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Cannabis has a PR problem. The devastating impact of cultivators using bad practices overshadow the many cultivators who act responsibly.
Cannabis has a PR problem. The devastating impact of cultivators using bad practices overshadow the many cultivators who act responsibly.

In a previous column, we examined how the success of the Cannabis Movement has given rise to both a “Cannabis Cause” and a “Cannabis Industry.” Though related to each other, the Cause and the Industry have (at times) different goals and issues.

These two branches of the Cannabis Movement also have different problems. Mutual cooperation to address these problems could provide significant solutions.

Media Loves Bad News, Skips the Good News

The Cannabis Industry’s problems seem to grab more headlines. Stories of bad actors engaging in environmental destruction have become prominent. Businesses competing for limited numbers of licenses in certain geographic areas creates controversy and resentment. Illicit indoor cultivation in a residential neighborhood resulting in law enforcement responses always makes the evening news.

Successes for the Cannabis Industry like Job Creation, Taxes Paid, Neighborhood Development, Patient Assistance, Regional Brand Advancement — these rarely seem to become news events. Farmers using best practices aren’t highlighted, and best practice farmers generally aren’t law enforcement targets, so they don’t appear in negative coverage anyways. Delivery services are not publicly lauded for switching their fleet of cars over to Plug-In-Hybrids. The lack of law enforcement problems at well-run dispensaries isn’t a news item.

Further, it is easy for what might be deemed a “success” to be deemed as a “problem” to the media and the public at large. Since Colorado legalized, a small number (3 by this author’s count) of persons died while under the influence of cannabis products. Matters of other drug use or pre-existing mental health issues were not a consideration in the nationwide media coverage.

Headlines did not read, “1400 die per year of alcohol in Colorado, 3 from Cannabis, maybe.”

The Cannabis Industry, and by extension the entire Cannabis Movement, has significant public relations challenges. The process of resolving these problems won’t be easy. It will take time, money, skill, and a very good plan.

Teaching the Public About Cannabis

A major component of this plan will need to be educating the public about cannabis, and teaching that cannabis is normal for adults, but not for children (excepting outlier medical cases). Additionally, as a newly emerging Industry, we have the opportunity to proactively prevent new problems from occurring. By promoting social norms that reduce social harm we can bring about social change. Mutual cooperation between the Cannabis Industry and the Cannabis Cause could provide significant solutions.

Photo by Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office: Humboldt Sheriff Mike Downey holding a dead fisher that was found at a cannabis cultivation site in August 2013. The site had caused significant environmental damage and was widely reported in the media. The hard work of best practice cultivators and Clean Green Certified farms get overshadowed by such news. 

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