11 Tips: How To Advocate in Your State for Medical Marijuana Legalization

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Co-Director for Medical Marijuana Advocacy, U.S. Pain Foundation

I wish all people in our country had safe and affordable access—to be able to consider the use of medical marijuana in their states. Although we are getting closer, many of you still live in states where it is illegal and may have the desire to know what you can do to help expedite the process of legalization.

I thought it might be helpful to share my experience with you, in order to help you work to turn your state into a more compassionate state. My husband, Stu, and I are the Co-Directors for Medical Marijuana Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. We are very proud of the foundation for supporting the choice of this medication and taking a positive stand.

Here are our suggestions, based on years of advocacy work:

  1. Google your state and medical marijuana laws and become familiar with where your state stands presently, like this: “STATE NAME medical marijuana laws CURRENT YEAR” so for Illinois, for example, you would search “Illinois medical marijuana laws 2017.”
  2. If a bill has been submitted to the state legislature, find the name or names of those who submitted it.
  3. Contact the state legislators who submitted the bill and do one or all of the following:
    1. request a meeting
    2. leave a phone message
    3. write a letter
    4. offer to testify

The goal is to begin to establish a relationship with this person, to tell them your story and share your willingness to help in any way you are able.

  1. Remember: You are in an illegal state sharing your success with medical marijuana, so you want to share the success you had while living in or visiting a legal state. You do not want to take any chance of getting arrested!
  2. You will find that telling personal stories is the key, so try to find others who will also be able to share their condition and how using this medication helped them, too. Share the condition, how it affects your daily life, and how using medical marijuana in the past has made a big difference.
  3. If you are able to attend a meeting, be sure to dress like you are going to work, keep the language clean, and show them you are simply one more everyday person trying to live life with major medical difficulties. You do not want to be perceived as a recreational drug user, so dress and act in a serious manner. First impressions matter.
  4. Along with sharing stories about how medical marijuana improves your life, you also need to discuss what the qualifying conditions are on the bill proposal. There is no way they will ever include every possible condition that causes pain. Therefore, it is very important to include the following language in your bill:
  • A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:
    • Cachexia or wasting syndrome
    • Severe, debilitating chronic pain
    • Severe nausea
    • Seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy
    • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease
    • Agitation related to Alzheimer’s Disease

If you don’t include chronic pain in the wording of the bill, many will not ever qualify.

  1. If you’re asked to testify at a hearing or meeting, again, your demeanor matters—show them you are “their family, their neighbor, their friend” in need of safe pain relief. Be on your best behavior and educate them. Prepare for your testimony with these tips:
  • Find out the time limit for your speech.
  • Consider putting your main points on a card to talk from, instead of just reading it word-for-word, because eye contact can really help make a meaningful connection.
  • Stay on point; time is limited and you must respect this or they will cut you off to allow others time to speak.
  • State your name and address.
  • Share your medical condition and a description of the impacts this condition has on your daily life.
  • Share how medical marijuana has made life more tolerable.
  • Ask them to have a heart and help you and all the others in your state.
  • I always end with: “You never know what life might bring each of you next. I didn’t ask to be forced to cope with this condition. Please show your compassion.”
  1. If your state has no bill submitted at the present time, your work will be a bit different. You need to look back and see if a bill was submitted in the past but never made it through, and locate the name of the sponsoring legislator. Contact them as directed in step #3, tell them you are ready to advocate—and ask what they need from you.
  2. Whether you have a bill submitted or are working to get one started, you want to keep the topic alive in the media, so write letters to the editor. Send a written story to news stations and radio stations, telling them you would like to share your story and why you want to see this legalized. You will be surprised how they may respond!
  3. Finally, contact us via the U.S. Pain Foundation to see if we have any ambassadors in your state who have expressed interest in advocating. We are happy to connect you with fellow advocates; there is strength in numbers. Good luck, and may this soon be legal for all in our country.