In many states where marijuana has been legalized in some manner, the people’s voices really do matter, and those voices are playing a significant role in marijuana regulations. In fact, some states aren’t just talking the talk when they say they want to develop laws that align with the public’s desires. They’re actually walking the walk by developing fairly transparent marijuana programs.
Several states are leading the way in terms of listening to the people and embracing transparency, and they’re actively testing different methods to communicate with their constituents. In the past year, states have used questionnaires, petitions, town hall meetings, webinars, email, and listservs to engage with the public.
And that’s the keyword—engage. States where the people’s voices have the most successful effects on marijuana laws are the ones where the people aren’t just being spoken to but where they are being spoken with and actually have a real opportunity to provide genuine feedback.
Washington has one of the most progressive licensed marijuana industries, and it’s also a state that is extremely committed to making the industry as transparent as possible. Last week, the state released a new draft of revised marijuana rules developed after six public hearings held throughout the state.
Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board Chair Jane Rushford told Washington’s Daily Record News, “We spent many hours listening to and reviewing public comment. Since the beginning, this has been an open and transparent process. [The] revised rules reflect the Board’s continued commitment to transparency and the willingness to listen and make adjustments that may improve the rules.”
The revised rules include changes to marijuana license qualifications, marijuana processor rules, and even rules for patients and designated providers. The board will be asked to adopt the proposed rules at another public hearing next month.
At the same time, Washington’s Board adopted the emergency rules recommended in October 2015 to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from a cap of 334 to 556. There is no doubt that the people’s voices hold a lot of weight in Washington’s marijuana economy.
Oregon is another leader when it comes to involving its residents in developing the rules for its marijuana industry. The state holds dozens of public hearings throughout the year and even publishes audio recordings of the hearings on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission website.
The state also has rule hearings for medical marijuana as well as a special Rules Advisory Committee for recreational marijuana and seven subcommittees for growers, extract processors, edibles, topicals and infused product processors, retail, licensing, wholesale, and labs. Each of these committees and subcommittees have multiple meetings of their own per month.
Draft rules and committee recommendations are published on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission website as well so the public can comment on them at public hearings and committee meetings.
In addition to public hearings, the state regularly uses surveys to collect opinions from the public and publishes the results on its website. Like Washington’s marijuana program, Oregon is very transparent in its decision-making.
Nevada publishes its proposed marijuana regulation changes on the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health website along with questionnaires that the public is encouraged to answer in order to affect those regulations.
To add more engagement between the regulators and the people, Nevada also uses a listserv that anyone can subscribe to and receive updates directly through email.
Connecticut offers a unique way for people to impact the state’s marijuana laws. Anyone can visit the state’s Department of Consumer Protection website and submit a petition to add a medical condition, medical treatment, or disease to the list of debilitating conditions that marijuana is approved to treat. Currently, Connecticut only allows 11 conditions and treatments to be treated with marijuana, so there is certainly room to increase that number.
Once a petition is submitted, it is referred to the Board of Physicians for a public hearing. Petitioners and the public have the opportunity to attend the public hearing to provide oral comments. The Board meets at least twice per year for these public hearings and after reviewing the petition and hearing public comments, it makes a recommendation to the state’s Commissioner about whether or not the condition or treatment should be added as a qualifying condition to be treated with marijuana.
Alaska holds oral hearings to receive public comments on proposed marijuana regulations throughout the year. The hearings typically cover marijuana licensing and fees, rules for retailers and growers, enforcement procedures, and even options for local governments to opt out of allowing certain types of marijuana establishments in their areas. Proposed regulations are published on the state’s Marijuana Control Board website.
The Marijuana Control Board hears public comments at all of its Legislative Information Offices throughout the year. There are 11 offices located across the state. For people who can’t attend a public hearing, they can phone in their comments or send comments to a special email address or via letter.
Transparency and Engagement in the Marijuana Economy
Clearly, some states understand just how important transparency and engagement with the public is in building a positive marijuana industry. It’s interesting that three of the five states highlighted in this article are states that have legalized recreational marijuana (Washington, Oregon, and Alaska). What do you think—coincidence or not?
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.