postcard that was mailed to voters

Voting YES for Medical Marijuana Zoning

A Canna Communication Case Study

Early last summer we were contacted by a cannabis entrepreneur that was facing opposition to a medical marijuana grow business in Egelston Township, Michigan. He realized he needed professional communication assistance with this issue and we jumped right in.

Background:
The elected officials in Egelston Township opted-in for medical marijuana businesses in late 2017. Soon after opting in, the entrepreneur/grower who had already purchased property in the township started construction on buildings for greenhouses and a provisioning center. In the spring of 2018, a resident of the municipality who is also a developer that owns a subdivision adjacent to the two greenhouses under construction began circulating a petition to upend medical marijuana zoning in the community. The petitions were validated by the township clerk, and the proposal would appear on the mid-term ballot. If the vote didn’t go the grower’s way, he would lose the opportunity to have any cannabis business in the township.

We were asked to create a campaign to persuade voters to keep medical marijuana zoning in the township.

We provided the client with a full political campaign proposal and he chose to rely on web, social media, direct mail, and yard signs. Our messaging focused on providing accurate information and guiding conversations while helping people understand two issues: zoning and medical marijuana.

Strategy:
After a discovery meeting with the client, his horticulturist, attorney and a business colleague we wrote a set of key messages that went to the heart of the zoning issue.

The messages focused on:

  • The township has done its due diligence in creating medical marijuana zoning and the work should be respected.
  • The township work was done with multiple opportunities for public input and within the open meetings act.
  • Ensuring people knew this was a medical marijuana business issue. Adding to the complexity was that Michigan voters were going to vote on recreational marijuana, too. This was a separate issue, but also on the ballot. This was a point of confusion for people.
  • Voting yes for medical marijuana zoning.

We created a theme for the campaign and began work on developing a website and a Facebook page. We presented Egelston Grows Green as the theme because it spoke to the idea of growth in the township, not only cannabis itself but jobs and tax revenue. We wanted to include the township name in the theme to create a sense of place, identity and pride.

The key messages were used to create website content, to launch the Facebook page and to provide content throughout the summer. As it came closer to election time, we promoted the vote and ended each post with a Vote YES for medical marijuana zoning message.

photo of the egelston grows green facebook page
Facebook cover photograph

Significant challenges and opportunities for execution:
One of the most significant challenges we faced was the convoluted language that was in the petition and on the ballot. We knew that the best thing we could do was to make it simple for voters to understand and accurate to the ballot. We chose: vote yes for medical marijuana zoning.

In May of 2018, Facebook put restrictions on two essential parts of our campaign: political advertising and marijuana pages. The platform required anyone wanting to conduct political advertising to supply a physical mailing address and a copy of a photo ID like a driver’s license. We did this but were thwarted by another new policy that made marijuana pages unsearchable. Cannabis pages and groups that had been easy to find for years had disappeared from the search tool, and Facebook was denying requests to boost to create ads for all marijuana businesses regardless of what they did, i.e., law firms and accountants were being denied promotional space. This made launching the site and promoting content a challenge, especially for a new page. We relied on a network of advocates to share our daily posts and a popular community-centric Facebook page, Wolf Lake World News. We posted our information on that site and engaged in multiple conversations there, too.

We created the website egelstongrowsgreen.com for key messages and details about the growing operation, that people had an interest in. They wanted to know how this business could potentially affect them: everything from the smell, to security, to job creation, to compliance, water use and plant waste. We posted two informational videos to the page as well. All the time we are reinforcing the message about voting yes for medical marijuana.

yard sign about voting yes for medical marijuanaOne month before the election we helped the client with a succinct, clear message for yard signs and designed a postcard for voters. These collateral materials reinforced the singular importance of voting yes for medical marijuana zoning. The postcards were mailed to the 7500 voters in the township. The client also held a yard sign pick-up event with principals on-site to answer questions. 

postcard that was mailed to voters to encourage them to vote yes for medical marijuana
front of the postcard

In the days before the election, one of the business partners secured a video interview with a hyperlocal indie news channel, and we were able to share that interview and clear up some of the misconceptions that the opposition was promoting.

