Words matter. The way advocates talk about medical cannabis shapes the opinions of the public and policy makers. There are an infinite number of topics surrounding medical cannabis but not all of them are politically relevant or advantageous. Strategic messages steer the public discourse toward relevant topics, defined priorities, and preferred language. It will help define the parameters of the debate and guide your audience toward desired actions. Strategic messages are not exhaustive explanations of your beliefs and rationales. They are carefully crafted statements or slogans that are designed to reach and move your target audiences.
A. IDENTIFY THE TARGET AUDIENCE
The first question you should ask when developing strategic messages is ‘WHO are we trying to reach?’ It is important to identify our target audiences so that your messages can be crafted to reach them. Although our primary goals and key objectives include “the general public,” our public awareness efforts should be focused toward more specific target audiences.
Ignore the Opposition and Convince the Majority In social change movements, advocacy organizations should not expend any effort on trying to convert the opposition. They are unlikely to listen or be persuaded. Instead, it’s most important to focus on clear supporters and those who fall somewhere in the middle on our issues – those who are open to being influenced. Fortunately for our mission, those two groups equal the overwhelming majority of the US population)
Specifically, we should target:
” Self-Identified Medical Cannabis Supporters who are not aware of the urgent threats faced by patients and their providers in states that allow access, the situation of patients now being forced into the underground market to secure their medicine, and the pain that many endure because of fear of arrest.
” Other Political Activists/Potential Allies who do not yet see how the safe and legal access to cannabis therapeutics is intertwined with issues they are already actively working on such as HIV/AIDS advocacy, consumer health care issues, Religion vs. Science advocacy, etc. ”
The “Mushy Middle” who may not identify themselves as activists, but can be swayed and influenced to act on this issue if it is framed as something that is or could be affecting their lives or the lives of their loved ones. This group may not respond to medical cannabis as a social or political issue.
Focus on Key Stakeholders
Advocates should target the following (even more narrowly defined than the audiences listed above) key stakeholder audiences who have the power to create meaningful and significant change:
” Law Enforcement Community whose members can exercise influence over federal, state, and local-level decision making and who have the power to make recommendations and formulate drug enforcement strategies.
• Opinion Leaders like leading media pundits, politicians, and community leaders who frame issues impacting public health and policy and consequently influence the public’s perception of those issues. They may be educated on the legal and legislative attacks on medical cannabis but are not aware of the particularly urgent threat to patients.
• Acute Care Medical Communities (Cancer, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, etc.) since they may potentially need these services, and, as health care consumers, can make demands on the medical community to provide those services as an integral part of medicine.
• Medical Professionals and Scientific Communities who may think that “medical marijuana” is a political/social issue rather than an issue of public health policy.
B. GET YOUR MESSAGE HEARD: “SAY WHAT YOU MEAN TO SAY”
Know Your Target Audience If you want to reach your target audience, it is important to consider what messages they want to hear. For instance, think about how you would tell your mother a story about a date as opposed to what you would tell your best friend. While the two stories are about the same event, they will most likely differ in details and descriptions. In this case, you are sizing up your target audience and giving them the details they want or need. Advocates often try to communicate information that their audiences don’t understand because they are not as educated as the advocates are on the issue. For instance, talking about good dispensaries versus bad dispensaries may turn someone off who is just learning about the medical efficacy of cannabis.
Key Media/Public Messages
Key Messages are what you need the public to know about your issue. Remember you do not need to fully disclose political strategy in these messages but rather articulate problems on your terms. Key messages should be used to craft sound bites, slogans, and any press statements.
Key Media/Public Messages should:
• Appeal to target audiences but frame issues on your terms
• Communicate problem and the cause
• Communicate the solution and who has the power to make that solution
• Communicate actions that reinforce your goals
Framing Our Issue
One of the most popular buzzwords in media relations and public advocacy is “framing.” Taken together, the words, phrases, and themes chosen create a “framework” for how those issues are discussed publicly. In our world of 30-second sound bites and 10- minute meetings, those who frame issues well often win public discussions.
