Marijuana Policy Project chooses rights activist Steven Hawkins as executive director

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The Marijuana Policy Project has tapped a former executive at Amnesty International USA and the NAACP as its new executive director, only the second permanent director for the cannabis advocacy organization since its founding in 1995.

Steven Hawkins, who has worked in criminal justice reform and civil and human rights for the past three decades, will face the dual challenge of maintaining marijuana reform momentum and raising funds to advocate for that reform.

“This movement has made significant traction and is clearly moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make change happen at the federal level and in most of the states,” Hawkins told Marijuana Business Daily in a phone interview.

As the industry has made major gains, he said, “many think legalization is inevitable and their donations are no longer needed, so I see a big part of my job is to make sure people understand we cannot take our foot off the gas.”

Tuesday’s announcement of Hawkins’ hiring comes after a months-long search to replace former executive director and founder Rob Kampia.

Matthew Schweich, who has served as MPP’s interim executive director since November, will assume the role of deputy director and will focus on the November ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana in Michigan and medical marijuana in Utah.

Hawkins began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He then served as executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

In 2008, Hawkins was appointed executive vice president of the NAACP, where, among other things, he advocated for marijuana decriminalization.

Later, as executive director of the U.S. section of Amnesty International for 2½ years, Hawkins became known for his efforts to confront police abuse and other human-rights violations in the states but departed over philosophical differences over the board’s desire to focus more on abuses worldwide.

Most recently, Hawkins was the president of the Coalition for Public Safety, the largest national bipartisan effort to reform the justice system at the state and federal levels.

Hawkins is a graduate of Harvard College and NYU School of Law. He clerked for the late A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Troy Dayton, chair of the MPP board of directors, said in a statement that the board was impressed by Hawkins’ expertise and experience, adding he “knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change.”