Do you love weed? Have you or a loved one experienced the healing benefits of medical marijuana? Do you think everyone should have access to this life-changing plant? If you answered yes to any of the questions above … then it’s high time to think about getting more involved in the fight for cannabis legalization!
Whether you’re 18 or 81 years old, there are steps you can take to help fight the good fight. In this article, you will find some easy ways to begin your cannabis advocacy journey.
The cannabis community is tight-knit and from the outside, it can appear intimidating. But the truth is, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more loving, passionate group of people from all walks of life. With a common goal of cannabis liberation, activist groups open their arms to welcome anyone willing to help.
We talked with decorated cannabis advocate, Stephanie Viskovich, to gain some insight into the wild world of activism. Her story is quite an interesting one, from personally battling the federal government to now running for elected office, she has inspired many in the Northwest to join the good fight.
To those just scratching the surface of the marijuana movement, Stephanie emphasizes that being a self-starter is the most important quality; dive into cannabis education head first by reading as much about the plant as possible and learning all you can about your local cannabis community’s efforts for law reform. Stephanie encourages interested advocates to “start out by volunteering for a branch of the community that feels close to your heart.”
There are a literally hundreds of cannabis advocacy groups; it’s all about finding the one that resonates with you. If you’re a cannabis business owner there are community groups such as the Marijuana Business Association (MJBA), if you are more interested in law reformation NORML is by far the largest and most impactful national organization fighting for legalization and if you are a women involved in the industry there are a ton of women-specific groups such as Women Grow and NORML Women.
If you reside in a state that doesn’t have a thriving cannabis community, there are many online resources you can link yourself into. To further educate yourself on the plant as a whole, check out the variety of articles on Marijuana.com and other informative websites and forums. NORML is an amazing online resource, and I recommend signing up for their newsletter to stay up-to-date on marijuana policy and politics.
Start the Conversation
The first and perhaps the biggest step in advocating for cannabis is starting the conversation – online, with your family, with strangers at the grocery store, wherever you can talk about cannabis, do it! Stephanie Viskovich shared a personal story about starting the conversation with her family, “When I was taking care of my grandmother I would discuss medical cannabis with her. The first conversations we had, I could tell made her uncomfortable because she still had a ‘Reefer Madness’ perspective on the plant. After a couple years of patient testimonials, and winning DOPE Magazine’s first ever ‘Budtender of the Year’ award, my grandmother was in a place to openly express how proud she was of me, and what I had been involved in to help so many others.” This story shows how important it is to be persistent with the conversation. You don’t need to argue or shove your opinion down anyone’s throat – but if the first conversation is uncomfortable, don’t be scared away, just try again another day. You’ll be surprised at how fast many people will change their tune once the facts are presented to them.
As mentioned previously, it’s important to connect with others who share your common goal. Whether it’s a local advocacy group or an online forum, it helps to exchange information and experiences with other activists. These groups can help you stay up-to-date with local marijuana laws, peaceful protests or cannabis-business events in your area.
Check out the NORML Chapter website to see if there are any local chapter organizations in your area. The most difficult aspect of this step is showing up. It’s as simple as that! Just show up, be present, and support your fellow activists. Once you begin networking, you’ll be surprised at all the opportunities that will come your way.
Find out who your representatives are and get to know them
This step separates the believers from the doers. It’s one thing to believe the cannabis plant should be liberated; it’s another thing to actually try to do something about it. It all begins with a small step; one simple phone call or email can make a difference. You can find your local representative by typing in your zip code into this nifty search engine. Cecily Friday Shamim, Founder of the Tennessee Cannabis Coalition, emphasizes, “Educating lawmakers and the public is absolutely key to gaining traction on this issue.” But I’m going to be honest with you, reaching out to your representatives may be discouraging at first. Many reps are still uncomfortable with the subject, but Stephanie Viskovich has had a lot of experience dealing with politicians, so she provided us with some tips to share; “When communicating [with your local representative]it is best to state your concern and have a form of an “ask” as a solution to your concern – because they need guidance from the community.” Stephanie also recommends going to your local government hearings prior to legislation being adopted (you can stay up-to-date with local legislation through local cannabis advocacy groups or your state’s government website). At these hearings, citizens can state their arguments for or against the legislation – your statement is put on public record and referenced when the final bill is developed.