Outcome:
Great news! The voters of Egelston Township approved the zoning ordinance 1921 to 1751 votes.

marijuana legalization in Michigan is approved by voters cannabis flowers like this one pictured will be legal to purchase by people 21 and older

Marijuana Legalization in Michigan: Our FAQs

Because we work in the marijuana business, we get frequent questions from people about what marijuana legalization in Michigan. Here are our thoughts and some data on the topic.

What is on the ballot?
Proposition 1 is a citizen-driven ballot initiative to end cannabis prohibition in Michigan. If you vote yes, it means you want marijuana to be able to be sold to adults 21 and older in Michigan. If you vote no, Michigan will remain a medical-only state.

Why are you supportive of the proposal for marijuana legalization in Michigan?
First, because adults can make decisions for themselves about what they put in their bodies, be it supersized soft drinks, whiskey, craft beer or tobacco or asparagus. We are able to make those decisions for ourselves and we should be able to do that.
Second, the prohibition of cannabis hasn’t worked. It created a large black market that exists to this day. People who don’t have a medical marijuana card can still buy marijuana, and even before medical marijuana became legal 10 years ago, it was always easy to find. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it isn’t working with marijuana, either.
Third, the criminalization of marijuana unfairly targets people of color—as it has since Richard Nixon assigned it to schedule 1 in the 1970s. People of color are arrested at a rate 8 times higher than white people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. According to the ACLU, states spend about $3.6 billion each year enforcing marijuana laws. Nationally, more arrests are made for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.

What will Michigan look like after Prop 1, if it is passed?
In additions to pretty beaches, tourists soon might be able to visit Michigan for legal marijuanaSince communities can opt-in or out for medical marijuana, a similar policy applies to recreational marijuana legalization in Michigan. But communities will need to opt out. There won’t be provisioning centers in every community—only where zoning has been approved. We’ll probably see a bump in tourism—Michigan will be the first Midwestern state that is legal and there are lots of people who live close to Michigan. Expect that people will come for skiing, beaches, colorful leaves, fudge and cannabis. Under the new law, there will be small boutique growers, which is great for entrepreneurs. This ensures there will be a place for small marijuana businesses in Michigan. Cannabis microbusinesses will be small businesses licensed to grow up to 150 marijuana plants and process, package, and sell marijuana to consumers.

Can the legislature change anything that is passed?
No, that opportunity passed the legislature earlier this year. The proposal, which is about four pages long, stands as the law. We expect though, that how it is regulated will be where the government will step in and make rules.

Marijuana will still be illegal federally. How does that affect business in Michigan is this is passed?
It will still remain an illegal federal substance, so you can’t mail it or take it across state lines. Businesses will struggle with banking, taxes and standard business deductions, which are not allowed.

Will this increase the amount of driving while high?
It is illegal to drive high, as it is illegal to drive drunk. Some people will do it regardless of the law.

Will marijuana legalization increase drug use of other kinds?
The gateway theory has been well refuted and if you’re inclined to try other drugs, you won’t find them in a marijuana dispensary. That’s a black market issue.

Is marijuana addictive?
It has not been clinically proven to be addictive. It can be overused, like anything that gives a human being pleasure. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, it can’t an edible marijuana cookie bar, it will be legal for all adults if Michigan legalizes marijuanakill you. There are no known cases of cannabis overdoses. Overusing it—usually happens when people overconsume edible cannabis. The effect of edibles is slow to be felt and people tend to take a few extra bites and then, BOOM, an uncomfortable feeling comes on. But it won’t kill you. You might think you are dying, but you won’t be.

