By improving professionalism in the cannabis industry and elevating the customer experience, the entire industry will break the negative stereotypes of cannabis and cannabis users.
Negative perceptions about cannabis exist primarily due to a lack of education. To change those perceptions on a wide scale, the cannabis industry must be held to a higher standard and every participant must commit to bringing professionalism to their daily work.
Why? Because those persisting negative perceptions have significant implications for the future of cannabis in the United States.
Catalyzing change doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s up to the people working in the cannabis industry every day to show the world that the business of cannabis is real, credible, and meaningful. It starts by acting professionally.
That doesn’t mean everyone needs to wear a three-piece suit and use tired $20-dollar words. It means acting appropriately to reduce risk, put the needs of customers above all else, and prioritize compliance at all times.
The reality is that unprofessional behavior perpetuates negative perceptions of the cannabis industry. By acting professionally in all business situations – from networking events and business meetings to workplace etiquette – the cannabis business community can help remove the stereotypes that have been associated with the industry for many decades.
Cannabis Professionals Code of Conduct
Every cannabis business should have a code of conduct for employees to follow and live by. The code of conduct documents acceptable and unacceptable behaviors so employees have no confusion about how they’re expected to behave when they’re working.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has a code of conduct for its members that provides a great place for cannabis businesses to start when drafting their own documentation. Some of the key behaviors to address in your code of conduct include:
- Compliance with relevant laws
- Appearance and actions as a reflection of the brand’s image
- Staying current on research and educated on relevant topics
- Health and safety
- Respecting others
- Integrity and open communication
- State and local licensing
- Avoiding illegal behaviors
- Avoiding behaviors that negatively affect the company or the industry
In addition, your business’ code of conduct should explain what happens when the code is violated. The key is to make it clear to employees that they’re expected to act professionally when they’re on the company’s dime and to explain that professionalism is not optional.
Terminology for Cannabis Professionals
In her recently published book, Higher Etiquette, Lizzie Post warns readers to avoid using stigmatizing terms like “pothead” when discussing cannabis in both business and personal settings.
In addition, Post advises against using the word “weed” which can be perceived as disrespectful to a plant that has the capacity to do so much good. She even believes the term “marijuana” carries too many negative connotations. Instead, she recommends using the term “cannabis” which is part of the plant’s scientific name.
“Cannabis” is the preferred term by most of the cannabis business community today as Gary Roberts of The San Diego Union-Tribune refers to as “part of a larger effort to normalize cannabis.”
However, that effort will take time. Tok Thompson, professor of anthropology and communication at the University of Southern California, told Roberts, changing language is “a social process that can cause disruption.” For that disruption to happen, the people working in the cannabis industry need to lead the charge.
Bottom-line, leading by example coupled with ongoing education should help replace all of the words that carry negative connotations with terminology that will elevate the industry as a whole.
Key Takeaways for Legitimizing the Cannabis Industry
The cannabis industry will always fight for legitimacy as long as old stereotypes hold true. Even if cannabis is legalized at the federal level, as long as the behaviors and terminology associated with negative perceptions persist, there will continue to be an uphill climb to achieve legitimacy. Improving professionalism and adjusting behaviors and language to reflect a higher standard are key first steps to advancing much-needed change.
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.