Stephanie also disclosed to us the power of a handwritten letter, “A nice handwritten letter makes a bigger impact than one may think in the age of the internet. NORML Women of Washington often will write letters to legislatures locally and around the country on stationary, it stands out in a pleasant way and usually doesn’t get overlooked.”
Prepare yourself for disappointment
Not everyone is as enlightened as you, especially in the political sphere. Prepare for potential let-downs and persevere through failed attempts. Stephanie told Marijuana.com, “Success is always hindsight … passion, hard work, and being able to juggle disappointment but work through it and never giving up is what can get you there.” She continued to share there is no right way to do this, and it is a new process for everyone involved, “There was no training guide or step-by-step manual on what to do or how to do it. Sometimes the best guidance is to take an idea and prove how you can do it better, to raise the standard – that has always been my motivation.” When I asked other cannabis advocates for any tips they could share with newcomers, many of them echoed similar responses – “Get ready to develop a thick skin,” said Jedidiah Haney from Washington State. Jedidiah also made a brilliant point that this fight is a marathon, not a race – we are in it for the long haul, and it’s important never to give up…especially through bouts of disappointment.
Register to vote (and actually vote)
This is probably the most important step of all. As American citizens, we have the amazing ability to have our voice heard in the democratic process, so take advantage of that opportunity! On a national level, pay attention to the presidential candidates’ opinions on cannabis – you can check out Marijuana.com’s Guide to the Candidates here. On a local level, research your state and city politicians to find out their thoughts on marijuana. There are a couple of online resources that have already done extensive research through Congressional records, voting records, campaign contributions, and stances on important issues – some sites to check out would be voterpunch.org and vote-smart.org. Another great resource is publicagenda.org, which will identify supporters and opponents of key issues. Washington State activist, Dawn Darington, told Marijuana.com, “Now is the perfect time to get involved. Politicians are much more open to dialog when they want your money and vote. Friend your locals (city council, county council, school board, etc.) and participate! Join the political party of your choice and consider becoming a local officer or running for office yourself.” You may be surprised at how much politicians need you, so don’t be intimidated! Also, be sure to stay linked in with 420-friendly politicians and learn the dates of your local elections and legislative sessions.
This advice comes from Northwest cannabis advocate, Jedidiah Haney. This fight has been going on for nearly a century, and it’s important to remember and pay tribute to those who have paved this path long before us. “Some of those same people are still in jail for doing the things we casually do now,” Jedidiah emphasized. Many cannabis advocacy groups are dedicated solely to liberating these prisoners of the drug war – Voices of the Cannabis War is a great resource. Passionate cannabis activist, Cat Jeter, eloquently stated, “Shoot for the moon, but be realistic about the nature of change which is always one step at a time rather than sweeping change all at once. Small changes across time win the race. Keep messages simple and easy to understand, remember, and transmit.”
This crucial step comes from the Founder and Executive Director of the Tennessee Cannabis Coalition, Cecily Friday Shamim. If your region doesn’t have a cannabis advocacy group, or there isn’t an existing group that resonates with you, what’s stopping you from creating your own?! Everyone has to start somewhere, and the most important aspect of political change is the ability to organize and unite. Cecily shared some enlightening insight with Marijuana.com, “Organize, organize, organize. Organize people and organize money around your cause. That’s how you get power to make things happen.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves; find out how the system works and use it to your advantage. Cecily continued, “In conservative states without the ballot as an option, it will require greasing the wheels by funding candidates that will support your cause in the legislature.” An organized group can conquer almost anything – a group of voices is much stronger than a single voice.
15 Steps to Being a Cannabis Advocate by Jedidiah Haney
Step 1. Register to vote.
Step 2. Actually vote.
Step 3. Follow your vote.
Step 4. Contact your reps and let them know who you are and what you believe in.
Step 5. Be respectful, don’t use fear or hate to get your way.
Step 6. Take everyone else’s opinion as opinion and not fact.
Step 7. Smoke a bowl, roll a joint, or take a dab; it’s a marathon, not a race.
Step 8. If you don’t know something, admit it, and ask the right questions.
Step 9. Learn the dates. When are the elections and when do sessions start?
Step 10. Get involved with a group that resonates with you.
Step 11. Remain humble, a whole lot of lives have come before us. Some of those same people are still in jail for doing the things we casually do now.
Step 12. Never give up.
Step 13. This is not a popularity contest so get your priorities straight. When people start to listen, encourage them to speak up not just follow along.
Step 14. Never quit learning. Question everything and everyone in politics.
Step 15. Get ready to develop a thick skin.