Former Illinois Drug Czar Joins the Cannabis Lobbying Sector

Toi Hutchinson has been hired by Marijuana Policy Project after ensuring equity in Illinois’ cannabis industry as the state’s “Drug Czar.”

The top official overseeing Illinois’ cannabis policy is leaving the public sector to join the weed lobby. 

Toi Hutchinson, who has served as a senior adviser to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker for cannabis control, announced this week that she will be taking a job with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), billed as the “the number one organization in the U.S. dedicated to legalizing cannabis,” as the group’s new president and CEO.

“I’m pleased to be joining the team at MPP, where I will continue my years-long effort to develop and support cannabis legalization legislation that centers on equity and repairing the harms of the past,” Hutchinson said in a press release on Wednesday. “We are incredibly proud of the hard work and lessons learned in Illinois, standing up programs to invest in equity entrepreneurs, reinvesting in communities and clearing hundreds of thousands of arrests and criminal records.”

Pritzker, a Democrat, saluted Hutchinson on Twitter.

“For over two years, Toi Hutchinson has been my foremost advisor on cannabis: making Illinois’ industry the most equitable in the country,” Pritzker said in a tweet on Monday. “While I’m sad to see her go, it was an honor to have her lead this charge. Toi, Illinois is a better state because of your public service.”

A former Democratic state senator in Illinois, Hutchinson, was appointed to the cannabis advisory role in Pritzker’s administration back in 2019. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that the governor’s administration had initially defined Hutchinson’s role as “Illinois cannabis regulation oversight officer,” which was often referred to as the state’s “pot czar.”

But Hutchinson’s title was eventually changed to “senior adviser to the governor on cannabis control.” As The Tribune reported then, it was “unclear when the decision was made to give Hutchinson the senior adviser title,” but that “appointing her to the job created in legislation she voted on could have run afoul of the state constitution.”

Whatever the reasoning, Hutchinson’s has been an omnipresent figure in the state’s rollout of the recreational cannabis program, which was created when Pritzker signed the historic legislation into law in the summer of 2019.

Illinois Focuses on Equity

Along with clearing the way for cannabis sales, Illinois’ new law has also resulted in thousands of pardons for individuals who were previously busted and convicted on low-level pot charges.

After signing the bill, Pritzker said that the new law would herald an end to “the 50-year-long war on cannabis,” and restore the “rights to tens of thousands of Illinoisans.”

“Illinois has done more to put justice and equity at the forefront of this industry than any other state in the nation, and we’re ensuring that communities that have been hurt by the war on drugs have the opportunity to participate,” Pritzker said last year. 

Hutchinson echoed that.

“I’m proud to work with Governor Pritzker in creating equity in the cannabis industry in a way that no other state has done,” Hutchinson said at the time. “By expunging hundreds of thousands of cannabis-related records, reinvesting the money spent on adult-use cannabis in Illinois into communities that are suffering and making equity a central focus of the cannabis licensure process, the administration is ensuring that no community is left out or left behind.” 

The new program has also brought a windfall to Illinois, with the state reporting that it generated $582,226,511.45 in revenue from recreational pot sales in 2020, its first full year since the new law took effect. 

Hutchinson said that the “successful launch of the Illinois legal cannabis industry represents new opportunities for entrepreneurs and the very communities that have historically been harmed by the failed War on Drugs.”

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