Working with Your Local Government to Get Licensed: Here’s How
Monthly networking meetings of Women Grow’s Southeast Michigan chapter have continued to grow in size, from small huddles of interested cannabis community members meeting at Bloom City Club to huge social and educational gatherings at Go Where Meetings Matter, an emerging local powerhouse meeting venue. Food and drinks have always been elegant and welcoming; in GWMM, the display has exploded, with gourmet spreads of shrimp, dips, pastries, vegetarian options, desserts, drinks, and more. And there’s room to mingle.
Who Are Women Grow?
Attendees at Women Grow meetings represent every facet of the cannabis community: cancer survivors who use CBDs and topicals, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, high school dropouts and doctors, from all over the state, Ohio, and Indiana.
One tells another, “We need to go further in regulating the caregiver system or else we will go backward.”
Another says, “We already have too much regulation and it is a huge expense.”
A young man who appears to be just out of high school says he’ll be turning his grandmother’s bedroom into a greenhouse. I’m not clear on whether or not his grandmother is still living.
The future that all attendees envision will be clean. It will grow healthy crops. One man says he’s been growing organically for ten years or more. He isn’t the only one. Many easily transitioned into the business of growing cannabis after lifetimes spent growing other fruits and vegetables.
They include veterans of the sixties and seventies antiwar, countercultural movements who have long smoked for recreational and political inspiration; as well as medical marijuana patients who have become members of the cannabis community because of the effect the herb has had on their lives. One credited it with easing the symptoms of Krohn’s disease, others, of course, cancer. Another said she has seen animals regain use of their legs with cannabis. They tell amazing hard-luck stories with lives salvaged and restored or at least made tolerable by cannabis.
They are entrepreneurial. They are taking health care into their own hands and finding low-cost health-care alternatives while taking power away from the insurance and pharmaceutical monopolies. They are turning their medical needs into profitable businesses and creating jobs.
All of them know that, whatever you think of regulations in the medical cannabis business, we are all facing a future that includes them. How do you reach and then educate your community’s decision makers and residents so you can get your license request approved?
Getting Your Community’s Decision Makers on Board
Jamie Goswick is the chairwoman of Women Grow-West Michigan chapter and owner of Canna Media Works, a consulting and marketing firm located in West Michigan. She has spent the past two years honing her answer to that question and sharing her practical, step-by-step guide to getting on your community’s good side so that your license request will be approved.
“People who sit on councils and boards whose support you need are clueless. Educate them. They only know the negative stories. Concentrate on the positives,” she tells attendees at the March monthly meeting of Women Grow-Southeast Michigan chapter.
And compile information. “Cannabis is the fastest-growing consumer product since broadband Internet. What opportunity does your business give to the community? How many jobs will it create and how much tax revenue will you bring to the city? How many caregivers are there already in your community? Blow them away with reliable fact-based information.”
She notes that in North America there were legal marijuana sales of $6.7 billion last year plus “who knows what it was on the black market?” To convey that information to decision makers, “create revenue projections; show them what’s coming,” including, for instance, by comparing Michigan to other states that have regulated programs. Michigan’s population (9.9 million), she points out, is approximately twice as big as Colorado’s (5.4 million). Last year, Colorado cannabis business brought in $1 billion.
“What we have seen in the last eight years is unregulated,” she continues.
Not everyone is on board with regulations. But a lot more are. Just like the food, alcohol, or tobacco industries, people feel safer knowing what was used to produce their products and that it’s labeled correctly telling them it’s safe. Testing is very much needed for cannabis products. By knowing how the product was produced, knowing that it’s pesticide- and mold-free, and by knowing the cannabinoid profile, patients will be more educated about how certain things affect them, negatively or positively.
Making Your Pitch
Once you have your materials together, it’s time to get on the agenda to meet your community’s decision makers. Goswick recommends starting at the planning and zoning level:
They will then take it to the city council. Sometimes, you can go straight to the city council, but zoning and planning will still be required to play a part, due to the fact that an ordinance would have to be created. The ultimate decision lies in the hands of the city council. The whole goal is to get on the agenda and at least start the discussion, but it’s important to come prepared with appropriate ammo.
She recalls the first time she had to go after a city on behalf of a client: “I like to stalk the people in charge of making the decision about whether or not to discuss the issue, including the city manager, city attorney, planning director, city-county, and those who sit on the planning and zoning committees. Typically, I will look them up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and I perform a robust Google search on them.”
While researching the city’s planning director, she realized that she had four mutual friends with him on Facebook, three of the four being from Colorado. “I asked one of the connections to make an email introduction. Within a week, I met with him and was on the agenda for both the planning committee and city council. So the moral of the story is, use your connections in the city you want to go after—or at least become partners with someone who is connected!”
At the same time, find ways to give back to the community. Become part of city councils or committees, donate to non-profit organizations, host food drives, and offer solutions to the community in areas where they really need it. “One of the best things a company can do is donate a portion of its profits to create programs to help educate the youth of the community about drug abuse. City and township officials respond really well to those offerings.”
Does Your City Have a Resolution?
Only cities that have crafted and passed resolutions may have cannabis-related businesses so, if your governing body hasn’t passed a resolution, getting one passed is necessary.
“Find out who your city attorney is and ask if they’ve begun crafting regulations. Give them your model resolution, modified to satisfy your needs. They may be happy to take it because it’s one less job for them to do. The people actually writing the resolutions are only part-time employees.”
Presentation counts. “You have to have a professional approach. You can’t be a stoner. Look like the multi-million dollar establishment you are going to be. Written testimonials are not nearly as effective as in-person testimonials. Bring in patients with any condition listed in the Michigan Marijuana Act to tell them how their lives were improved. Invite others who support you to the meeting where you’re on the agenda.”
They’ll want to know who’s behind the license—expect that question.
And, yes, you must address the smell issue: “Smell is a very common issue communities will have about marijuana—and for good reason. The best thing a cultivator could do is drop some serious cash tackling the issue of smell. There are a few options to choose from such as carbon filters, air filters, sealed greenhouses, odor neutralizers, or biofilters.”
What’s Next in Post-Fact America?
With the Trump administration threatening to go hard after the cannabis industry and Vice President Mike Pence salivating at the thought of leading the charge, discussion turned heavy when one attendee asked how risky the cannabis landscape is in Trump’s America and how we should respond.
Goswick notes that with any business comes risk but she is cautiously optimistic. “As long as you stay within the state’s guidelines and you’re not responsible for your product crossing state lines, you don’t have to worry too much. Trump has made is quite clear that he supports medical marijuana and thinks it should be left to the states to decide on recreational.”
And while some of Trump’s cabinet members don’t quite agree with that stance, their objections will be steamrolled by the fast incoming gravy train. “In 2016, there were revenues of almost $7 billion generated off legal marijuana. The industry is growing faster than broadband Internet in the nineties and it’s projected to create more jobs than manufacturing. If the Trump administration decided to put a halt to the progression that has been made over the last several years, I think they would have a big fight on their hands.”
In mid-December, Michigan will begin accepting applications for licenses. Those eight months, Goswick warns, are going to go extremely fast. “Even though the licensing board has yet to be announced and the regulations haven’t been created, it’s important to start preparing based on what’s been required in other states.”