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Kiana Hughes, the new interim executive director of Chicago NORML. Credit: Submitted

Earlier this week the long-time executive director for advocacy group Chicago NORML, Edie Moore, stepped down, after winning multiple Illinois dispensary licenses in the Illinois license lotteries. Stepping up In her place as interim executive director is Kiana Hughes, the former organization’s former deputy director. Hughes, who operates a cannabis training company and also won licenses in the lotteries, spoke to Grown In yesterday about the advocacy group’s future.

This interview was edited for grammar and clarity.

Grown In: Cannabis is legal in Illinois. It’s normal for people to consume it. What’s the purpose of Chicago NORML in this day and age?

Kiana Hughes: Our purpose remains pretty much the same as it was when we started, which we definitely didn’t start on the path for legalization. So much as we did – education is our mission, right? We’re here to educate and motivate communities of color, to destigmatize and accepts the plants. And in a variety of ways, beyond just consumption, or for adult-use for recreation, or we’re looking to just continue to highlight the plant, make sure that various communities know and understand what type of opportunities are available for health and wellness and political and economic empowerment. 

So, our mission stays the same and it’s still necessary today.

Grown In: To put a finer point on it, then there’s already at least two cannabis trade associations in Illinois. Who is Chicago NORML supposed to be speaking for?

Hughes: Well, it’s just for the regular everyday person, right? So, it could be someone that is interested from a professional or economic standpoint. It could just be someone who’s interested from a personal standpoint. Right? People just wanting to know more about the plant. Wanting to know more about how to incorporate it into their lives as well as those that are looking for a more career-based opportunity. 

And then there’s all types of opportunities for education and the legislation and policy work doesn’t stop either. So we’re here for, you know, a variety of people versus typically trade associations are for the people that are in that particular profession. And you know, we’re not just limited to people that are looking at it from a professional standpoint.

Grown In: Now that you’re leading up your organization. What are the priorities that you’re going to have? 

Hughes: Well, I believe our priorities are pretty much just going to stay the same in terms of advocacy for legislation, social equity, racial equity, and then just general education efforts. We’re going to just keep working with the cannabis companies and entrepreneurs, especially those that are coming on board with the recent licensing as well as job-seekers. 

We’re looking to really become more of a support even for health care workers and physicians and those that need more of that education and information. And then we’re a nonprofit membership organization. So, we still have membership events and community events and training and expungement. There’s still a lot of work to be done, nothing stops. 

Grown In: So, it’s my understanding that you’re part of at least one winning, Illinois license team. Is that correct?

Hughes: I am.

Grown In: You’re a license winner and was it a dispensary or a craft grow or something else? 

Hughes: Dispensary and craft grow.

Grown In: As a license holder, how does that fit into you being an advocate in an organization like Chicago NORML?

Hughes: Sure. Our job is to advocate for racial equity in cannabis and we’re really excited about the fact that so many people have been awarded licenses throughout Illinois. That really mirror what the population of Illinois looks like. 

Grown In: What’s the next most important thing for Illinois cannabis regulators to do? 

Hughes: Well, there’s a variety of legislative measures and policy proposals and things of that nature to really just kind of expand and refine and hone in on the work that was done in the original CRTA. There are plenty of obstacles as it relates to banking and the availability of resources for new licensees. 

So, the priorities kind of remain the same. I think licensing is still an issue. But now that we’ve got some licenses issued, we need to make sure that we’re creating an environment that is supportive and that is setting new business owners up for success. I think another huge priority is something that I’m personally very passionate about is the development of resources from the ancillary perspective. Now that we do have all these licensees on board, there are any number of non-plant touching concerns and things that need to be addressed. And things that businesses need in general. I’m really interested in helping to kind of build up that element of the industry and of the cannabis market as well.

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Editor Mike is an itinerate reporter, recovering political consultant, and strategy game devotee.