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.

a party horn with cannabis leaves, for when we will celebrate recreational marijuana legalization in Michigan

Recreational Marijuana in Michigan, Check the Facts.

After months of waiting for petition approval and possible pre-empting by the legislature, recreational marijuana will be on the ballot in Michigan this November.

There’s already plenty of discussion on the topic and as we head to the mid-term elections, it’ll heat up. When Michigan voters approve this measure (and it’s looking promising) we will be the 11th state (plus D.C) to have recreational marijuana. In addition to job creation, recreational marijuana will bring significant tax revenue to the state. Recreational marijuana will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax, on top of our 6 percent sales tax. The money will be used for schools, road repairs and local municipality uses where businesses are located. In Colorado for the first five months of 2018, $109 million has been raised in tax revenue. Michigan has a larger population which gives it significant revenue potential. Neighboring states including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have significant close-by populations that will contribute to our income.

We’re voting yes on the recreational marijuana proposal.

It’s important for you to be ready with facts to build a case for those on the fence. It’s important to be able to talk about why ending cannabis prohibition is good for our state and to understand the changes that will occur if approved.

Michigan’s recreational marijuana ballot initiative is complex and has a lot of interesting nuances. It’s based on the best of what the authors and lawyers could find in other recreational legal states. You can read the whole proposal on the Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol website.

We made a little video the goes over some of the key points of the recreational marijuana initiative and where people’s concerns might be. Canna Communication will be blogging about this for the next few months. Come back for more information.

 

 

a marijuana leaf, symbolizing michigan marijuana legalization

Why Michigan Marijuana Legalization is The Next Big Thing


Finally! The Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the signatures to move adult-use marijuana legalization to the ballot in November. This isn’t unexpected, though it felt the board was dragging its feet on approving this—the petitions for Michigan marijuana legalization were turned in last November and just approved in April. BUT, we’re not whining—we’re winning.

This is a Very Big Deal For Ending Marijuana Prohibition And Here’s Why.

Michigan, next to California is the most populous state considering legalization. California has a population of 39.5 million people and Michigan has 9.9 million residents. Keep in mind none of the other legal recreational states have a population the size of Michigan. Colorado has 5.6 million people, Washington 7.4 million, Oregon 4.1 million, Nevada 2.9 million and Alaska 739,000 and on the eastern side of the US: Vermont 620,000, Maine 1.3 million, Washington, DC 693,000 and Massachusetts 6.8 million.

Despite being a cul-de-sac state, we’re close to a lot of big population states and cities. Chicago, which is less than an hour drive away from our border has more than 2.6 million residents; and Illinois has 12 million people, Indiana has 6.6 million people, Ohio has 11.6 million residents and Wisconsin has 5.7 million residents. Added up, it gives Michigan easy access to 62 million people—who live within a half-day or less drive to the state borders. We certainly don’t think that all 62 million will flood in, but if the data holds, 52 percent of that 62 million might just stop in and check out our new industry.

summer in Michigan, soon a be a legal marijuana state if michigan marijuana legalization passesAnother thing that sets Michigan apart from other states that have adult use cannabis is that we are a major tourist state. A four-season tourism state. Pure Michigan spends $35 million on persuading people to visit our pleasant peninsula. Cannabis will be just one more reason for people to visit Michigan. We’ve seen models of cannabis tourism in Colorado, and there’s no reason to think that Michigan entrepreneurs won’t cash in on this industry. 

Michigan will be the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana for adult use. It’s part of the normalization of cannabis that we’re seeing spread across the US. We expect the east and west coasts to be the most progressive and to imagine that Michigan will be the 10th state to legalize, well, that’s pretty exciting. It puts us in a league with other cool places like California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. It also speaks to the hard work and will of citizens, gathering 277,000 petition signatures is no small feat and MILegalize and the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol deserve thanks for making that happen.

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Won’t be Easy.

