The marijuana industry scored another victory last week when Robert Jacob was named mayor of Sebastopol, California, marking the first time an MMJ business owner has been selected for the top political position in an American city.
Jacob owns two dispensaries in Sonoma County, called Peace in Medicine, and his history in medical cannabis predates his political career. In fact, it was Jacob’s push to bring medical cannabis to the far-left-leaning California town that brought him into politics in the first place.
He spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about the strategies he used to win public and political support for the medical cannabis industry and shared his advice for how other entrepreneurs can do the same.
A veteran of HIV/AIDS community work in San Francisco, Jacob arrived in Sebastopol in 2007 with a plan to open a medical marijuana dispensary. What he found was a sizable medical marijuana community living in hiding. He met with medical marijuana users to make sure there were enough to necessitate a dispensary and told them he needed their public support in order to open.
“There was this huge disenfranchised community of people who used cannabis,” Jacob said. “By empowering them and showing them a clear path to [opening a business] we got them to be active in the community instead of continuing as a disenfranchised group.”
Jacob said he was able to integrate into the local business scene and chamber of commerce by engaging people who might be in opposition.
He first scheduled a sit-down meeting with the chief of police to clarify the security measures he would have inside his business. He recruited 18 local residents as ambassadors and let them meet with their neighbors and friends to discuss the benefits of medical marijuana.
“Many times business owners are fearful of those who oppose them, and if you don’t reach out you push them farther into the shadows,” he said. “If you engage them directly, they become more comfortable with the issues.”
It was his work to open a dispensary that landed him a spot on the town’s planning commission in 2011. The following year he ran for city council.
Jacob believes marijuana businesses should engage more in local politics. This month, several Northern California communities adjacent to Sebastopol imposed bans on dispensaries. Jacob said these bans could have been avoided if business owners were proactive in advancing their agendas within local politics, instead of waiting until marijuana was on the chopping block.
“Many times we wait until cannabis is on the docket and then everybody is rushing around to have their points heard,” he said. “If you haven’t engaged an elected official in advance of marijuana being on tomorrow’s agenda, you’re at a huge disadvantage.”
Business owners should identify the local politicians who support medical marijuana and then present them with literature or information that clarifies how cannabis businesses operate. Political donations are a plus, but business owners should find more personal ways to contribute. They should attend non-marijuana events organized by these politicians, work as volunteers and throw their support behind these other community initiatives.
“If you haven’t taken part in their other policies, how can you expect them to take part in your policy?” he said.
Secure Adequate Funding
Jacob said that marijuana-related policy will not be atop his to-do list as mayor. However, he said he is waiting to see a final draft of the proposal to legalize marijuana in California that could be used in the 2014 election. He will decide whether or not to back that measure after he reads it.
Jacob has a simple piece of advice for entrepreneurs and advocates who are looking to legalize: “Make sure they are properly funded and don’t engage unless they have the money that is required.”