Cannabis reform is one of the most important civil rights and economic issues of our time. With public opinion swinging towards legalization, the time is right to create change. Bu 2019 was a tough year as states with Democratic governors and legislatures failed to pass cannabis reform legislation.

How can advocates pass cannabis reform in more states? Here are eight steps that would help marijuana reform efforts breakthrough.

  1. Use the elections as an organizing platform. Some campaigns missed opportunities to be visible during the 2018 election. The 2019 and 2020 elections are an important organizing tool. Aggressive candidate endorsements, voter education (town hall meetings), contributions, and full-scale election programs should be a part of 2020 plans – and now is the time to make those plans.
  2. Make small investments early in the process. Many donors are quick to invest once they feel that a campaign is viable. But small investments can lay the groundwork for wins later.
  3. Lobbying-only strategies aren’t working. Most campaigns have been won at the ballot box, not the legislature. But significant money has been spent on traditional lobbyists who don’t invest in building grassroots power. The dynamics have changed, and the results show that marijuana advocates will need to build field and community engagement strategies in addition to lobbying and PR efforts.
  4. Form stronger local coalitions. The coalition for cannabis policy reform should include criminal justice advocates, marijuana reform advocates, growers, producers, and dispensary owners — teaming with national advocates and defenders. These coalitions are loosely organized in some states, and not at all organized in others. Coalitions lead to fragmented campaigns that lack the power and energy to force a legislature to act.
  5. Define your goals and targets before planning your tactics. Many campaigns (in the cannabis community and outside) begin with planning tactics before defining the problem/opportunity, setting goals, and understanding targets. That leads to an upside-down campaign that could be spending time and money on tactics that don’t have an impact with the deciders and influencers (aka targets).
  6. Cannabis reform campaigns must do two things — mobilize and persuade. There’s still work to be done to motivate the Democratic base, and that’s where criminal justice advocates can help. But you can’t ignore that moderate supporters often need to persuade. These campaigns direct voter contact and organizing in the areas where there are deciders and influencers.  
  7. Think regionally. Too many states are waiting for neighbors to act, especially in New England and the Midwest. That doesn’t mean treat each state the same, or invest the same resources. But looking at regional campaigns, especially in states with overlapping media markets, could help pass legislation in multiple states at once.

Cannabis reform advocates can make 2020 can be a great year by adjusting campaign tactics.  Small investments early, aggressively using the elections as an organizing opportunity, and building a diverse coalition will help move these campaigns forward. If legislators don’t catch up to public opinion, it’s important to shift gears and organize to win at the ballot box. Even without ballot initiatives, the elections are important organizing opportunities. 


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