Can people be fired from a job for using marijuana if the drug is legal?
Yes. Company personnel policies supersede the law when it comes to drug use. If your workplace prohibits it don’t do it. This also applies to medical marijuana patients.

How much taxes will be collected?
Ten percent of all sales in an excise tax and the Michigan sales tax of six percent will be collected. It’s estimated $100-200 million will be raised and while much of it will be used for PTSD and veteran health research, schools, roads and in communities with marijuana businesses.

How much marijuana can a person legally have?
This proposal, if passed will make possession of up to ten ounces legally. You still can’t drive under the influence or use it on the street, on a beach or in any public place. People 21 and older can grow up to 12 plants in their home without running afoul of the law.

Can we learn anything from other states that have legalized?
It isn’t an easy road for any state to implement this kind of a sweeping change and citizens should expect that it will take 18 months to two years to happen. It will still be highly regulated under the rules that guide Michigan’s medical marijuana businesses at present. Those rules demand 24/7 surveillance/security of growing and provisioning stores, seed to sale tracking, secure transport of cannabis and products and identification and proof of age to purchase.

If you care about marijuana legalization in Michigan it is important that you vote on November 6.

pretty cannabis packaging on some chocolate

Be Amazing Inside and Out: Why Cannabis Packaging Matters

There’s nothing more appealing to a consumer than good packaging and fair pricing. Either by accident or intention, cannabis packaging in Michigan tends to fall short of that standard. We’ve seen bad knockoffs of popular candy brands, in both name and design and kid-friendly graphics. If the cannabis industry wants to be taken seriously, we need to present ourselves in a mature manner and product packaging and branding should reflect that.

When Michigan’s licensing entity LARA sent out guidelines recently about cannabis packaging, we were pleased to see that they are serious about making packaging unappealing to children.

Their cannabis packaging rules state:

No edible marihuana product can be in a shape, color, package, or labeled in a manner that it would appeal to minors aged 17 years or younger.

just say no to bad cannabis packaging like this lollipop
An orange lollipop with 35mg of THC.
an orange lollipop without childproof cannabis packaging
Easy to open by a kid or an adult.

No edible marihuana product can be associated with or have cartoons, caricatures, toys, colors, designs, shapes, labels, or package that would appeal to minors.

No edible marihuana product can be easily confused with commercially sold candy. The use of the word candy or candies on the packaging or labeling is prohibited.

An edible marihuana product must be in child-resistant packages or containers.

In Michigan cannabis is still medicine and is sold to adults (or to an adult for a card-holding minor). It needs packaging that acknowledges this but also remains appealing. Think about the over-the-counter drugs you might buy or herbal supplements. Those products have packaging that is professional, serious and not appealing to kids.

some child proof cannabis packagingCannabis edibles are an upscale product, they’re not inexpensive to purchase and the packaging should reflect the quality of the product contained inside. That’s not to say it has to be expensive or over-packaged, but it does need to be thoughtful in its presentation. People make decisions in a provisioning center based on several factors including price, a word of mouth recommendation, advice from the budtender behind the counter and the appearance of a package.

Studies show that the time slot in which a shelved product can capture the attention of a consumer is very short, one to two seconds. This is why it’s so important for cannabis packaging to be well-designed. You just don’t have that long to get someone’s attention.

good cannabis packaging from Northern LightsToday, brands across every sector are facing an increasingly competitive landscape and an increasingly sophisticated consumer. People tend to disregard mass brand communications in favor of more personalized messaging mediums. Packaging has the power to connect with the consumer to communicate a brand’s message on a physical and individual level.

How many times have you purchased a bottle of wine solely on your attraction to the label? Cannabis products should be thought of similarly. 

Smart packaging design is effective because, more than any other medium, it stays true to the product. It’s the main interface between a brand and consumer. Packaging conveys a host of messages that appeal to different consumers—both young and older, through elements of design such as naming, color, typography, graphics, structure and texture. We think Willie’s Reserve does this right.

cannabis packaging gone wrong, it's too attractive to kidsAn experienced designer can look at the product and create packaging that is sophisticated, appealing and true to the product inside. There’s really no reason that cartoons, colors and childish fonts need to be used in cannabis products. 

