijuana arrests. One of Dawson’s most pressing goals is to help communities that shouldered the brunt of marijuana prohibition gain the benefits that legalization may provide, including a boost to local economies, business opportunities for interested entrepreneurs, and more jobs.
From the get-go, equality didn’t seem to be a big part of the New York recreational cannabis agenda. When the state legalized recreational marijuana, initial retail license applicants would face rejection if they or a family member had been previously convicted of a marijuana-related offense. Because 94 percent of marijuana arrests were of people of color, people in these communities faced what amounted to a second wave of cannabis-related discrimination. Additionally, the application process was time-consuming and complicated, even by New York standards, according to an attorney quoted in a recent VOX piece.
Cannabis advocates and Dawson herself hope that Cannabis NYC will help New Yorkers apply for licenses and teach them how to run a successful cannabis business. The hopes are high for potential cannabis retailers, but that doesn’t mean the road will be easy. There are still hurdles to overcome in the way of processing applications, paying application fees, and giving everyone who wants an opportunity equal footing.
With Dasheeda Dawson now on board, Cannabis NYC’s goals may have become more attainable. Her unique understanding of New York City culture and her experience in the cannabis industry could be what New York needs to jump-start its emerging recreational sector.
Ask Colorado or any other state that forged ahead with legalizing marijuana. The road is not easy. There are numerous questions to answer and challenges to address. With marijuana still being classified as an illegal drug by the federal government, there is no overarching roadmap toward legalization. It is up to individual states to figure out what works and what doesn’t. That is a process of trial and error. It’s a process that cannabis czar Dasheeda Dawson wants to be a part of as New York tries to find its way forward.