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Government Relations In Cannabis Business: Why It Matters

Updated: May 6

Cannabis is political.

As a cannabis entrepreneur, you have to be constantly in-the-know with federal, state, and regional policies. Keeping track of these ever-changing regulations can be tough, especially when your attention is already divided as a business owner.

However, the consequences of ignoring public policy surrounding cannabis can be dire. It raises the potential of your business getting left behind in the regional legislature or getting penalized for non-compliance.

In this article, we’ve chatted with communications expert, Scot Rutledge, to get his two-cents on why government relations are important in the cannabis industry, how to play an active role in cannabis legislation, and 3 essential tips to abide by when hiring a government affairs specialist.

What Are Government Relations?

Government relations work to influence public policy and strengthen relationships with political changemakers to effect results in a given industry locally, regionally, and nationally.

Government Relations are a subtype of Public Relations that put great effort into how organizations and businesses can interact both positively and effectively with the government.

“A lot of people may have the knowledge of what they want to do, but they may not know how to effectuate their plan at the government level. That's where government affairs specialists come in.” - Scot Rutledge

Why Are Government Affairs Important in Cannabusiness?

Government Affairs are an important part of any business enterprise, but especially important for your cannabis business and the industry at large.

Here’s why:

  1. You need to be in-the-know with who’s making decisions about your business and your industry.

  2. It’s important to track what’s happening with the laws and regulations within your region and industry that may affect your business.

  3. You have the ability to help create, decide, and take part in the laws and regulations being formed in the cannabis industry as it matures.

Being proactive with government affairs doesn’t mean you’d be constantly trying to make moves and changes; It signifies that you're constantly on top of the latest happenings in your industry and how those changes directly affect your enterprise.

Can Government Relations Affect Privileged Cannabis Licenses?

Cannabis licenses are considered privileged licenses and expected to operate under strict regulations and compliance that differ from state to state and region to region. Maintaining proper government relations with your local elected officials will be critical to maintaining your privileged cannabis business license.

With Privileged Licences, especially when they’re limited, the risk of your license being revoked can come down to the smallest of details. A relationship at the local and jurisdictional level with elected officials will certainly come in handy when you’re in need of land use approvals, zoning permissions and permits, or compliance advice for your cannabis business.

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How Can I Create Change in Cannabis Legislation?

If you’ve already mastered the compliance that comes with maintaining a privileged cannabis license, there’s the possibility that you could take part in laying the foundation for the next generation of cannabis business owners.

Partnering with a government affairs representative who has built rapport with state legislators and local elected officials can play in your favor if you want to move forward initiatives and influence local rules, regulations, and ordinances.

The trained affairs specialist you select won’t have to be a full-time expert in the cannabis industry, they’ll just need the ability to effectively communicate your goal and make sure that you can get the votes or approvals needed.

But What If I Don’t Want To Invest In Government Affairs?

It’s understandable that Cannabis entrepreneurs are never looking forward to adding another cost to their business plan, but a lack of a government affairs strategy can end up costing you far more in terms of opportunity and legislative processes or regulatory processes that work in their business’ favor.

An important thing to remember is that government affairs gives your business clout, meaning strong influence or power in your sector. The cannabusinesses you see in the media or print with political clout have gotten there through investing in government affairs. Good government affairs will ensure that your business remains competitive regardless of who the decision makers are or which political party is in control. A government affairs strategy will help you remain focused on the actual objectives of your business and the industry versus the whims of who's sitting in the hot seat.

“If you don't invest in government affairs and political strategy, you won’t know what you don't know. You won't have the knowledge of what’s currently happening to your industry and how to address it.” - Scot Rutledge

3 Final Tips On Hiring Government Affairs For Your Cannabusiness

1. Find The Right Person

If your company can afford to have in-house government affairs, definitely start there. The person you hire should live and breathe politics, understand compliance, be able to manage campaign budgets, and recognize how laws are being drafted and how they’ll affect your operations.

2. Go Local

It’s important to partner with someone who has a deep understanding of both your state and local region's legislation. For example, a good lobbying firm in California would be rendered unable to help you if your business is in Illinois.

Government affairs should be localized because it's all about relationships. Having a face attached to your company can carry weight in our digitally centric world. Your in-house specialist should meet with elected officials and possess a comprehensive knowledge of your business, allowing them to powerfully speak on your behalf. They’ll also benefit from hiring and coordinating with local government affairs specialists who have the best relationships in each jurisdiction you work in.

3. Be Resourceful

If you cannot afford an in-house political specialist or do not see it as a priority, then you should definitely seek outside professional services that can assess your current political strategy and help you build relationships with decision-makers. If you don’t know where to start, ask companies that you know and trust, even if they are not in the same industry, who they work with and why. It’s also important to get at least two to three proposals when hiring professional services for your government affairs needs.

Let’s Build Your Cannabusiness

Our hope is that this article has helped you to understand the importance of government relations when it comes to your cannabis business. Whether you’re leaning towards hiring a governmental strategist in-house or a cannabis PR specialist, we’re here to support and advise. Our team of industry experts can turn your business’ goals into actionable strategies that truly make a difference in the world.

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