Hired by the city of Portland, Oregon, to supervise the local cannabis industry, Dasheeda Dawson is working to reverse regulation that’s hurt Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.
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What has been your personal experience with cannabis? 

I grew up in the War on Drugs time period, in what was at one point the murder capital of the country: East New York, Brooklyn. I watched my male friends get dropped to the ground for very minimal amounts of cannabis. I was an athlete in high school and college, so I stayed away from it until I was an adult. About 10 years ago, I was an executive at Target, suffering from insomnia, struggling with inflammation, and experiencing early signs of multiple sclerosis. It was my mother, a lifetime cannabis user, who suggested it to me. Using cannabis improved my inflammation and helped me keep up with my demanding career.

What do you hope to achieve in your role in city government?

Whether it's an adult-use market or a medical market, cannabis is medicinal, and that's an inherent value. We have to regulate it with that in mind. Sadly, there's still a lot of cannaphobia out there. It's more heightened for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities because of the racial disparities in arrests, harassment, and deportation. My goal is to help reeducate people—from legislators to community members—on how policy reform can be used as a vehicle to help repair [marginalized] communities by creating equal opportunities to benefit from the use and sales of cannabis.

How have you overcome challenges in the industry? 

When I first started out, I was being made to feel like I didn't belong here because I was a Black woman. And as a result, I've become even more vocal and outspoken about my expertise and commitment to help improve the industry, but also about my patient experience. Women of color are often overlooked as consumers. The market is still geared toward white males 18 to 25, when the fastest growing legal users are actually women of color. So I'm happy to be the first and I'm happy to wave a flag and say, 'Hey, there is diversity here. Come join us.' Black and Brown led organizations like The Cannabis Health Equity Movement and the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition have banded together to create our own spaces so that we can actually move faster to make the industry more equitable. And being more vocal has brought allies to the table in a big way. 

What initiatives are you most excited about? 

The city's Social Equity and Educational Development, or SEED, initiatives. This program prioritizes grants to entities—nonprofits and businesses—that do the work within the community to move cannabis reform forward across education, economic development, entrepreneurship, expungement, and criminal justice. In 2021, the SEED initiatives gave out $1.8 million to 17 grant recipients. That's three times the amount ever granted in one year. The government has an accountability to fix what it broke with its cannabis prohibition laws, and tax revenue should be prioritized to do that.

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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