News and Best Practices

Spinning Trash into Community Relations Gold

July 26, 2016

The next time you’re in Oakland, Calif., on a Saturday morning, keep an eye out for James Anthony. He’ll be the one in the yellow vest picking up trash.

So why would one of the cannabis industry’s highest visibility attorneys spend his personal time cleaning up Oakland’s City District Five? Because he knows that one of the members of the city council is passionate about keeping the city clean. And Anthony is passionate about community relations and knows it’s all about being a good neighbor and proving to local authorities that you care just like they do.

Community relations are critically important to the success of your dispensary or retail store. “Rule number one is keep the neighbors happy,” said Anthony. Some store owners and managers get it, but some don’t. “Getting it” can pay dividends when a neighbor decides to stir up opposition to a local store, or something goes wrong and you have a problem. If you don’t invest your time and resources in building community ties, a small problem can turn into a major setback for you and other local cannabis businesses.

As an example, Anthony cites a situation in 2004 that started with a single problem and mushroomed until it threatened the livelihood of all the dispensaries in the area. A dispensary in Oakland was tossing waste into a dumpster of a nearby teen center, which prompted the city council to investigate. Lacking the depth in relationships and proof that the store was typically a good neighbor, a whirlwind swept through the Oakland City Council. It caused them to close all 17 dispensaries operating at the time and allow only four to continue via permit.

Clearly, trash matters. In Anthony’s words, cannabis dispensaries’ “very survival depends on” community relations.

And Anthony should know. He’s the owner of the Law Offices of James Anthony, which specializes in medical cannabis dispensary land use law. But he is also a respected member of the Oakland community. Earlier in his career he served as a zoning prosecutor for Oakland’s City Attorney’s office, where he saw first-hand the value of community relations to local business operations.

How should owners begin building community relations?

Dispensary owners are busy, and community relations can seem like just another task added to their already full plates. But this aspect of the business is so important that it should be an integral part of any cannabis operation. One of the most basic ways to do this is by getting involved in local organizations such as charities, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, etc. And, it doesn’t hurt to pick up trash.

The responsibility falls on the shoulders of the owners, who must also encourage their employees to take an active role in this process. Employers should be willing to pay their employees for the time involved because, according to Anthony, the “forward progress of the movement depends on their being good neighbors.”

Anthony stresses that the first step should be “building relationships with your neighbors and local groups.” An important part of this is being willing to listen to the needs of community members and not push any particular agenda. Find out what they value and then “make common cause with them,” said Anthony. This approach can then be expanded to the political sphere with similar strategies.

As Anthony points out, every politician has certain issues that are priorities. Find out what those issues are and then work with the politician. That’s why Anthony picks up trash on Saturdays. He knows that when he needs to have a discussion with the council member about an issue that’s important to the cannabis movement, the politician is not getting it from a businessman in a tailored suit, or from a lobbyist, but rather from “a guy in a yellow vest with a pair of gloves on who’s been picking up trash all day in the neighborhood.”

By Loren Mayshark
Dispensary Management Today articles are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal guidance or advice on dispensary operations. You should contact an attorney or a qualified cannabis consultant for specific compliance and dispensary/retailing advice.
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