By taking control of how our issues are framed for the media and policymakers, we are able to:
• Define our issues on our terms-use terms like medicine, cannabis, medicate, dispensaries, provider and patients, NOT drugs, marijuana, get high, clubs, grower and users;
• Identify how our efforts are part of social issues that impact a greater number of people than our members-i.e. medical cannabis represents the struggle of all patients who cannot access their medicine that their doctors agree is the best treatment;
• Identify who are the most important players including those who can make changes; and
• Put the opposition on the defensive-i.e. ask the DEA and other opponents to prove that the harms of cannabis therapeutics are worse than the pain these patients face every day or the harassment they face from the Federal Government.
How to Frame: Using our Key Messages
The best strategy for framing issues is to stand back, look at our primary goals, and develop the best messages for communicating those goals. By condensing our complex issues down to a few key messages, we will be able to:
• Communicate the “frame” around our issues-think of the “big picture” values, such as compassion, liberty, democracy, medical professionalism;
• Highlight our primary goals-Safe and legal access to cannabis therapeutics NOW;
• Focus reporters and policymakers on the most relevant issues- i.e. we’re talking about patients, not criminals; and
• Maintain control and direct interviews with reporters and meetings with policymakers. Don’t let distracting questions pull you away from your strategic message.
MESSAGE DISCIPLINE: ONE MESSAGE, MANY MESSENGERS
If we practice “message discipline”; consistently and persistently delivering these same key messages we will have the greatest impact. As mentioned earlier, key messages are more likely to reach target audiences if they echo again and again through all of our public advocacy work, especially media outreach. The best way to ensure that we stay “on message” is for every spokesperson whether in California, Montana, or elsewhere to consistently use strategic messaging. Although factual information is important, reporters and policymakers are also interested in having social problems expressed in human terms. Personal stories are essential elements in producing compelling news stories and successfully educating policymakers. These messages are only intended as guidelines for speaking about cannabis therapeutics. They are only compelling when injected with the more personal stories of why and how ASA advocates are committed to this issue.
NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS & BETTER TERMINOLOGY
Weed, stash, dope, etc Medicine
Smoke pot Consume cannabis, medicate
Pot club Medical cannabis dispensary
Dealer, Seller Cannabis provider
Buy, Score Acquire
Vendor, grower Patient-cultivator
Hash Cannabis extract
Clones Cuttings or plants
Buzz, high, stoned, etc. Medicated, cerebral effects
“420” Just do not use it!
Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda.
That understanding will convert cannabis opponents into supporters, and bring closer the day when all our prisoners go free, and nobody else is ever again arrested for using or possessing “marijuana”.
We prefer to use the word cannabis, because it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.
The word “marijuana” or “marihuana” is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine. Most cannabis users recognize the “M word” as offensive, once they learn its history.
The “marijuana” term started off life as a Mexican folk name for cannabis, but was first popularized in the US by the notorious yellow press publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a racist, as well as being committed to the prohibition of marijuana, which threatened his timber investments. He used his control of hundreds of newspapers to orchestrate a vicious propaganda campaign against cannabis, which featured lurid (and false) stories about black and brown men committing outrageous acts of murder and mayhem. That campaign played on then-predominantly racist public opinion to make cannabis illegal at the federal level in 1937. Since then, “marijuana” has come to be associated with the idea that cannabis is a dangerous and addictive intoxicant, not a holistic, herbal medicine for helping people deal with the effects of cancer, AIDS, wasting syndrome and other conditions. This stigma has played a big part in stymying cannabis legalization efforts throughout the U.S.
Pot probably comes from the Mexican ‘potiguaya,’ which is a word for seeds, which may come from the expression ‘potacion de gauays,’ which would mean ‘a sorrow soup,’ which was some kind of concoction involving marijuana.. How it got shortened to ‘pot’ is unclear, but it was probably around the 1930s that Americans started using that word. (Source: Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at UC Berkeley and NPR “Fresh Air” contributor.)
