by NCIA’s State Regulations Committee
The regulated cannabis industry is inextricably linked to politics, and all politics is local — so when trying to open and operate a cannabis business, you’re almost sure to need to work with local government in some way.
To help our members understand how to start these relationships right, the NCIA State Regulations Committee hosted a webinar on how to approach local government earlier this year. That focused on identifying your relevant local authorities, how to introduce yourself, and how to properly navigate those relationships.
Once you’ve figured out who to talk to and have gotten in touch with them, they’ll often have questions about the cannabis industry, and there is plenty of good information you can proactively share as well. To help NCIA members inform their local governments about the wide range of issues surrounding our industry, we’ll be diving even deeper with a series of blog posts.
We’ll be starting this series where the whole cannabis supply chain begins: cultivation. Future posts will touch on processing, retail, and more. Even though states categorize their licenses differently, with some issuing stand-alone cultivation licenses and others combining cultivation with processing (or sometimes issuing vertically integrated licenses, with retail too), we’ll be focusing in on the various operations individually.
When elected officials hear about a new business wanting to open in their town or city, their first question is usually, “how many jobs will it bring?” Mayors, city and town councils, departments of economic development, and other government entities are often laser-focused on building up the local economy, so explaining how your business will help them towards that goal is integral to moving your project forward.
Lucky for them, cannabis cultivation is a very labor-intensive endeavor, and you’ll likely be hiring dozens of people to staff your facility. If you’re an experienced operator who knows exactly how many people you need to hire and in what roles, let your local government know! They’ll be interested to see the range of responsibilities and necessary experience, from entry-level trimmers to mid-career managers to botanists with a Ph.D. If you’re still figuring out your exact staffing plan, providing a range of possibilities will help them understand the scale of your project. Be sure to avoid pie-in-the-sky estimates that you’ll never be able to reach — in the long run, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to make it seem like you were pulling a bait-and-switch. Also do not forget to include all the contract jobs created by constructing or retrofitting your facility.
Beyond the sheer number of hires you’ll be making, it’s important to talk about the compensation and benefits that you’ll be providing to your employees. If you’re starting everyone above the state’s minimum wage — or better yet, starting everyone at a living wage (generally thought to be at least $15/hour) — highlight that! If you’re providing health insurance or other benefits to your hourly employees, let them know! Elected officials like to see companies doing better than the bare minimum, and love to see companies that do even more.
Your physical facility will also have an economic impact on the community that’s worth talking about. If you’re buying your building, you’ll be paying property taxes, and you can let your elected officials know just how much you’ll be contributing to the tax base. Mayors and councilors always love to see unused space being occupied, so if you’re making use of a vacant or neglected building, be sure to let them know. This goes double if you’ll be making improvements to the building that increase its value (and triple if you’re using a local construction company to make those improvements).
Finally, consider whether you will be providing any additional revenue to the local government. While some state cannabis laws do allow for local taxes, these typically apply to retail rather than cultivation. Massachusetts and some other states also make heavy use of “community host agreements,” or CHAs, where a business commits a percentage of its revenues to the local government for a limited period of time. If either of these applies to you, be sure to provide elected officials with the relevant parts of state law, and the specifics you’re willing to offer. If you plan to financially support any charities, provide details — and if you’d like some guidance on what local charities are doing the most good, just ask, since most officials would be happy to tell you some of their favorites.
Elected officials also care about public safety, but usually follow the lead of their police chief and fire chief, for whom safety is their one and only priority. It’s good to proactively highlight the ways your facility will improve public safety — if you’re installing outdoor security cameras or floodlights, those can protect your neighbors as well as yourself, and there have been multiple cases where cameras on a cannabis business have helped solve an unrelated crime.
It’s important to remember that police and fire chiefs are spread thin and need to know a little about a wide variety of topics. Unless there are already cannabis businesses in their town, they probably haven’t read the state security requirements to open a facility, so providing an overview of the state law can help demonstrate how tightly regulated you will be. Knowing that the state already has rules for waste disposal, product storage, and controlled access areas can alleviate many of their initial concerns.
Once you’ve explained the security features of your building and run through the state requirements for cannabis businesses, you should address any lingering fears or questions that they may have. Two of the most common concerns are the safety of employees while transporting product or cash, and the risk of your building being targeted by burglars looking to steal product.
Regarding employee safety, explain how you will be shipping product to processors or dispensaries. Are you delivering it, are they picking it up, or are you using a third-party transporter? If you are transporting product yourself, explain both the state requirements and your own operating procedures, from GPS tracking to using two employees for each delivery.
You should also go into detail about your banking relationships. Many people outside the industry assume that it’s 100% cash, but if you’re part of the large majority of cannabis businesses with bank accounts, let your local officials know, especially the police chief. They will be much more comfortable if they know your customers will be wiring payments directly to your bank, rather than dropping off duffle bags full of cash at your facility.
Regarding burglary, be sure to re-emphasize your security measures, from cameras and fencing to access control and alarms. Explaining the cannabis life cycle may also be helpful — since plants are not useable products for most of their life, they’re poor targets for theft. This means that cultivation facilities are not prime targets for burglars, but in the rare cases that they are targeted, you can point to examples where cameras have led to burglars’ arrests.
While economics and public safety are almost always the top two concerns of local governments, they may also be worried about other impacts on the community and how your business will affect residents’ quality of life. Common questions include whether your facility will emit any odor, and if it will increase traffic in the area.
Cannabis is famous for its strong odor, so it’s understandable that people would ask about it. Whether your state requires it or not, it’s advisable to use charcoal scrubbers or other odor mitigation technology to prevent your plants’ odor from escaping the building. Knowing that you’re taking steps to address this concern will help elected officials feel comfortable welcoming you into their community, especially if it’s in a densely populated area.
Traffic concerns may arise, especially if there are recent news stories about mile-long lines at dispensary grand openings. You can address this easily by explaining how cannabis cultivation facilities are not accessible to the public, and the main people coming to your building will be employees and inspectors, not customers.
When built and operated properly, cannabis cultivation facilities should be virtually indistinguishable from any other commercial warehouse. Unless you have very explicit signage (which we do not recommend), most people driving or walking by will not even know that you’re a cannabis business.
Even after you have addressed all of your local government’s concerns, there will probably be even more questions — and that’s okay! This is a great opportunity to keep the dialogue open. Be sure to stay up to date on state laws and regulations so that you can serve as a resource for local officials. Because they’re spread so thin, they will appreciate having someone like you as a go-to when they have questions about cannabis politics or the industry.
If you’re able to offer tours of your facility, that’s a great way to build relationships with your local officials while educating them about your business and the cannabis industry as a whole. They may also appreciate invitations to events hosted by state cannabis regulators, or local industry conferences where they can get broader exposure to the cannabis world.
And of course, it’s important to be a good member of your community. Whether it’s participating in local projects, supporting local organizations, or organizing your own trash clean-ups or other events, staying active and visible will help the community know that they can count on you being a good neighbor.
Be sure to stay tuned for future installments in this series, where we will be addressing other cannabis license types. Our next blog will focus on processors.