While everyone was counting presidential votes, cannabis PR went to work

There was no uncertainty for cannabis PR pros on election night, says Rosie Mattio.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Uncertainty seems to be the underlying theme of 2020, and the presidential election was no
exception. While the entire country was on the edge of their seats for days waiting for final election results, communications professionals in the cannabis industry had the answer they needed election night.

Of course, the fate of nationwide legalization still depends on the new administration and the Senate. But even though I may have taken an edible after seeing early national exit polls it was evident very quickly that individual states were leading the latest green wave.

Cannabis legalization passed by enormous margins in every state where the measure was on the ballot, making New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi the latest states to permit cannabis for either recreational or medical purposes.

Weeks before the election, our team proactively developed extensive media strategies for clients with operations in New Jersey in the very likely event that residents would vote in favor of recreational cannabis.

Given New Jersey's accessible location in the tri-state area and its sizable population, the state is widely viewed by cannabis executives and investors as the linchpin to recreational legalization throughout the East Coast.

I have been working in the cannabis communications space and watching the legalization movement unfold for nearly a decade. The past few weeks have confirmed that the industry is finally on the cusp of tangible change and true political and social acceptance.

For years, the most lucrative and groundbreaking industry developments took place in California. Now, the next wave of legalization is looming in my own backyard.

Now the real work begins

One of the main benefits of entering the legal cannabis space early was seeing first-hand how the industry grew and professionalized through trial and error. Cannabis experienced a fair share of boom and bust cycles in its younger days when brands and operators were unable to follow through on consumer and investor expectations.

Now the established firms have a unique opportunity to set a precedent for the newly legalized markets and demonstrate how key stakeholders have learned from previous mistakes.

In the past year, cannabis has proved its social utility as an essential service during the ongoing pandemic. This election provided the necessary vote of confidence for the industry to reach its ultimate potential. The space has never been this sophisticated and professional, and communications firms are arguably in the best position to advocate for the industry as a whole.

With demand for cannabis at an all-time high, tremendous amounts of capital reentering the space, and US-based operators reporting record financial results, PR professionals currently have limitless stories and angles to present to mainstream audiences.

My team is also heavily invested in amplifying causes and conversations around social equity within the industry. There is an urgent need to address issues pertaining to expungement and entrepreneurial diversity in cannabis, and until Congress passes critical pieces of legislation including the SAFE and MORE Act, the business community must take active measures to rectify these disparities on their own.

While the incoming administration has committed to comprehensive cannabis reforms, the onus is still on PR firms to encourage their clients to partner with nonprofits and advocacy groups including Last Prisoner Project and Cannaclusive to move the needle forward in their local communities. Internally, we have also petitioned New Jersey regulators to create a fair and just cannabis social equity program and welcomed many of our clients to do the same.

Despite the amount of progress cannabis made in this election, it may still take another decade for the industry to compete on an equal footing with other legal businesses. But my firm views the road ahead as a once in a lifetime opportunity to build out a completely unique space that truly celebrates diversity, tenacity and entrepreneurship.

Our work doesn't stop until legal cannabis receives the same amount of public attention and respect as mainstream consumer and tech industries.

Rosie Mattio is the founder and CEO of Mattio Communications

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