Michigan’s marijuana legalization effort won’t be without a fight. There have been state-wide legalization efforts, like Arizona, which went up in smoke due to the well-funded opposition. We should expect a battle here in Michigan, too. Fighting against legalization in Arizona was pharmaceutical maker Insys and Discount Tire. They successfully moved public opinion against legalization. We understand conservative politics in Michigan and there’s no reason to think that well-heeled people won’t put their money behind stopping this. Just as supporters in Michigan have the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML as allies, the opposition is ready for the fight.

image of a cannabis leaf symbolizing michigan marijuana legalizationWe have public opinion on our side. From big national surveys like Gallup and Pew Research Center to Michigan’s own Epic MRA, we know that people are generally in favor of legalizing. This change in opinion comes from a few things. Medical marijuana is a great place to start getting people oriented to the plant and its uses. More often than not, people know people who have used cannabis for treating and illness. Between women who are fighting breast cancer and the effect of chemotherapy; to adults and children with epilepsy and veterans who are using cannabis for PTSD—there’s a growing number of people with medical marijuana cards—in Michigan about 218,556 cards. It means in all likelihood you or someone you know is using cannabis for one of the allowable ailments.  The more people that are willing to talk about consuming cannabis for health reasons, the more ordinary it will become to the people around them.

Science is also on our side. As more credible research is done and data is shared, we’ll see people begin to believe what we’ve known for some time—that cannabis is a helpful and life-changing plant. The recent findings in JAMA that showed a reduction in opioid addiction in cannabis legal states is one data set that we can turn to.

The Future is Bright, But we Need Everyone to do These Three Things.

1. Arm yourself with the facts and educate your neighbors, family and friends about cannabis. We provide factual information on this website and on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Make sure your information is well-sourced, Leafly, High Times, The New York Times, CNN and Washington Post are great resources.

2. Support the cause with time and/or money. In Michigan, The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, MILegalize and Michigan NORML will need not only financial support but volunteer help. too. It’s important that each of us do something. If you have time, give it. If you have money, give some.

3. On November 6, 2018, you need to vote. You need to make sure no matter what is happening that day that you get to the polls and vote for Michigan marijuana legalization. Help people get to the polls if needed. Make sure everyone you know if registered to vote.

It will take all of us to give Michigan the number 10 spot in the US—it’s a spot we deserve.

sunlight over Yosemite in the State of California where marijuana is legal.

California’s Legal Marijuana: One More Reason to Love the Golden State

As if the stunning light, mountains, rolling ocean waves and wine weren’t reasons enough to love California, now they give us legal marijuana. As you might have heard, the state ended marijuana prohibition on January 1, 2018.

light through the trees in California near the Thomas Aquinas College. California's legal marijuana grows in communities north of this area, which is close to Ojai.

What’s the big deal? There are other states (and districts) where adults can buy cannabis for any reason. They include Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Washington D.C. And it appears that Vermont, New Jersey and Rhode Island are also on the cusp of adult-use legalization, too, with elected officials leading efforts in those states.

In Michigan, our home state, citizens and cannabis advocates are awaiting approval of petition signatures that will bring a vote on adult-use in 2018. News on petition approval is expected at any time. Our border neighbor to the north, Canada is in: cannabis will be available for purchase by adults in mid-summer.

Back to the question above: why is California remarkable?

California Scales Up the Impact of Legal Marijuana

Not only is California a large state geographically, there are a lot of people who live there, 39.5 million, to be specific. The entire country of Canada has 35.1 million. In comparison, Michigan has 9.8 million residents. The legal western states quite simply don’t have the density of population of California. Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Nevada combined have 15 million residents.

The Golden State also boats the sixth largest economy in the world. The contribution of California’s legal marijuana industry will make to the economy is astounding: projections are it will be an industry worth over $5.1 billion this year alone. It is estimated that the existing black market is valued at $13.5 billion.

The state is levying a 15 percent tax on marijuana, collected by provisioning businesses. Cities and towns with those facilities can add their own taxes, too.

drawing of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, a proponent of legal marijuanaIt’s not just California dreamers, hippies and Deadheads that made marijuana legalization happen. Both Pew and Gallup research firms have published opinion research that indicates Americans are much more in favor of legalization than not. Gallup’s most recent survey had favorability at 64 percent. In Michigan, polling by EPIC-MRA in February 2017 showed the 57 percent of Michiganders favored marijuana legalization.

Marijuana Legalization in Michigan isn’t a Sure Thing.

The most recent successful vote in California, Prop. 64 was the second attempt at legalization. A legalization ballot proposal was defeated there in 2010, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent. Michigan will face some of the same opponents in the November election: pharmaceutical companies, healthcare organizations, law enforcement and the alcohol industry have all historically funded anti-cannabis efforts. But, we think public opinion (and a good voter turnout) will be in our favor.

As Goes California, so Goes the Nation.

