One of the most challenging aspects to cannabis advocacy can be how to talk to anti-cannabis believers. Every cannabis advocate has their own story of how they came to believe that cannabis was a powerful medication for wellness. I didn’t try cannabis until I was 30 years old, after having had my two daughters and having spent three decades firmly planted as a small town born and raised card carrying young Republican, Christian, and NRA member. Not quite the vision of a hippy you had in mind, is it? Just ask my best friend from junior high, Summer, who I clearly recall giving the “marijuana is a gateway drug” speech to in seventh grade. I believed with my whole heart that Summer was just a puff puff pass away from the mean streets of heroin abuse, destined to a career of prostitution or homelessness. <Side note: we’re both successful entrepreneurs these days.> I think it is this background that allows me to understand where anti-cannabis believers are coming from. I get it. I believed for thirty years and was sure I was right. Here are some helpful tips to make it easier for you to connect with folks who don’t share your viewpoint.
START WITH AGREEMENT: Anger comes from fear. Trolling a troll or playing their game will only serve to further entrench them in their beliefs. Begin with the fundamental understanding that they are scared. Fear is a powerful thing. Perhaps they are worried that their children will lose all ambition or that the structure that gives them security will fall apart. These may seem like irrational fears to those of us with the knowledge of what a regulated cannabis industry looks like and feels like, but if I’m living in my small town in a state without that experience or knowledge, it just seems scary. When I moved to Las Vegas years ago I was shocked that everyone assumed I was a stripper or that I spent all my time in a nightclub. The reality is that I was in an office like most 20 somethings building a career and my Sunday mornings were spent in a church pew. When you begin with the understanding that these are very real fears for people, it gives you insight into their motivation. As an advocate you will begin to understand why they are so passionate about their stance against cannabis.
SHARE YOUR STORY: Advice and opinions are tricky things because they aren’t right or wrong. They just are. I do my best not to offer up either, even when asked. Instead, I share my story or stories of experiences I have had. I share what happened to me, what led to my change in beliefs, and why I believe what I believe today. My pastor told me years ago that no one comes to faith thanks to a guy holding a sign and screaming about Christ on a street corner. Live in such a way that people are drawn to you and inquire about why you choose what you choose. If you are truly trying to make a positive impact in someone’s life it doesn’t matter that they agree with you. When they hear your story they can choose to make the decision that is right for their life. It’s a lot harder for anti-cannabis believers to generalize about all cannabis users being lazy stoners when they meet a hard working, award-winning entrepreneur and mom like me.
OFFER TO BE THEIR GUIDE: For 4/20 this year our team hosted 500 industry leaders in a private residence to celebrate the holiday. There were guests from 21-90 years old, all education and career levels from cannabis trimmers to lawyers and doctors, and the property was in mint condition by the time it was over. Not one guest was inebriated or unsafe and many used our custom Lyft code to make sure they did not consume and drive. Of course I’m proud of our event and my team, but I share this because sometimes the people who most need a reality check about what regulated cannabis looks like aren’t the ones in the industry. We’re surrounded by the diversity of our industry every day, so we forget what it can be like to be on the outside thinking it’s filled with risk. There are some great resources the Drug Policy Alliance offers if you need facts and figures to share.
I have always approached cannabis advocacy in the same way that I advocate for all of my beliefs: with kindness and a heart of service. The best cannabis advocates are educators. We are educating the general public with each interaction about who cannabis users are and what the industry represents. When someone is educated and has had their own experiences they are fully armed to make their own decisions about what is best for them, their family, and their community.