Aaron Smith: 5 Ways Marijuana Businesses Can Secure a Future for the Cannabis Industry

By Aaron Smith

Last week, more than 30 cannabis business leaders from across the country joined several influential lawmakers in the nation’s capital to call on Congress to change federal laws hampering the development of the marijuana industry.

The two days of lobbying, hosted by the National Cannabis Industry Association, focused primarily on reforming section 280E of the tax code, improving access to banking services and reconciling the conflict between state and federal law – three policy reforms necessary for the industry to become fully sustainable in the years ahead.

This activity allowed cannabis professionals to put the biggest MMJ business issues in front of hundreds of decision-makers on Capitol Hill – likely the only place where these issues will be resolved.

But you don’t have to travel all the way to Washington DC to support reform of the very laws you struggle with every day as a business owner.

Here are five ways to help foster change:

#1. Engage lawmakers

Laws don’t change themselves. The only path toward parity for the cannabis industry and a harmonization of state and federal law involves building relationships with elected officials. Every cannabis businessperson should know who represents them at a federal, state and local level.

Phone calls, letters, e-mails and especially in-person meetings with elected representatives and their staff members are very effective ways to raise awareness of the issues affecting your business and to build support for reform.

Believe it or not, donating money to key candidates can also be a big help. Support the elected officials who are behind our industry. Make contributions to their campaign committees and show up to their fundraisers, town hall meetings and other functions to talk about the issues affecting your business. It’s important that elected officials hear the same message from as many constituents as possible.

#2. Leverage strength in numbers

When meeting with federal lawmakers, one of the most common questions we get is, “how many jobs do you represent?” Elected officials deal with myriad requests from almost every industry and interest area on a daily basis. They must constantly calculate the political benefits (or consequences) of prioritizing one issue over another. The more jobs – and therefore constituents – our advocates represent, the easier it is to get the ear of those who have the power to affect positive change for the industry. This applies to advocacy at every level of government, from your local zoning board to the United States Congress.

Not only does the industry’s message carry much further when we leverage our resources and work together, but it simply makes good economic sense. Effective advocacy, especially at the federal level, is probably too costly for your business to afford on its own – but it is easily done if you combine resources with other businesses that share a common goal.

Don’t be afraid to partner with your competitors when work needs to be done at the local, state or national level, as together you represent a far more powerful constituency than alone.

#3. Be a good neighbor

It’s especially important for “retail” cannabis providers to get to know their neighbors and engage with their communities. It’s one thing to go into City Hall and tell policymakers why you have a right to stay open, but it’s a whole lot better to do so with the vocal support of other business and community leaders.

Making friends with you neighboring businesses is usually not difficult. Find out about local community projects in your area and get involved. Whether you’re participating in food drives, helping to clean up a neighborhood park or donating to major a redevelopment project, this community engagement will win friends and supporters much faster than staying isolated. You might just need their support in a fight with the city, county or federal government.

#4. Turn your patients and customers into advocates

Collectively, cannabis-related businesses across the country are in constant contact with hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of customers who are also voters. Your e-mail contact list, patients and customers have the potential to become an army of activists to make calls to elected officials and organize for change.

Consider sending a weekly political action alert to your email list or incentivizing your patients to make a phone call to Congress.

#5. Put your best face forward

One of the biggest challenges to legitimization of the cannabis industry is public perception and negative stereotypes. All too often, industry operators perpetuate this negative image rather than work to overcome it.

Advertising that objectifies women, plays to the “thug life” or “stoner” culture, or in any way portrays your business as anything other than a professional operation hurts your bottom line and ultimately drags the industry down. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t release marketing materials you wouldn’t want your mother to see.

Aaron Smith is executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade organization that works to defend and advance the industry on a national stage.

5 comments on “Aaron Smith: 5 Ways Marijuana Businesses Can Secure a Future for the Cannabis Industry
  1. Megan Stone on

    Great article, Aaron. I also think that a business’s image and interior design factor into the importance of “#5: Put Your Best Face Forward.” Store fronts that are professionally designed and aesthetically pleasing not only add to the value of the community but also promote access that is safe, comfortable, and non-alienating to patients. Making stakeholders– both patients and neighbors– feel like they aren’t participating in an illicit industry is important in overcoming the negative stereotypes and gaining broader acceptance in our communities.

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  2. Dana on

    These are great tools to keep in mind in the MMJ industry. Too bad Tripp Keber from Dixie Elixirs can’t follow your advice. Instead, he got arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama. Alabama is not a state where marijuana is legal. Does he think the rules don’t apply to him? Obviously, not. He’s not africian american and he has money. Those are the two main reason he walks free today.

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  3. AC on

    Hey Aaron! Good advice. The world would be a better place if we all acted like we would if our mother was standing there. AC, Eden Labs

    Reply
  4. Alex Liberato on

    Aaron, you are completely spot-on with tip #5. I’m surprised and disheartened that the collective reaction of MMJ growers, producers, and product creators to society’s current stereotypes of ‘stoners’ is pretty much “yup, you’re right!” I can envision multiple creative, clever ways to position cannabis products as something communal, authentic, and natural–as opposed to how it is currently perceived: an activity that is lowbrow or shameful.

    Given the passage of 502 here in WA and the lack of sophisticated cannabis-related marketing, I’ve been seriously considering quitting my very decent day job as a marketing specialist for a global firm and branching out to start my own brand and marketing consultancy aimed at cannabis businesses. Lord knows they need the help, and it’d be nice to dedicate time to an industry I care about instead of just making rich people richer.

    Reply
  5. cheryl conti on

    I would like to lend my professional appearance to the cause. I present well, am very well spoken and literate regarding mj. I have 40 or 50 years of positive experience. Now, to figure out how to market.
    The industry needs mature professional calm but yet authoritative faces. I have one, what to do….

    Reply

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