Packaging is part of a cannabis brand and being consistent is important.

Branding is one of the most important aspects of your cannabis business—whether you’re large, small, retail or business to business. Your brand is not just a logo, website, corporate identity or marketing collateral. It is your company’s personality. It’s your confidence, passion, action, voice, and set of values that make your company unique. Your brand needs to resonate with audiences in an emotive way. 

Quality cannabis packaging is a necessity.

Packaging design for the cannabis industry needs to be more than simply slapping a pot leaf or joint on a box. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to catch the consumer’s eye as the cannabis marketplace continues to evolve and competition grows.

If you need ideas or assistance with packaging design, Canna Communication can help. We understand the new Michigan rules and we know the art of packaging design.

a photo of women who might work in a cannabis business

Cannabis Businesses: The Future is Female

Last week I attended the MJBizConNEXT conference in New Orleans for cannabis entrepreneurs and professionals. This was my first marijuana
conference and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The structure was the same as other conferences I’ve been to, keynote speakers and specialized sessions, and of course networking. But what made this one different was, I was surrounded by other professionals who are in my industry—cannabis. It gave me much needed context and perspective on what’s going on in North America, other than my microcosm of West Michigan.

One overwhelming topic from the conference was the importance of women in cannabis businesses.

Irie Selkirk

Irie Selkirk, with Emblem Cannabis in Ontario, gave a great presentation about engaging not only female consumers, but female leaders. She thinks it’s crucial that we establish an industry with strong female leaders, and I couldn’t agree more.

According to a 2015 survey from Marijuana Business Daily, women held 36 percent of leadership positions in the cannabis industry. MJBiz conducted an updated survey on the topic in August 2017, and the number of women in leadership roles had dropped to 27 percent of executive roles. Women need to continue to not only represent in this industry, but to lead this industry. And if we don’t want to see continued drops in women leadership we have ensure that women have power and voice in this industry.

Ms. Selkirk reflected on her first cannabis conference and how she and other women there felt left out. They felt more comfortable sitting outside the building to network, than the expo floor. This brought up a great discussion about how women feel outnumbered on the expo floor, and how men (the vast majority of the vendors are men, with a few booth babes) interact with them. Several of the women in the session felt intimidated by the overwhelming presence of men on the expo floor and didn’t interact as much as they normally would. Ms. Selkirk encouraged women to speak up and take control of what you want to accomplish in cannabis. If you can’t find what you want, create it. Can’t find other women in cannabis to network with? Create your own network. Want a more balanced expo floor? Get some booth space. Make your voice heard and lobby for change.

Kevin O’Leary on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” (Bob D’Amico)

The keynote speaker was Kevin O’Leary from the hit TV show Shark Tank. Mr. O’Leary, or Mr. Wonderful, as he’s fond of calling himself, said he prefers to invest in women-led businesses because he gets better returns. O’Leary found that about 95 percent of the women-led companies meet their financial targets, compared with just 65 percent for businesses with male leaders.

He has a couple of theories about why female-led businesses outperform male-led ones:

  • Women are better at time management
  • Women set more achievable goals

He also talked about how when goals are achieved, company morale goes up, which can help create a great culture, which obviously leads to less employee turnover.

In short, his largest returns have been from women-led businesses.

Women—we make up over 50 percent of the US population, yet according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, we made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent.

The cannabis industry represents the future—a chance to enter a growing industry with relatively low barriers. It is an opportunity to help make medicine available to people who desperately need an alternative to opioids and other over-prescribed drugs. And we have a chance to shape the future of this industry into a more equitable and inclusive environment, where women can make their mark, and open doors of opportunity for future generations.

