Q&A: Youth Lead Cannabis Education

By Erica Lee and Dylan Lennick

The recreational use of cannabis was officially legalized in the state of Minnesota on Aug. 1, 2023 — promoting social equity for communities that have been over-prosecuted by former cannabis laws for decades.

Cannabis Education Committee
ThreeSixty reporters Erica Lee (seated, left) and Dylan Lennick (standing, right) interviewed Darius Duffie (center, left) and Darian Lofton (right) about how they’re leading youth efforts on cannabis education.

ThreeSixty reporters Dylan Lennick and Erica Lee spoke with both the president and strategic director of a youth-led nonprofit called World Youth Connect, Darius Duffie and Darian Lofton. Duffie and Lofton are both members of the Cannabis Education and Awareness Council that operates under their organization. The two weighed in on the value of educating the youth on cannabis.

Lennick and Lee also interviewed Sen. Lindsey Port on the importance of the bills and how the legalization of cannabis will be used to positively influence Minnesota communities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the Cannabis Education and Awareness Council all about?

Darian Loftin: We initially started from a conversation with a senator who was an author on the bill, the recreational cannabis bill. She was interested in youth perspective on the bill. There’s a ton of things in the bill about young people, but there are no young people a part of the decision-making process. I was actually in the room with the senator. We’re having a conversation, and that’s when the idea of this initiative kickstarted. We decided we should get a group of young people together and figure out what we can do to make this bill more beneficial toward young people.

What kind of youth is a good fit for the Cannabis Education and Awareness Council?

Lofton: If you’re a young person who’s interested in the issue, community organizing or community work, you can get involved with the council. We partnered with organizations that are youth-serving or have youth councils. For example, Darius is the president of a youth-led organization, World Youth Connect.

Why is it so important to educate youth on the topic of cannabis?

Darius Duffie: I’m 17, so I feel like when you’re getting into the adult age, you should definitely be aware of these new laws they’re bringing out.

Lofton: I think a big part of the education for young people is if these laws affect you, and you don’t know about them and then all of a sudden, maybe you are caught with cannabis in the wrong place at the wrong time around the wrong people. How can you be educated enough to use it safely? I believe it can be detrimental or have detrimental effects on one’s brain. A lot of young people don’t know this. Being able to have that knowledge is very important for young people.

What are ways that the Minnesota Legislature could better uplift the voices and experiences of youth as cannabis legalization rolls out?

Lofton: A lot of our policy recommendations are to educate don’t incarcerate and also add young people to the Cannabis Advisory Council. We’re going down this long list of like 47 people who are going to be on this Council, there’s no young people. These are people that are going to make decisions around cannabis issues.

The bill states that there will be a Cannabis Expungement Board where people can apply for the high-level marijuana charges on their record to be cleared. Do you think it’s important for people who have been negatively impacted by cannabis laws to be on this board?

Lofton: I totally think there should be young people on the board. But most importantly, it should be people who have been affected by cannabis because these are the people that know have experienced it. I think if there’s not people like that on the board, then there’s going be some injustice and some racial issues.

Dylan and Erica worked with MPR Politics Editor Brian Bakst, Star Tribune Reporter Zoë Jackson and Southwest Voices Editor Melody Hoffmann to finish their story. This story was completed at ThreeSixty’s Winter News Team: Capitol Edition in February 2024, where high school journalists covered important legislative issues, impacting Minnesota youth. Read more stories here.