How to Engage Local Politicians on Cannabis in 2017

Local Marijuana Poltics Cannabis Now Magazine

The end of 2016 is getting closer and and many are looking forward to sending off what has been a chaotic, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away year, even by election cycle standards. Political news was everywhere you looked, and even cannabis news were not immune to the fake news phenomenon. But amidst the chaos of this year’s election, cannabis initiatives were pushed through. Four more states legalized recreational cannabis and another four opened the door wider for medical access and regulation.

Presidential election years are often when big, state-changing ballot measures get pushed to ride the wave of higher voter turnout and the intense media coverage. The year after? Not so much. Advocacy tends to be easier during election years because there is more money and attention being thrown at big, tangible goals (fight/pass an initiative). In states that have opened the door this year to new territory like legalization or medical access, the work has only just begun.

“We’re in the midst of Ban-palooza 2.0,” said Jacqueline McGowan, a consultant and advocate who runs the California — City & County Ban Watch Facebook group.

Proposition 64 legalized recreational cannabis in California, but local governments are pushing bans and restrictions across the state. With several systems in place to monitor marijuana ordinances, she has seen more and more local governments add bans to their agendas at a rapid rate since the election.

“Counties are reaffirming bans, adding bans to growing your six plants outdoors,” she said noting many are also extending moratoriums.

In just the second week of December there were 60 meetings with marijuana bans on their agendas in California. More than 100 ban discussions are coming to county and city agendas first thing in January, so people who want the promise of legalization in their region still have the local politicians to convince.

“Engaging in the process is really the only way,” McGowan said. “I keep telling people this quote, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ You have to get to know you’re local, elected officials. Once they have a relationship with you, it’s harder for them to vote against you once they understand your needs.”

For California regions facing bans of recreational cannabis businesses and cultivation, McGowan has found the most effective bargaining chip to be this: Local regions that ban cultivation will lose out on their share of funding for enforcement.

Educating your local and state politicians about cannabis is also still crucial, she said.

“They’re all at different points in the conversation and every region is different. You still have some officials who think it’s a gateway drug and are worried about drugged driving and kids getting into it. There’s a lot of education that needs to happen.”

Engaging Local Politicians

How do you keep up the cause with your local and state politicians? In a non-election year, Monterey County NORML’s Executive Director and Expansion Fundraising Director Ryan Munevar said that engagement isn’t as exciting as getting out the vote.

“To be engaged, you have to do a lot of boring stuff,” he said. “Go to city council meetings. County meetings. Check the agenda. Be flexible, they change it and push it back. They’re politicians and their schedule is screwy.”

Since so many politicians don’t have an insider’s look on the cannabis industry, Munevar said submitting your own ideas or a group’s ideas for solutions is the only way to make significant progress.

“You need to have a draft of an initiative or at least a list of things you want to change,” he said. “If the group collectively works on it, you have a much better chance to succeed. It’s an age where you can’t just protest. You really have to write the laws and submit them and hope the politicians can work with you on it.”

And with so many regions facing similar questions in California, he said it’s a simple matter of copying and pasting another county’s ordinance or initiative.

Munevar has helped revitalized the NORML playbook and reinvigorated the advocacy group’s local ground game. He’s traveled across his region of California to activate new counties so they can participate in the process and actually make progress. Local tax rates are the major talking point in places where cannabis isn’t banned, he said.

“Now it’s clean up time for 2017,” Munevar said. “Now that we have Trump in there, it’s a fucking disaster. Hillary wouldn’t have been much better, but he’s probably put the worst people in his cabinet for the cannabis industry.”

Want to know how to effectively reach out to your state representatives? Check out these tips from a former Congressional staffer about how to have your message heard.

TELL US, are you involved with policy-makers in your area?

Allison Edrington is a media consultant and freelance writer based in Humboldt County, California. Since 2011, she has provided business writing and social media management services to brands around the world, and she currently works with businesses, farms, and consultants in the cannabis industry. In May 2016, Allison became the founding board president of the Humboldt County Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. As a “recovering journalist,” she has contributed to major publications including The New York Times, The SOMM Journal, Cannabis Now, and The Emerald Magazine.

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