[Note: This is a new, bi-weekly series about how cannabis activists can add value to today’s cannabis industry – by Amanda Reiman, cannabis activist and VP of Community Relations with Flow Kana. You can read part one here.]
The cement is still wet on the cannabis industry.
And while a lack of structure can be frustrating and expensive, it also brings opportunity.
Humans are fond of routine. Once the cannabis industry can point to internal mechanisms and culture and say, “well, we’ve always done it that way”, the chance to have a real impact on its values is greatly reduced.
The Drug War was like a long and winding waterway of destruction and danger. Cannabis was but one of many ships caught in its grip.
Activists worked hard to not only create an alternate waterway but to convince the public and those steering the ship that changing courses was the right approach.
Now that the ship is heading down the less dangerous but still difficult to navigate path, some activists are looking to impact the new waterway, others are ready to climb in the boat and help steer.
Cannabis activism from the inside is not new.
Interpretations about California dispensaries having to be “not for profit” entities, and the lack of access to banking as a means to store excess cash pushed a lot of early dispensaries to distribute this overflow among local charities and community organizations.
When I was working with Berkeley Patients Group ten years ago, we would attend all of the local charity events and routinely bid on and win auction items.
It was a lot of fun, and the city of Berkeley was so aware of the impact that this giving and the tax revenue had on their local services, that Berkeley sued the federal government on those grounds when then-DA Melinda Haag tried to bring BPG down.
And while some of the early motivations may have stemmed from wanting to please their local jurisdictions, no one can argue that the cannabis industry’s history is far more philanthropic than its future promises to be, unless we see more activists start to take the wheel.
There are several ways in which activists can continue their pre-legalization work from the inside.
First, and probably most obvious is becoming a part of post-prohibition government.
Recently, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez placed former Marijuana Policy Project lobbyist Dan Riffle in a top staff position.
Once advocating for legalization from the outside, Riffle now has an insider’s chance to impact future cannabis legislation.
One of the best ways to impact from the inside is to run for office.
Cody Bass did, and now he is on the South Lake Tahoe City Council.
Bass, the owner of a dispensary in the area and a pioneer in the movement, fought his locality for years for the right to do business and provide medicine for his community.
In the end, he not only won for his business, but for all future cannabis businesses in South Lake Tahoe.
If running for office is not the right move, then joining local public health commissions is a great way to ensure not only that messaging around cannabis is based on evidence, but that the industry is putting its best values forward.
I recently joined the Drug Free Communities Coalition in Mendocino County. Although this federally-funded group is charged with many of the same priorities as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, their local values and views on drugs have allowed for progressive and important conversations about cannabis messaging.
Furthermore, my participation allows me to represent the industry in an authentic way to establish trust, something the tobacco and alcohol industries have never really done.
Finally, working for a cannabis company post-legalization in ANY capacity gives an activist an opportunity to impact the future of the industry.
How can cannabis companies create that positive impact? All sorts of ways.
Encourage your company to give back to cannabis reform organizations working to end prohibition nation and worldwide.
Work with organizations like Americans for Safe Access who are dedicated to patient needs, or local organizations like Sweet Leaf in San Francisco who are on the front lines trying to ensure that patients who need their medicine have access they can afford.
If your company is exhibiting at a cannabis-related or general public event, partner with a local non-profit and set out a donation jar and information about them.
Companies can also sponsor local events that raise money for charity. People in your community will recognize that, and they’ll appreciate it.
There was a time when cannabis companies did not feel safe, nor were they really welcome, as in-front members of their communities.
Times are different, society is different, and now is the time to show that we take our civic duty seriously.
Activists are perfectly suited to play this role in the private cannabis sector.
In the very beginnings of my career as an activist, I spent a lot of time going to City Council meetings, public forums and educational seminars to try and convince communities that cannabis was not the devil and that legalizing it was not going to destroy their moral fabric.
Nearly 20 years later, in my role as VP of Community Relations for the state-legal cannabis business Flow Kana, I am attending the same forums, only this time to discuss how legal cannabis commerce can get them further to their goals as a community…and they are listening.
We’re finally at the table in a real way. Let’s play ball.
Amanda Reiman is the Vice President of Community Relations for Flow Kana, a branded cannabis distribution company that works with sun grown farmers in the Emerald Triangle. She is also the Chair of the Board for the Traditional Farmers Advocacy Alliance and on the Board of Directors for the International Cannabis Farmer’s Association, both of which engage in education, research and advocacy around support for traditional sun-grown cannabis farming. Dr. Reiman is also a Board member for the California Cannabis Tourism Association, the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, The Mendocino County Fire Safe Council, and The Initiative, the first incubator/accelerator for women-owned cannabis businesses.
After receiving her PhD from UC Berkeley, Dr. Reiman was the Director of Research and Patient Services at Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the country, and the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national non-profit that was engaged in the drafting and campaigns of legalization initiatives across the country and abroad. She also taught courses on substance abuse treatment and drug policy at UC Berkeley for 10 years and has published several research articles and book chapters on the use of cannabis as a substitute for opiates and the social history of the cannabis movement. Amanda currently resides in Ukiah, CA.