Dasheeda Dawson: From Strategist to Thought Leader to City Official

Dasheeda Dawson From Strategist To Thought Leader To City Official

For those of us who have been around the block in the cannabis movement, seeing industry professionals who are advocates at the core bridge into policy work is one of the most encouraging things to witness.  Many advocates and industry leaders choose to stay in the private sector for a variety of reasons, and are not willing to make the leap to the “inside” of the public sector to help make real change where it is needed most.

Dasheeda Dawson is not one of those who shies away from a challenge such as this, as she has now brought her insight and expertise to the City of Portland, accepting a much sought-after position as the Cannabis Program Supervisor and will be working alongside City and other regulatory officials on cannabis policy and oversight.  Dawson brings over a decade of business development, strategic management and brand marketing experience. 

For a little background, Dasheeda Dawson is (by choice) “The WeedHead”.  Prior to accepting her position with the City of Portland, she worked as a strategy consultant, digital growth hacker, and brand equity builder in the cannabis industry. Featured as a speaker and contributor across multiple media publications and conferences, she is a corporate-to-cannabis crossover pioneer, helping cannabis brands succeed in mainstream America. More recently, she has worked as an industry educator, senior executive leader, and strategy expert for multiple cannabis businesses, municipalities, and other outlets across the country.

Dawson is already hard at work, diving in head first to her new position as an “insider” on policy and regulation. “One of the number one things I am excited about is bringing Portland to somewhat of the forefront as a leader among local, state, and federal conversations around equity, sustainability, and the cannabis economy as a whole, “ Dawson said.  

Aside from her extensive industry experience,  Dawson has also advocated for cannabis law reform, arguing that, “Reinvesting cannabis tax dollars into economic development will directly benefit residents, particularly those ensnared in the criminal justice system because of cannabis. Providing support and incentives for residents to start cannabis businesses and get industry jobs will create opportunity and bolster local economies. Reinvesting revenue generated through taxes and licenses could support and nurture local entrepreneurs while cash-strapped state and local governments could save millions of dollars from decreased policing, jail and court costs.”

As the new Cannabis Program Supervisor, Dawson will oversee regulations, licensing, equity and more.  The program is part of Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life which is under the leadership of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.  

“I am so pleased to welcome Dasheeda Dawson as the Office of Community & Civic Life’s new Cannabis Program Supervisor,” said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. “I am confident that Dasheeda is the right person to lead the Cannabis Program at this critical moment in history—her experience and lifetime dedication to equity will ensure that we honor our commitment to voters and further prioritize restorative justice in our work. I look forward to working with her to ensure that Black, Indigenous, and communities of color thrive in Portland’s cannabis industry.”

Dawson explained, “This [Cannabis] Program can be something where we are more conduits and facilitators as opposed to enforcers.  I think that is the premise from which the Office [of Community & Civic Life] was already built and I am excited to help highlight and enhance the strong points of the Program.”

In 2016, Portland voters passed a 3% tax on recreational cannabis. Since then, over $6M has gone toward street infrastructure improvements; DUII training; drug rehabilitation; small business support, economic opportunity, and technical assistance for business owners from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition; record-clearing; and other efforts.

Civic Life is charged with administering the City’s Social Equity Grants, to deliver on the promise made to Portlanders in Measure 26-180 to provide “support for neighborhood small businesses, especially women-owned and minority-owned businesses, including but not limited to business incubator programs, management training, and job training opportunities; and providing economic opportunity and education to communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition.”

“The war on drugs, predominantly waged against Black and Brown men, has long been a tool of racial oppression,” Dawson said in her welcome statement to agency partners. “Marijuana possession and sale, whether perceived or real, has provided an excuse for over-policing, state violence, and law enforcement interactions that far too often end in death for people of color. In fact, cannabis prohibition has led to Black Americans being almost four times as likely to be arrested for possession relative to our white counterparts and remains one of the top reasons for deadly police interactions in our communities. Understanding the role marijuana prohibition has played in my own life has fueled my global cannabis strategy, education and advocacy work for the past four years. I look forward to actively collaborating with all partners and stakeholders to continue building and elevating both the cannabis community and the City of Portland.”

Under her leadership, Dawson affirms that the Cannabis Program will work to uphold the core tenets adopted by the Cannabis Policy Oversight Team (CPOT) and included in its 2019 Annual Cannabis Policy Report:

  • The war on drugs has caused disproportionate harm to Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Cannabis should be used as a tool to direct capital resources into these same communities for the purpose of restitution and restoration.
  • The Bureau is committed to adopting policies, regulations and programs that support equitable access to the cannabis industry, so that communities and individuals that have experienced the greatest harm from prohibition can share in the industry’s wealth.
  • The City’s processes around cannabis regulation and policy development will be informed, acknowledging the long history of trauma and race-based inequities, particularly the multi-generational impact of cannabis criminalization.
  • Impacted communities and stakeholders will play a key role in solution-finding, policy and program development, and decision-making.
  • Strategic recommendations and execution will require City investments of time and resources.

The City of Portland understands the need for a statewide Cannabis Social Equity Framework. On February 3, 2020 the Cannabis Program provided written and public testimony in support, with amendments, of HB 4088 a statewide social equity framework for cannabis licensing and reinvestments of tax revenue, a House Bill introduced earlier this month by Representative Fahey.

Civic Life’s Bureau Director, Suk Rhee, wrote “ As part of the City’s stakeholder engagement process, we have learned that a comprehensive framework must extend beyond  cannabis business licensing and include institutional policy change and reinvestment in communities and individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis…”

Cannabis Program Licensing Coordinator, Christina Coursey, provided public testimony encouraging the State to develop a comprehensive social equity framework that also included additional reductions to support small cannabis businesses. “The essence of small, local, Oregon craft cannabis businesses is quickly diminishing to larger corporations in Canada, California, New York, and Florida…”

There is much work to be done. No doubt that the City of Portland is incredibly fortunate to have Dasheeda Dawson in the driver’s seat, bringing her insight, experience, and thought leadership to a metropolitan area that has become a leader in the cannabis sector.  We look forward to seeing the progress under her supervision!

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