Cultivating Cannabis Industry Relationships: 7 Tips for Effective Communications with Public Officials

By Jen Flanagan

Mar 9, 2022

I recently had the opportunity to attend Revelry’s “Crucial Community Relationships” gathering in New York City. Having worked in government for the last twenty-five years, and most recently as a Massachusetts Cannabis Commissioner, I sought to understand government interaction from the perspective of individuals seeking to enter the cannabis industry.

It was evident how important this event was because it was a sold-out crowd—despite the impending snowstorm. The environment was welcoming, and excitement grew as the speakers took the stage. This event was unlike any other I had been to in a long time. The audience heard from a variety of public officials and individuals involved in the cannabis industry:

  • Community Board Members from 12 (Harlem) and 2 (Manhattan)
  • Manhattan District 2 City Councilor
  • A member of FDNY
  • Co-founders of Mary
  • Evers College Cannabis Education Task Force
  • Owner of Buddy’s Bodega
  • NYCGPA Board Member
  • VP of Public Policy from Columbia Care

Applying for a cannabis license can overtake your life while going through the process. As a potential licensee, you are hyper-focused on ensuring you have fundamentals in place: a good team, financing, real estate, paperwork, etc. However, the major takeaway from this event was that interacting with public officials is also a fundamental component of the cannabis business process. The speakers did a great job giving helpful tips on interacting effectively with people in public office.

As a former government official, I believe wholeheartedly in building relationships between public employees and the public. We each have a lot to learn from each other. The only way to build those relationships is to communicate effectively. New York City, in particular, has many levels of local government involved, so communication truly is critical! Effective communication will only become more important as cannabis legalization spreads across the country.

7 Tips for Effective Communications with Public Officials

  1. Be respectful

  2. Understand that some of these positions are volunteer; thus, the response may not be as quick as you’d like

  3. Be knowledgeable and realistic about your proposal and be prepared to answer questions

  4. Understand that questions about your project could be a good thing; it means someone would like to understand the issues better

  5. Have all your information ready before the meeting/phone call

  6. Opening a cannabis business means interacting with various local and state departments. Know the departments may not always work in tandem, so there could be delays outside the control of the person you’re speaking with

  7. Engaging with local officials from time to time just as an FYI or heads up helps build relationships and can be beneficial down the road if there are any issues

Utilizing these tips can make a world of difference in your interaction with local and state governments. As a cannabis business owner, you will ultimately become a part of the local community, so you will continue to interact with state and local government for the life of your business. Learning these tips early on can make the process easier and help you feel more comfortable interacting and working with public officials to better your community.

Jen Flanagan serves as director of regulatory policy for Vicente Sederberg LLP. She has served as a Massachusetts State Senator and State Representative. Jen most recently served as one of the inaugural commissioners on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, appointed by Governor Charlie Baker in 2017. In this role, she directed the administration of the laws enabling consumer access to medical and adult-use cannabis in the Commonwealth. As the public health appointee to the Commission, Commissioner Flanagan played an extensive role in crafting, implementing, and executing the regulations that guided Massachusetts’ nascent cannabis industry.

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