Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 100-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was wondering if you knew the route to take to be a lobbyist for marijuana? Let me know.
–Leafy Legislator Persuader
Hey, Legislator Persuader!
So you’re interested in influencing legislators for marijuana reform. As more states are implementing marijuana laws, there is growing opportunity for marijuana lobbyists. In Colorado last year, the cannabis industry employed 26 lobbyists who were collectively paid $331,000.
I spoke with Samantha Walsh, a seasoned Colorado lobbyist and political strategist about the job requirements, necessary educational background and the different types of lobbyists — paid, volunteer and citizen.
Walsh encourages, “The best way to start would be to explain that thanks to the First Amendment, anyone can lobby their elected officials on behalf of any cause.”
The main function of a lobbyist is to inform elected officials. “We can’t expect the people we elect to govern to be policy experts in everything,” Walsh says via email. As a lobbyist, she continues, “Your job is to help educate them on all the policy issues affecting marijuana, the industry business practices or social-justice impacts depending on your client’s specific area of expertise.”
Additionally, Walsh says, building relationships with elected officials is an important part of being effective.
To prepare for a job as a lobbyist, an educational background in political science or communications is common but not required, according to Walsh. Many lobbyists began working in government and transitioned into lobbying. “Nothing is more critical than understanding the legislative process,” Walsh says. “Knowing the process of how motions are made, votes are taken and committee procedures can greatly assist one in handling getting a bill through — or killing a bill they don’t like.”
To be the most effective, Walsh recommends reading “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a book on basic parliamentary procedure and understanding the legislative rules in your city or state.
Every state has variations. In general, paid lobbyists are regulated by the Secretary of State, the state department responsible for elections and campaigns. Walsh explains transparency is important because lobbyists interact with elected officials.
Paid lobbyists sign a contract with a client to represent their interests to elected officials, and they register this client relationship with the Secretary of the State, disclosing client information, all financial compensations and any beneficial financial interests, such as owning stock.
Volunteer lobbyists are unpaid for their work and can represent official organizations, a specific group or interest. In Colorado, volunteer lobbyists register with the Chief Clerk of the Colorado House. By first being a volunteer lobbyist, Walsh leveraged herself into a paid lobbying career. Although, volunteer lobbyists are not required to fill out disclosure reports with the state, Walsh recommends filling out reports if you want to make lobbying a paid career.
Unpaid citizen lobbyists require no background checks or credentials and include advocates and activists working for their causes. Walsh adds: “Some of the most successful lobbyists I know come from a more activist background or business background … and they decided to get involved in the political process and found they were able to be very effective.” Good luck in your career! XO