Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation plans to lobby lawmakers like the big boys
Earlier this week, we told you about a sophisticated pro-medical marijuana poll conducted by a new organization, Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation.
Medical marijuana is a growth industry from a lobbying perspective, too.
The survey's professionalism was no fluke. CMMR may be in its nascent stages -- it doesn't even have a website up and running yet, although that should change soon. But it's got the support of powerful mainstream organizations, including RBI Strategies and Communications Strategy Group, as well as Wanda James, co-owner of 8 Rivers restaurant, who just opened her own medical marijuana dispensary, Apothecary of Colorado.
Moreover, says CMMR executive director Matt Brown, the outfit's already hired three lobbyists -- two to work the Democratic side of the fence, one specializing in communicating with Republicans -- with an eye toward "educating both lawmakers and the public that this is a legitimate industry that's not completely unlike other businesses, except that the product were talking about is taboo, or at least misunderstood."
Brown, who moved to Colorado three-and-a-half years ago, is a medical marijuana patient; he suffers from Crohn's disease. He's also an associate of attorney Warren Edson, a veteran figure in the medical marijuana movement.
"Warren has 150 to 200 caregiver groups he works with," Brown says. "And in working with my first couple of clients, I realized there really weren't that many people helping these up-and-coming entrepreneurs who wanted to get into the industry learn how to handle their business -- things like incorporating, filing for a sales-tax license and preparing them for when regulation comes."
From this seed sprouted CMMR, which Brown began putting together about three months ago -- "but, basically, the pressure pumped up quickly, and we found ourselves in the middle of a regulatory battle. So we had to fast-forward our long-term plans and focus on the now."
Far from shunning rules on medical marijuana, CMMR is "pro-regulation," Brown says. "We're funded by donations from various caregiver groups., patients and other business people, and we want to encourage a set of regulations that make sense. We recognize that since this is a legitimate industry, we need some rules to follow."
Such guidelines don't all have to be cooked up from scratch, he emphasizes.
"We're saying, 'Let's look at regulations for other businesses and apply the ones we can -- and if we do need some exceptional rules you wouldn't find in other industries, let's talk about them.' Some legislators this this is a crazy new thing, so we need to come up with a whole new approach. But there are aspects of medical marijuana that are a lot like other businesses."
But not all of them. Some legislators liken dispensaries to liquor stores or bars, but Brown thinks the comparison is flawed.
"At its most fundamental level, alcohol is a recreational substance -- but medical marijuana isn't a recreational substance," he stresses. "We know medical marijuana is a heavily controlled substance, and so is alcohol. But a number of alcohol rules go to its recreational nature, as well as public health and safety issues, that don't really apply to medical marijuana."
Brown doesn't consider CMMR to be "a long-term lobby" -- essentially a permanent part of the political landscape. "But we do see a very pressing and immediate need that as our legislators are drafting rules, they're aware of the realities of our industry.
"Our people understand these realities, but our representatives don't, for the most part. Because of the nature of our business, a lot happens behind closed doors, and that can lead to misconceptions for lawmakers and the public."
While Brown attended Denver city council member Charlie Brown's pot-plan presentation yesterday, he says "the bulk of what we'll be doing is more one-on-one. We'll be meeting with people like Charlie Brown, going through his proposal, explaining some of the realities of our industry -- explaining why a well-intentioned regulation might not work. Our role will be meeting with these decision-makers -- but also being at public meetings, observing what's going on, and being aware of the climate we're in."
If CMMR does its job well, Brown thinks the medical marijuana rules passed in Colorado during the coming months could set the standard for regulations nationwide.
"This is a local effort," he notes, "but we're also very aware that a lot of people in the country, in various states considering medical marijuana rules, are looking to Colorado. We'd love for them to be able to go to their statehouses and say, 'Let's not follow the California model. Let's follow Colorado's.'
"We think we can set out what a modern medical marijuana industry looks like -- what the issues are and how we can regulate them properly."
And professionally, too.