Hogan: Tried-and-tested PR approach helps shape new cannabis sector

As cannabis continues to go mainstream, so does the industry’s approach to public and government relations.

Mary Kay Hogan, Grayling
Mary Kay Hogan, Grayling

As cannabis continues to go mainstream, so does the industry’s approach to public and government relations.

Larger, business-oriented cannabis companies are hiring the same PR consultants that represent Fortune 500 companies to establish themselves as credible resources to regulators, investors, and consumers.

However, the product is still illegal at the federal level, which creates a tightrope for businesses of complying with state regulations with the possible threat of being closed by the government.

The issue is no longer simply legalization, but rather how to responsibly regulate cannabis in a manner that assuages the concerns of the US Department of Justice and fosters public acceptance of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. Wisely, smart legal cannabis companies are embracing fair, robust regulation.

In Colorado, government officials encouraged industry participation in the formation of its regulatory system, which has proven to be a role model for other states. Grayling helped with those talks and clients participated in forming regulations on juvenile and interstate diversion and drugged driving in accordance with DOJ guidance.

While the regulations may seem costly, the risk of not engaging in the public policy process could cost cannabis companies much more. Industry members have been quick to support regulations that create a roadblock to juvenile possession. That includes Colorado’s restricting youth from being on dispensary premises and requiring outlets be 1,000 feet or more from schools. On a recent sting operation, not one dispensary or retail store was found to admit minors.

The legal cannabis industry in the US is estimated to reach between $3.8 billion and $4.2 billion by 2018, but its success depends on a reliable, fair regulatory system. That is not achieved overnight.

Although Colorado and Washington voters opened the floodgates to full legalization, it has taken two years to promulgate basic rules for operation. Reasonable regulation depends on open-minded policymakers and proactive participation of industry experts. In getting clients a seat at the regulation-making table, PR and government relations firms not only play a critical role for clients, but also for governments and the public. 

Mary Kay Hogan is a VP at Grayling’s Denver office.

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