The December meeting of Women Grow-Southeast Michigan chapter was a political organizing event designed to stir the cannabis community to activism. According to chapter co-chair Allison Ireton, speaking before the meeting, “The idea is that everyone will talk about how to become politically engaged and how important it is to be active. That’s the intention. We’ll see what actually happens.”
Co-chair Dori Edwards emphasized the point with the mantra that she repeats regularly: “If you’re going to be in the cannabis industry, you have to be a political activist.”
They aren’t alone in their belief. So the December meeting was a full-house Cannabis Advocacy Palooza!, devoted to increasing the ranks of political activists and teaching them how to organize to increase their strength and direction.
Demystify the Process and the Industry
Main speakers for the event were Yousef Rabhi and Jeff Irwin, favorites of the community and regular speakers at political events like this because of their pro-cannabis activism.
Rabhi, state representative for the 53rd District in Ann Arbor, co-introduced the successful legislation that will let dispensaries remain in operation after December 15 while their license applications are pending.
Irwin, Rabhi’s predecessor in the 53rd District until term limits forced him out of office, is political director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the coalition of Michigan citizens, businesses, and organizations formed to place a petition to liberate marijuana through a system of regulation and taxation onto the 2018 ballot. Last month, 365,000 ballots were submitted to the Secretary of State’s office, far more than the minimum number required. Irwin is also a candidate for the state senate.
They share the stage like old friends who know each other’s stories, and when to pause so the other can begin. They lead with their main point: You have to demystify the process and the industry.
“Demystify the process,” Irwin says, “Meeting face to face always is best. Next is phone, then email. However you do it, show up. Then show up again. You have the chance to craft the question. Don’t be afraid to ask it. If you want to encourage the city to put in a crosswalk, it’s the same thing. They work for you.”
“Most legislators don’t know about cannabis, so present yourself as a source of information,” Rabhi continues. “Demystify the industry. Start with them where they’re at and move them along, bit by bit.” He describes his successful tour of Om of Medicine with Om owner Mark Passerini that taught him facets of the industry that were unknown to him.
It Starts with Relationships and Good Candidates
“It starts with relationships.” Irwin says. “Be loud and proud of what you do. Always have data with you for specifics. Quote statistics to show that the public is on board and it’s the legislators who are lagging behind. But focus on anecdotes. Everyone knows someone who is sick and could benefit or already is benefiting from cannabis. Change their minds. Raise the price for doing the wrong thing so that it’s higher than doing the right thing.”
He disparages the use of fear tactics and those who say the CRMLA plan to legalize cannabis is not good enough. “When it passes it will be the nation’s leading cannabis policy.” When talking to skeptics, “Tell them about the success of the states out west like Colorado and California.”
“And support candidates,” Rabhi says. “Make it a community issue. Run on it. Change the conversation through the political process.”
Addressing the crowd briefly before Rabhi and Irwin, David Benac, candidate for U.S. Congress from Kalamazoo, talked about chaos at the state level. “And it’s getting worse.” He attacked section 280E of the tax code, which prevents cannabis businesses from taking deductions that are standard in other professions; and said federal money should not be used to prosecute companies that are in compliance with state laws. The necessary changes, including those pertaining to banking, will be made at the federal level, and that’s where he wants to be.
The meeting concluded with a round of questions and answers on a diverse range of topics including open architecture, coffee hours for meeting with politicians, helping local businesses get established so they can compete with out-of-staters and megacorporations, and whether or not to fear Monsanto. Audience members shared success stories and organizing efforts in local communities including Detroit.
CAP Celebrates Success and Builds on Momentum
The evening’s event, Cannabis Advocacy Palooza!, was the idea of Lisa Conine, Community Outreach Coordinator at Om of Medicine, who co-chaired the event along with Women Grow events coordinator Chandra Violet after Edwards and Ireton handed over the role to them.
The idea stemmed from Michigan facing a shutdown of dispensaries and a loss in patient access, along with the various ongoing threats to safe access on a local and federal level. I thought it would be useful to host an event that could give another push for activism by encouraging people to contact their legislators.
Shortly after we began planning, LARA announced an emergency rule to allow dispensaries to remain open, pending local approval. It made sense then, using the present victory as the motivator, to shed light on the need for consistent advocacy from all who are participating in the industry and educate on how to do so effectively.
Noting the large turnout and the high level of discussion during the question-and-answer session, she lauds the event’s success: “A fantastic group of over fifty people came out to learn more about participating politically in the cannabis movement. Jeff Irwin and Yousef Rabhi both bring extensive experience to the table on properly reaching elected officials.”
She noted the event’s celebratory aspect as well: “Robin Schneider, Jeff Irwin, and Mark Passerini were recognized for their unwavering commitment to this movement. In addition, the victory of patient access remaining uninterrupted served as the perfect example of successful advocacy.”
Ken Wachsberger, editor of Bloom Blog, is an author, editor, and book coach, and the founder of Azenphony Press. He is the author of the just-released Ken Wachsberger’s Puns and Word Plays for the Job Seeker.