Correction: Tahir Johnson is no longer the Director of Social Equity and Inclusion at USCC. Read the details below.
The Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine (ACHEM) is no longer aligned with the US Cannabis Council (USCC), a leading voice for ending the federal prohibition of cannabis.
In an open letter to USCC president and CEO Steven Hawkins on Aug. 17, ACHEM president Ogadinma Obie, M.D., informed USCC leadership that her association is resigning from its position on the USCC board of directors and general membership, effective immediately.
ACHEM is a professional medical association with the Cannabis Health Equity Movement (CHEM). The mutual benefit nonprofit organization serves the needs of health and medical professionals in the advancement of health equity.
The association joined USCC as a founding member of its executive council in early 2021 and was encouraged by the organization’s commitment to make social equity a central focus in driving federal cannabis policy reform, Obie wrote in the open letter.
In USCC’s about statement, the organization claims to have become a leading force for “creating an equitable values-driven cannabis industry.”
Since joining USCC, Obie wrote that ACHEM’s leadership has “recognized the increasing influence of corporate cannabis priorities over the council that has continually overshadowed or siloed equity-focused recommendations.”
USCC’s membership does include some of the world’s largest cannabis operators and related companies in the industry, such as Curaleaf, Canopy Growth, Cronos Group, Cresco Labs, Columbia Care, Aurora Cannabis, Akerna, Ascend Wellness and others.
Obie added that USCC’s focus on short-term corporate and institution interests has hindered its ability to advance comprehensive and equitable cannabis policy reform.
“We are afraid the organization has strayed from its founding principles,” she wrote. “ACHEM cannot in good conscience maintain our membership in USCC when its current positions no longer align with efforts to make cannabis legalization first and foremost inclusive and equitable so that everyone in the United States, particularly those most harmed by cannabis prohibition, can holistically benefit from the nascent industry.”
According to a statement provided to Cannabis Business Times from USCC, the organization’s leaders are thankful for ACHEM’s contributions but were disappointed to learn that it rescinded its membership.
“We are a big-tent coalition, and our members hold a range of views,” according to the statement. “But we are all steadfastly committed to ending cannabis prohibition, expunging cannabis charges and creating an equitable and values-driven cannabis industry. We take a pragmatic approach to achieving reform and prioritize results. In our view, incremental victories—such as cannabis banking reform—are vital stepping stones to the ultimate goal, not distractions from it.”
While USCC has taken on lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., to advance federal cannabis reform legislation, such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), the organization also launched a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) task force in December 2021. USCC also began operating a new DEI Internship Program in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF).
At the time of the DEI task force launch, Tahir Johnson was USCC’s director of social equity and inclusion, a position he held with the coalition for more than a year. Johnson told CBT in December 2021 that the organization’s mission “is to make sure it’s a diverse and inclusive industry that’s prosperous for everyone, not only in equity and license ownership, but also in making sure that the cannabis industry itself is diverse.”
But Johnson departed from USCC in June 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile.
At the time this article was published in mid-August, USCC did not have a social equity and inclusion director listed on its website.
Johnson continues to serve as the director of social equity and inclusion at Marijuana Policy Project and is now working toward opening the first Black-owned dispensary in New Jersey as the CEO of Simply Pure’s Trenton location.
But the USCC has been without Johnson for the past two months.
When the USCC submitted feedback to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last year during the open comment period for CAOA, Hawkins recommended three “critical” changes needed in the federal legalization bill in order to provide “opportunities to all."
In that feedback, Hawkins stated: “Before significantly changing the regulatory landscape, new rules should recognize state programs, account for current legal obstacles and include a sufficient transition period after de-scheduling to ensure that regulators and businesses of all sizes—particularly emerging and social equity businesses—have the necessary time to adapt ahead of the onset of a national marketplace.”
In this week’s letter from ACHEM to USCC, Obie wrote that her association provided valuable contributions to federal policy position papers, including USCC’s response to CAOA sponsors Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Ron Wyden, D-Or., offering meaningful direction to health-, medical- and patient equity issues.
While ACHEM appreciates its time as a member with USCC, Obie wrote, “we have not seen the level of attention or positive change surrounding equity and proper medical policy that we expected from the organization’s initiatives and lobbying.”
Obie added that ACHEM will continue to fight internally for health equity in the cannabis industry.
“In the future, we hope that USCC will fully embrace the guiding principles that made it so promising when we joined,” she wrote. “The industry needs leadership committed to righting the wrongs of the past to build a healthy and prosperous community for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful.”
In USCC's response statement, leaders said, “USCC was created to bridge divides and unite the cannabis industry and reform movement to speak with one voice to end federal cannabis prohibition. That remains our mission, and our doors are open to all who share that goal.”