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How to be the change and advocate for the plant

Cannabis policy will continue to change and evolve. Being a part of the process is an important and empowering way to be the change you want to see in the world.
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
January 19, 2024

Ever looked at the way cannabis is being regulated in your community and thought, “well, that’s dumb”. You’re not alone. Even though medical and adult use cannabis laws are passed at the state level, many of the details are left to individual communities. Whether to allow dispensaries, delivery services, home grow, social consumption and other issues are decided on the local level. If you are someone who has read about these decisions in your local paper and disagreed with the outcome. As we enter this election year, here is a handy guide on how to be a change maker and advocate for the plant!

Scenario 1: The City Council/Board of Supervisors Meeting

If you live in an incorporated city, your City Council runs the show. If you live in an unincorporated area, it is a Board of Supervisors. Regardless, these are the groups that make the final decisions about cannabis in your community. Let’s say your community is considering whether to allow social consumption lounges where people can consume cannabis. This issue will likely be brought to one of these governing bodies, and at the meeting where they discuss it there will be a chance for the public to weigh in. 

How to Participate:

If you are not able to attend the meeting, you can submit your comments usually by email prior to it. If you are able to attend, you can sign up to give a public comment. If there are a lot of people signed up, they may limit your time to 2 minutes, but usually people are allowed to speak for as long as they wish (within reason). That being said, these meetings can be long and no one wants to listen to you ramble on. So, I recommend keeping your comments to less that 3 minutes regardless.

What to Say:

In these situations, the Council or Board want to know what their constituents think about the issue. Partially because they want to keep them happy for when re-election time comes.So, here is a good formula for preparing your comments.

  1. Who are you? Identify yourself, the area of town you live in, and your role in the community. If you are a business owner, tell them what business it is. If you have lived in the area for a long time, say that. For example: My name is Sally Smith and I live on the West Side of town in Council member Wright’s district. I have lived in this community for 25 years and I am the owner of Sally’s Beauty Shop on Main Street.
  2. What is your opinion on the topic at hand? The key phrase here is TOPIC AT HAND. Be sure that your comments do not stray into other areas like street repair and taxes. This is a single issue comment so stay focused. Be clear and concise about your stance on the issue being considered and why you feel that way. If you are able to work in research on the topic, do so, but in an easy to understand way without a lot of statistics and jargon. For example: I support the licensing of social consumption lounges in our community. Research on this topic shows that consumption lounges are not associated with increased use among youth, or an increase in auto accidents. Many people use cannabis as a medicine, and need a safe place to consume. Furthermore, consumption lounges are an opportunity to educate consumers about safe use and to provide assistance to those who need it. I urge you to vote yes on this issue.
  3. What happens next? After listening to public comment, the Council/Board will discuss the issue and then they will vote. They may invite staff from the city/county to present any research they have done on the implications of passing or not passing the issue under consideration. Sometimes the Council/Board will not vote on the issue and will request additional information from the staff. In this case, the issue will reappear on a future agenda and you can once again attend the meeting and give your comments or send an email in advance of the meeting.

Scenario 2: The Local Initiative

Another way to make change is to bring it to a vote of the people. The initiative process varies by state, and 24 states do not allow state-wide ballot initiatives. However, some of these states do allow for local ballot initiatives. If your state does allow this, you likely see issues on your local ballot that you can weigh in on. Local ballot initiatives in the cannabis space can include changes to taxes, the banning or allowance of certain types of cannabis businesses, rules about where businesses can be located and hours of operation. If you see that there will be a cannabis related initiative on your local ballot, it is important to research the implications of it passing or not passing. This can be tricky because both sides are trying to get your vote and might not present the implications truthfully or clearly. The local voter guide can help you learn more about the initiative and its implications, but you should also plan on attending informational meetings for both sides so that you can make an informed decision. If you want to place an initiative on your local ballot, here is the process.

  1. Writing the initiative. First the language has to be created. This is often done by an attorney to ensure that the proposed initiative is legally sound. Sometimes, public surveys are conducted prior to writing the initiative to see how the public feels about the issue. This helps guide the initiative language in a way that will appeal to voters.
  2. Submitting the initiative. After it is written, the initiative is submitted to the City/County Attorney’s office to make sure it is legally viable. They will review the language and let you know if you are clear to start collecting signatures.
  3. Signature gathering. States have varying rules about how many signatures of support are needed to place something on the ballot. Because not all of the signatures you gather will be valid, you will need to collect more than you need. Signatures are collected by going door to door, standing outside businesses like grocery stores, and placing signature gathering materials in local businesses. Many signature gatherers are volunteers working on behalf of the cause, but you will also likely need to hire signature gatherers who are able to stand for several hours outside of larger businesses. These professional signature gatherers are usually collecting signatures for several initiatives at once. You can also have additional information about your initiative available for potential signers. All of your signatures must come from residents of your city/county.
  4. Campaigning: If you collect enough valid signatures before the deadline, then your initiative qualifies for the ballot. Now the campaigning begins. The goal here is to educate the public about your initiative, to answer questions and to dispel claims being made by the opposing side. Campaigning usually includes information sheets that are mailed to residents or handed out outside businesses (be sure you have the permission of the business before doing this, some do not allow it), hosting informational meetings in person or online, making calls to voters, giving out yard signs, and hosting events like fundraisers to help pay for the campaigning and to provide information and support for the initiative. Campaigning can be expensive, so fundraisers are a necessary part of the process, unless you have a large donor or group of donors who are willing to cover the costs. Campaigning also includes polling the public to see how they feel about your initiative so that you can better tailor your messaging.
  5. The Big Day! On Election Day, voters go to the polls to vote or have already voted via mail-in ballot. States have various rules about how many votes you need to win. In some places the one with the most votes wins, in others, a majority or certain percent of the vote is needed to declare victory.

If you don’t win, you can take the issue to the City Council/Board of Supervisors to try and get it passed that way. This is tough because these folks do not want to upset their constituents, and if the public has already said no, it is unlikely they will go against that. A more likely scenario is that after getting a “no” from the City Council/Board of Supervisors on an issue where there is a lot of public support, the public will take matters into their own hands and run an initiative.

Cannabis policy will continue to change and evolve. Being a part of the process is an important and empowering way to be the change you want to see in the world.

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