Jake Browne: Community Involvement Can Silence Cannabis Critics, Pay Business Dividends

By Jake Browne

Businesses in the medical marijuana industry often find themselves in the unenviable position of having to defend their existence before even opening their doors. But whether the cries of derision come from local politicians pandering to their base or a pro-MMJ parent who simply doesn’t want a dispensary “in my backyard,” a strong social integration plan can help assuage their fears.

You may not silence all of your critics, but you’re sure to win over some opponents – as well as gain allies in both the community and political circles that could prove helpful if you run into challenges down the road.

Despite these very real benefits, however, many businesses in the medical marijuana industry forgo community involvement, shorting themselves in the process.

Social integration, in the broadest sense, means championing causes in your community and connecting with others who share the same vision. The former is often the easiest part of the endeavor, as there are plenty of deserving organizations that could use a hand.

The intuitive approach would be to pair your outreach efforts with an organization focused on a qualifying medical condition for the MMJ program in your state. In most cases, this is easier said than done. Many (but not all) national nonprofits are still gun shy about working with anything that is illegal on the federal level. Improper use of their name or logo could lead to a lawsuit, and you’d be surprised just how litigious they can be.

In general, we’ve found that targeting charities operating on the local level yields the best results, as they are often overlooked and tend to work with much smaller budgets. This strategy can also be much more rewarding as you get started because even small donations help immensely. Additionally, you ensure that the assistance you provide has the largest possible impact in your own community.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is calling it a day after holding a fundraiser and cutting a check to the cause you identified. Don’t get me wrong: If that’s all you can do, it’s a terrific start. The real synergy of social integration, however, is in your ability to rally others to participate with you.

If social integration isn’t something you’re passionate about, stop reading now. Ultimately, the success of these projects falls squarely on your shoulders, and if it feels like work, you’ll have trouble inspiring those around you.

Organizing a volunteer army begins one soldier at a time. We’ve met countless patients who want to portray their use of medical marijuana positively in public, as opposed to another “smokefest” getting media coverage. Dedicating a portion of our intake form to the Denver Relief Green Team, our non-profit arm, helped us identify these patients quickly and form an e-mail list – which is one of the best tools to disseminate information to a broad base of supporters. Contacting volunteers by phone becomes taxing, so try to make this a requirement of involvement.

You should also reach out to those around you: friends, family members and employees. Their support will be key in helping manage the stress when things don’t go as planned, as they often do. Staff members in particular are ideal, as you can educate them about certain medical conditions and their taxing nature on patients. Some centers will even compensate staff at their hourly rate for volunteer work.

Of course, the psychic benefit of this work is it’s own reward, one that can teach workers new skills while providing a much needed service.

It’s important to prepare volunteers before an event, training them on how to deal with certain situations and expectations for their behavior. When approached by someone who is hostile to MMJ, for example, you never want a volunteer to raise their voice or become angry. We do not, however, provide “talking points” or other scripted material. Instead, people should be comfortable telling their story and how their life has changed as a result of their treatment. Personal and authentic are always best.

Wrapping up an event can be just as important as getting it started. Make sure to follow up with your lead contact and verify that everything met their expectations. This is also a great time to ask for a testimonial for use on your website or – even better – in a press release. Don’t forget to take pictures for use in newsletters or to blast out to your followers on social media, both of which can help recruit more assistance for the next function. Finally, keep official tabs on the hours that your volunteers committed, the amount of money raised, donation levels or whatever the case may be. After a while, they add up.

The value in social integration is immense. It helps the public put a human face on medical marijuana rather than associate it with, say, Bob Marley or the Grateful Dead. It’s a terrific opportunity to come together with others in your industry, network and build connections for future events. It broadens your credibility with those in local and state government, where politicians and regulators are looking for responsible actors to help guide them in their attempts to figure out medical marijuana.

Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Jake Browne is a partner in Denver Relief Consulting, which provides guidance and advice to entrepreneurs and business owners in the medical marijuana industry