From a botanist standpoint, cannabis is a genus of plant, and comes in various species such as sativa, indica and ruderalis (or sativa, indica and afghanica depending on the research you reference) and thus ‘cannabis sativa’ and ‘cannabis indica’ (or ‘c. indica and c. afghanica) are the correct names when dealing with the various forms of the “cannabis” plant — not ‘marijuana.’
The ABCs of CITIZEN ADVOCACY
Citizen lobbying is an essential part of being a medical cannabis advocate and it is the only way elected officials will know how to represent you. It is true that the issues surrounding medical cannabis are politically polarizing and may not be the number one issue for elected officials. But buying into defeatist attitudes concerning representation or conspiracy theories about our opposition has paralyzed our movement for years. Most elected officials have never met a medical cannabis advocate and have formed opinions about the issue based on media reports or our opposition. It is easier for elected officials to fall into intellectual or ethical stances against medical cannabis if they do not have a face to put with the issue. That is where you come in! In the truest definition of democracy, our elected officials represent their constituency in government. Their constituents have thousands of needs. If you are not asking them to add medical cannabis to the list there is no need for them to advocate for you.
WHY CITIZEN LOBBY?
It is natural to feel intimidated about contacting your elected officials. But the strength and power politicians have is derived directly from the constituents who elected them into office. Legislators are elected to represent your views and they want to hear from their constituents.
More than ever, elected officials are focused on learning about how a particular piece of legislation will impact their constituents. And there are more ways than ever for constituents to express their viewpoints to elected officials, including but not limited to: letters, phone calls, email, YouTube, Facebook, Town Hall forums, Twitter, campaign events, visits to the member’s office, and more.
As a voter, you possess the most effective tool to influence change: your vote. As a constituent, you have the power to hold each representative accountable on the issues that affect you. But our democracy is not a spectator sport! If you want change, then you have to talk to the people elected to make our laws.
As a medical cannabis advocate, it is important that you understand your power and know how to use it! You Have the Power—Not Lobbyists According to a survey of congressional staffers conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation in 2015, members of Congress are more likely to be swayed on an issue by concerned citizens who visit, write, or call their offices than by the efforts of paid lobbyists. As it turns out, citizens have more power than they realize!
The survey report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill, provides valuable insight about how crucial the work of grassroots advocacy is to manifest change and about which tactics work best. For instance, nearly the entire sample of respondents, 97 percent, agreed that personal visits from constituents had “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided Member—more than any other influence group or strategy.
In fact, visits from constituent representatives, like lobbyists, came in second. Close examination of the survey reveals that even personalized letters, e-mails, phone calls, and questions or comments at town hall meetings by constituents were more likely to change a member’s mind than the efforts of a lobbyist.
The study also explored the type of advocacy that staffers believe is most effective. Turns out that content matters more than medium. Specifically, staffers indicated that hand-written or personalized notes— even when they are fewer in number—have a bigger impact than form letters and emails crafted by influence groups.
The point is, your lawmakers want to hear from Y-O-U! They want to know how the growing divide between state and federal medical cannabis laws is affecting you and your family. They want to know what legislation would help their constituents and why. They want to know why changing federal law is important to you!
If Not You, Then Who?
Medical cannabis advocates are not the only people talking with legislators about medical cannabis law and policy. Elected officials are hearing from police organization, medical cannabis opponents, Chamber of Commerce, and members of special interest groups opposed to the use of cannabis even for medical purposes.
It is important for all medical cannabis advocates to think about the following questions:
” Without hearing from you, how will your legislator know what is important to you?
” Do you want to trust decisions about access to medical cannabis solely to lobbyists and policymakers?
Each and every individual who holds a state license that authorizes the use or provision of cannabis for medical purposes is breaking federal law.
The point is that you are the patient, the physician, the caregiver, the provider, the lawyer, the nurse, or family member who is affected by medical cannabis laws and policy. You are the voter with the power to hold elected officials accountable for their positions on policy matters. And you are the expert about how these laws and policies affect your daily life.
