Changing Minds, If Not Hearts.
Reflections on the Cannabis Industry
The state of New Jersey started regulated, recreational cannabis sales on April 21. Yet over 70% of municipalities have passed legislation to ban the opening of retail cannabis shops. As more and more states pass some sort of regulation, this scenario will continue to repeat itself. So if you’re in one of those towns but are feeling inspired to bring cannabis to the masses, what do you do? If you want it, then it’s up to you to change their minds.
I live in a region that is rife with contradictory forces. Hardcore religious conservatives mix with a long tradition of agrarian hippies steeped in cannabis culture. When we looked to open our cannabis dispensary back in 2014, the spot we picked happened to be in a smaller municipality, with a more accessible city council. All the towns around us indicated that they were planning to outlaw sales, initially. We approached our city council to lobby them to allow us to do it.
Nothing had been banned yet, so we were full steam ahead in our development. The site was leased and construction was underway. We had been able to apply with just the intended address of our spot.
We presented ourselves as good people with a desire to be upstanding members of the community.
Initially we worked with the planning and zoning department to confirm that our spot was intended for a similar use, retail sales. We likened it to a deli, a candy store, or a gift shop to find the proper use in ordinance. The City Planner had issues with cannabis, but was a “to the letter” sort of person. We made sure we knew the ordinances well enough to convince him that there was sufficient language to support the existence of our store.
Then we approached the city manager, who was not adamantly opposed, for advice on the processes of both the planning department, which was our first task, and the City Council who would come after. We were able to convince both of these bodies that there was sufficient language in the city’s ordinance to allow us to open in that spot, and that legal cannabis wasn’t the “death of society as we know it,” and that we were providing a legitimate service to the community.
Looking back, I feel the key to all our success in those moments hinged on one thing. Presentation. How we dressed mattered. How we spoke mattered. Who we were mattered.
We had to get these people to believe our facts over the police chief’s tired old propaganda and the City Planner’s obvious bias. We had to get them to believe that we weren’t about to open a magnet for crime and degeneracy and that we were professionally minded people that could uphold the standards of the community. We dressed cleanly and nicely. Not overly nice, as you need to know your audience. We didn’t want to look like lawyers, or suits.
We spoke clearly and articulately. No slang. We made our points with confidence and kindness, and we weren’t afraid to call out the propaganda for what it was. We presented ourselves as good people with a desire to be upstanding members of the community.
And we won. Every time.
The Green Valley Wellness dispensary in Talent, Oregon has been in business since 2014 and maintains a reputation for being one of the finest in the region. We were able to forge ahead and get open, even while (nearly) every other proposed business in the region was delayed or denied for years. We did it by working with our city government step by step, person by person, proving to them that the sky wouldn’t fall if we opened a weed shop in their town.