We asked Jeff Hank, the board chair of MILegalize what this means for Michigan.

the mountains and ocean along the pacific coast highway in California where marijuana is legal“With the largest U.S. state now legal, Americans will see cannabis more normalized, and visitors to the Golden State returning home will wonder why they are second-class citizens when it comes to personal liberty and cannabis policy common sense,” Hank said.

“When crafting the MILegalize proposal to regulate marijuana like alcohol, we studied every state including California for best practices. We took what already worked in Michigan and included concepts like the ‘micro-business’ which California also has in a different form, and we included modern regulations to prevent diversion to minors. Big money can dominate the cannabis market, to the exclusion of legacy farmers and shopkeepers. California hasn’t done a very good job managing this. Michigan has the opportunity to end the civil rights crisis of cannabis prohibition, and also ensure upward mobility and market access for caregivers and entrepreneurs. This is critical to eliminate the black market and benefit the general public,” he said.

State by state ballot-driven legalization isn’t the best way to end American cannabis prohibition. But until the federal government comes to terms with its failed drug policies and declassifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, we’ll live with a patchwork of varied state regulations.

We saw how important this is recently when Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo. His action, which threatens legal state marijuana businesses with DEA action, also threatens the legalization movement in states that are trying to end prohibition.

Certainly, those businesses that are making money from cannabis in California and other legal states are coming into Michigan, we’ve seen their presence already in our medical marketplace.

Might it be business, rather than citizens that pushes federal legalization forward? We hope it is a coalition of both and that the change comes soon.

a green cannabis plant

The Cole Memo and Jeff Sessions for Dummies

Ok, first off. You’re not a dummy. But the announcement that Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Cole Memo is confusing, especially since more Americans accept the idea of legal cannabis and the country is moving toward ending prohibition. His action raised the ire of cannabis advocates, citizens in adult-use legal states, elected officials and people in medical marijuana states.

Here we go!

What is the Cole Memo?

It’s a document written by a James Cole, deputy attorney general in 2013 when times were good and Barack Obama was president. Without going into the weeds of legalese, it tells U.S. attorneys where to focus their marijuana efforts.

These efforts include preventing:

  •   the distribution of marijuana to minors
  •   marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels
  •   marijuana from moving across state lines 
  •   use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity
  •   violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana
  •   drugged driving
  •   growing marijuana on public lands
  •   marijuana possession or use on federal property

It recognized that states have implemented laws to regulate marijuana and that those laws, for the most part, support what the federal government wants to see.

The memo tells federal staff to allow the states to police themselves. So over the last five years, all of the legal states wrote and followed their own laws regarding cannabis growing and sales. It gave the federal government the ability to focus on real criminal issues. This memo was important because of two things: it recognized the role of states in self-regulation and it acknowledged, tacitly, that the federal government had other priorities than chasing down cannabis businesses and it wasn’t going to spend funds on marijuana cases.

What did Sessions do With the Cole Memo and why?

Sessions rescinded the memo and is implementing a new policy. This one directs federal prosecutors to return to marijuana enforcement policy, overriding the laws in legal states. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country,” wrote Sessions.

photo of the Hollywood sign in CaliforniaWhat this action does is give U.S. Attorneys the ability to prosecute adult-use marijuana businesses. Many of which just opened earlier this week in California.

We’ve known since before Sessions became the Attorney General that he hates cannabis, he has said that good people don’t smoke marijuana. He has always been a threat to the cannabis industry and now we’re seeing his wrath. The heart of the issue is the memo isn’t law and what we need now is legislation ending cannabis prohibition.

What Does This Mean for Michigan?

For now, we’re ok.

The bright spot in all of this, it is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. It is a 2014 amendment to the federal government budget package three jars full of cannabis flowerthat’s up for renewal later this month. The powerful amendment, which has bipartisan support, protects states with medical marijuana programs. It prevents the federal government from using resources to prosecute people and businesses that are complying with the law in medical marijuana states.

What’s devastating about the Cole Memo action is that our effort to end cannabis prohibition in Michigan could be upended as we move toward adult-use on the ballot in 2018.  

What Can You Do?

Call your Congressperson and tell them how important it is to uphold the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. Here’s a script to follow and quick way to find your representative.

It’s time for all of us to step up our advocacy efforts and get involved (support with time or a donation) with NORML, Marijuana Policy Project and MILegalize.

Voice your support of cannabis and work against prohibition now.