So if you are not talking with you elected officials about medical cannabis, then ask yourself, “Who is?”
Medical marijuana is just one of many issues your legislator is concerned with at any given time. Make certain that the information you are providing is direct and accurate. Never lie or provide inaccurate information. If you don’t know something, be honest about it. You can always locate the correct information after the meeting and use that as an excuse to follow up in the future.
In most cases, you will have a limited amount of time to make your pitch. Keep it short, and keep it simple! It is extremely difficult to relay ten pieces of information in three minutes. It is even more difficult to comprehend ten pieces of information in three minutes. Thus, it is vital that you think carefully about two or three main talking points you hope to communicate—and stick to these points throughout your advocacy.
Whether you agree or disagree with your legislator it is important that you maintain some level of respect. Your goal as an advocate is to create a safe space for your legislator so that tough choices can be made with confidence. It is important that you go out of your way to be a positive resource for your legislator. Be punctual and patient. Don’t lie or exaggerate. Don’t argue or raise your voice. Don’t be rude or obnoxious.
Be proactive and responsive. Follow up your meeting with a thank-you letter that outlines the various topics covered during the meeting, reiterates any commitments your legislator made, and includes any additional information or materials requested during the meeting. Also, you should use this opportunity to accurately communicate any information you didn’t readily have available or didn’t know during the course of your meeting. When communicating with your legislators, do not feel that it is your responsibility to be a “know-it-all.” A few short position statements about why you support or oppose a specific piece of legislation will suffice. Always give your legislator your name, address, and telephone number so that they know you are one of their constituents. Be sure to include this information whether you visit in person, call, or write. Most importantly, be accurate, brief and courteous when communicating with your legislators. Remember, legislators are people, too!
Timing is very important.
If the legislation you are concerned about is imminent, contacting your legislator quickly by phone or email can be very effective. However, if you have time, take advantage of other influential tactics, such as writing a letter, attending a city or county council meeting, calling your legislator’s office or meeting directly with your elected leaders. The key is to use timing to your advantage with each tactic you use.
Voice Your Position and Ask for Action!
Legislators frequently act on behalf of their constituency. Even if your legislator does not currently support your position it can be extremely helpful to contact them on a regular basis. Make your concerns vocal, and always ask for your legislator for an action.
Know the Issue.
Legislators have several issues they are concerned with at any given time. Make certain that you are relaying concise and accurate information. Prepare and distribute information based on sound, scientific research. Ask questions about your legislator’s feelings toward a particular issue, and be ready for your legislator to ask you questions about your position.
Listen & Share Information.
It is very important to listen to your legislators. Really understand what their positions are and why. Relay any information you receive from your legislator to the members of your organization, community, family and friends. Information helps to shape future talking points and also helps to broaden the audience.
Dos and Don’ts
• Lie or exaggerate
• Waste time
• Be a know-it-all
• Make promises you can’t deliver
• Be argumentative
• Burn bridges
• Relay accurate information
• Make your arguments brief
• Be courteous, punctual and patient
• Make yourself a resource
• Choose 2 or 3 main talking points, and stick to them!
• Ask for a specific action
• Use time wisely
• Listen & share information
• Follow up: always write a thank-you note
Writing Your Legislators, Governor, Or US Congressional Members
A letter to your lawmaker is next most effective and the most common form of communication. Writing letters helps create a paper trail. Most letters are noted and answered by legislators or their staff. The amount of mail received by a legislator (“mail count”) sometimes helps to determine his or her approach to an issue. Here are some tips to get started.
Be clear and concise.
The purpose for writing the letter should be stated in the first paragraph. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly.
Be specific. Ask for action.
Tell your legislator exactly what action you want taken, and give the reasons for your position. Do not hesitate to cite your own experiences or how the proposed legislation will directly impact you. If you are an expert in a particular field (i.e. a doctor, lawyer, patient, etc.) mentioning that can help to build credibility.