After all, the future is female.

reading glasses and some content for a new marijuana business that might need a cannabis investor

How to Win Over a Cannabis Investor: What Entrepreneurs Need to Know

You’ve got your cannabis startup going: the license is in process, your business plan completed, marketing plan written, site plan done, security and operations are all there. Things are looking good, except for the money part. You need a cannabis investor or two to help make it happen.

Before You’re Ready to go to The Dance, Make Sure You Know The Steps.

We talked with Eric Seifert about the relationship between investors and cannabis entrepreneurs and what startups need to know when seeking an investment partner.

eric siefert connects cannabis entrepreneur with cannabis investorsEric has been working with investors and startups outside of cannabis for a decade at the Michigan SBDC and since leaving the SBDC has been helping bridge the funding gap in the cannabis space. His company, Left Coast Capital works with investors looking for solid businesses, in cannabis and other businesses as well. Here are ten things Eric says cannabis entrepreneurs need to know before opening themselves up to an investor.

1)   If you know how to grow marijuana, but don’t know much about business, find a partner who does. “Investors look for business sense and experience.” Having a passion for cannabis goes a long way, but so does the idea that you will succeed in business. “If you need to, bring in someone to help your business, to supplement what you really don’t know or what you recognize as a weakness. Show how you can mitigate that.”  You need a solid business plan and it’s smart to give an investor several scenarios for outcomes—one that’s modest, another that shows what you believe to be reasonable growth and another that blows the roof off of all expectations of how the business will grow if things go well.

2)   One of the hardest parts for cannabis entrepreneurs is that they don’t have the kind of documentation that other businesses might have as proof of prior success. “Even a caregiver can show what they’ve done already and how they’ve tracked income and expenses. When you’re scaling up a business, you need to point to your past success, even if it is just a year or two.”

3)   Find great legal and accounting representation. “Compliance is going to be a major issue, if you successfully launch, but then are audited and shut down, that will make for a dissatisfied investor. You need to have your attorney draw up investment documents that protect you.”

4)   You’ll want to work with an accredited investor, someone who can produce a signed affidavit that they have at least $1 million in net worth, an annual income of at least $200,000. It documents that they are an SEC accredited investor.

What a Cannabis Investor Wants From You

5)   Every potential cannabis investor is looking for one thing: making more money than they might in the market. “In your business plan and pitch deck, you need to be able to show profits that are greater than the stock market.” Investors want to get their money back in about 3-4 years and they’ll want a portion of the profits beyond the investment. “They want a big return because they’re taking on so much risk.”

6)   Most cannabis investors want something beyond a return on their investment, and you should expect they would negotiate a percentage ownership of your company for the long or short term. “Investors tend to like hard assets, so the first lien on your building might be an option. If there’s a failure, the investor has something to sell to recoup their losses.”

Show the Investor Your Passion for Cannabis

7)   The entrepreneur, rather than the cannabis industry is where an investor will focus his or her attention. “Investors look for people who are in business for something bigger than making money.” They want to see a passion for the medicinal value of the plant, either personally or for a family member, so make sure you have a relatable story.

cannabis investors want to know how you'll handle money, this is an image of a lot of money8)   You must be able to talk about how you’re going to handle cash and mitigate the risk involved with it. “Investors want to know that their investment won’t be lost at gunpoint. Know what you’re doing to handle cash and security.”

9)    Create a great pitch deck and practice your presentation. “No more than 20 minutes from start to finish, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A.” Investors don’t need to hear every detail about your business—don’t drown people in details until they ask for them.” Investors who want more will ask for it. Stick to the regional view when you’re pitching—don’t worry about national picture yet. “Until cannabis is legal across the U.S. there’s not much point in spending time talking about it. You need to get the investor’s attention, high-level summary information.”

10)  Don’t underestimate your knowledge and skill in the cannabis marketplace. “You need to show passion and expertise for the industry.  It’s an 8 or 9 on the scale of importance.”