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Evan is the President and Founder of NisonCo PR and Marketing. He also sits on the Board of Directors of NORML and SSDP.
Last year was difficult for many, but in the cannabis industry, it was a year of new opportunities. In November, several states passed measures to legalize the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. This year, lawmakers are taking up the challenge in more states. In a single week in mid-February alone, lawmakers in four more states voted to approve cannabis legalization legislation. It’s been a busy policy season, which presents a potentially fortuitous multistate landscape for enterprising businesspeople.
As the leader of a cannabis public relations firm, I’ve had years of experience navigating new state markets and balancing multistate operations. Regardless of whether you are just starting in a newly legalized market or looking to future legalization in potential markets, these tips can help you avoid common pitfalls and point you to the path of success.
Keep an eye on the news.
Policy is constantly evolving, and the landscape of a new market is often in flux. New Jersey’s long, circuitous path to legalization is one example among many states with like circumstances. Staying on top of the latest news is critical to operational compliance. While policy is essential to know — especially regarding cannabis requirements — general news monitoring can help your business get the jump on potential issues or opportunities.
We use tools like Google Alerts and Feedly to gather relevant news, which our team of researchers and account managers then sorts and analyzes. Having someone on staff who is responsible for news monitoring, or paying for a monitoring source, can ensure that you’re aware of information that could affect you. For example, you might want to know about land rushes in states that recently legalized recreational use since that could impact your company’s real estate prospects.
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Know not just the target market, but the concerns of people on the ground.
Whenever you’re entering a new state, I recommend working with and employing locals, especially if your enterprise has no prior on-the-ground experience in that region. Hiring locally directly positively impacts the community by providing employment opportunities, and it can give your company insight into local culture and trends.
Choosing the right business location is also important. The communities that were hit hardest by cannabis prohibition should be the communities benefiting most from the industry, so consider setting up shop in these areas.
Seek out local chapters of like-minded organizations to help you network and push normalization and policy. Allowing local nonprofits the use of physical space after hours or extra space during the day is a great mutually beneficial style of advocacy that brings organizations and businesses together. You can also work with nonprofits to do things like hold voter registration drives in retail locations. Find the things that are important to both your company and the local community, and run with them.
Build a great team.
Take the time to staff professionals who are knowledgeable about new regions you may wish to operate in, and who add value to your brand with their dynamic skillset. Thoughtful questions and skills tests during a slow, purposeful hiring process will give you strong insights into how a candidate would behave as an employee.
It is always essential to hire from a perspective of diversity — cultural, behavioral, intellectual, logistical and artistic. A variety of backgrounds and perspectives and the right skillsets are the makings of a great team.
While searching for candidates, it’s worth knowing that more job posting sites are welcoming the cannabis industry, which now provides 321,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. Get the most out of these postings by loading job descriptions with your company’s cannabis SEO phrases and keywords to help boost your search presence while also filling out the team.
Staffing across state borders can create new challenges for attracting potential employees, but with the right corporate perspective, you can overcome potential hurdles and create a better working environment. Take minimum wage, which varies significantly from state to state. Many cannabis companies already pay above minimum wage, but keep in mind that employees know when they are being provided with the bare minimum, or when fellow employees in other states are being paid better — both of which can hurt morale, or keep a candidate from applying in the first place.
Instead of allowing different state employment policies to drag our remote company down, we rose to the occasion. As more states implemented mandatory paid sick time policies, we realized that it was unfair to only offer sick time to employees in those states. Accordingly, we’ve adjusted our benefits to match the state that mandates the greatest amount of time off, the highest minimum wage and other benefits, and we offer them to our whole team across the country.
One last hiring tip: While it may seem attractive to tap your already-existing network for job candidates, I’ve noticed that this practice can lead to homogenous workplaces that have difficulty generating diverse ideas and staying relevant over time. Cast a wide net, and hire with purpose.
Advice for multistate cannabis business expansion includes a lot of conventional marketing and PR wisdom. However, cannabis companies and auxiliary companies often have to hyperfocus in spaces that other companies can generally afford to miss. In my experience, by keeping an eye on ever-changing policy via news monitoring, addressing regional social justice and building a talented team, multistate success is more than possible — pair it with a great concept and product, and it’s likely. No other generation has had the opportunity to build an industry like that of cannabis, and by employing these basic practices, an alert, equitable and profitable new multistate enterprise is possible for your company.
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Author: Evan Nison, Forbes Councils Member