Include supplemental information.
Enclosed with the letter you can include related editorials, news articles, research studies, letters to the editor, or other supplemental materials that support your position or generally relate to the issue you are concerned with.
One issue at a time.
Address only one issue in each letter, and, if possible, keep the letter to one page. Also, thank your legislator in advance for the consideration s/he will give to the issue.
Knowledge And Awareness
Knowledge can be equated with the contents of consciousness, in the present, future or past. It consists of elements of the phenomenal world and their interrelationships. As such it can be fully described and communicated and also explained within the current scientific paradigm, at least potentially.
Awareness, on the other hand, is a label we use to refer to the subjective nature of consciousness. What is called the hard problem of consciousness. The fact that there is something that it is like to be conscious. This aspect of consciousness cannot be explained within the current scientific paradigm, the best that science can do is to assume that it will be fully explained in the future as an illusion of the self-referential information processing in the brain. This is called eliminative materialism.
Other people believe that awareness is a fundamental aspect of reality, rather than produced by any process of matter or energy, noting that all phenomena of matter are inferred from conscious experiences.
Find Your Legislator Here
Call and email your Senator in your district and call the Roundhouse for your voice to be heard.
Call and email your House of Representative member in your district and call the Roundhouse for your voice to be heard. House of Representatives main phone number 505-986-4751 and general email: email@example.com.
Contact the Legislative Council Service for general questions about the Legislature.
“Dear New Mexicans and Visitors, I am committed to listening to your concerns and working to answer your questions. Therefore, the Constituent Services division within my office has been directed to professionally and efficiently assist in answering your questions and responding to your requests of state government.
My staff is here to serve you and will do everything they can to address your concerns.
Please do not hesitate to call my office at 505-476-2200 to speak with a Constituent Services representative or fill out the form below and we will contact you in a timely manner.
Sincerely, Governor Susana Martinez”
Submit A Letter To The Editor Or Opinion Column
Local and national media coverage is an important part of informing our communities, opinion leaders, and potential allies about cannabis therapeutics and the challenges that patients, providers, researchers and doctors face. Patients and advocates must often take the news to print, broadcast, and online media outlets to be sure our voices are heard. As an advocate, you have an important role in shaping how news about medical cannabis is reported – and how it is received by the public-at-large.
AbqJournal Letter to Editor and Opinion
The word limit for a letter to the editor is 350. The word limit for an opinion column is 650.
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If you want to gripe, grouse, whine or bellyache about a generic topic, submit your opinion in the form below. The same goes if you want to dish out praise or thanks. Either way, you have to do it in 50 words or less. You can’t identify anyone you criticize. Keep it clean. No cursing, please. We don’t need your name, just initials. And it’s cheaper than therapy.
Santa Fe Reporter
Mail letters to PO Box 2306, Santa Fe, NM 87504, deliver to 132 E Marcy St., or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to speciﬁc articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Write us! We welcome opinions from the readers. Send either letters (150 words) or My Views (600 words) The New Mexican’s editorial department publishes the newspaper’s daily editorials, letters to the editor. The department seeks to capture the opinions of the community and express them in the newspaper. Letters to the Editor can be emailed to: email@example.com
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Alamogordo Daily News
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Artesia Daily Press
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The Daily Times welcomes letters to the editor. Your submission of no more than 400 words must include your name, address and a telephone number for verification. All letters must be signed by one individual or no more than three individuals. The Daily Times reserves the right to edit or reject any letters. Letters can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to:
Letter to the Editor
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Send a tip or a letter to the editor
For questions regarding stories published in the Hobbs News-Sun, email the editor; email@example.com
By Jason Barker – Organizer & Medical Cannabis Patient
LECUA Patient’s Coalition Of New Mexico
Lynn & Erin Compassionate Use Act Patient’s Coalition of New Mexico ~ A GrassRoots Movement!
(All Rights Reserved 04/20/2016)