Your advocacy efforts are key in helping to shape both state laws and budgets. The importance of getting involved cannot be overstated. Most state legislators know very little about cannabis related issues and the impact the decisions they make have on real people’s lives. They have much to learn from you and other key stakeholders.
It is important to remember that your state representatives work for you and other constituents in their district. They are elected by a majority of their constituents and are interested in local issues and how they can work to benefit the communities they represent. Most also want to be re-elected so understand the importance of keeping their constituents happy. At the same time, they must balance competing interests, including the need to support effective programs while remaining fiscally responsible.
Communicating Effectively with Legislators
Legislators are extremely busy during session and deal with many, many policy issues…not just yours.
This situation makes it essential that you craft brief, simple and concise messages about the issues that matter most to you. This undoubtedly will increase your chance of legislative success. The following are some tips on communicating with legislators:
- Share personal stories. Facts, data and figures are great and all help to make the case for your issue, however, family and personal stories are extremely powerful and are often remembered well after the fact. Stories can have a deep impact on how a legislator feels about an issue or bill, particularly during oral testimony. But as with everything in advocacy, it is important to keep stories very brief (less than two minutes) and tied to pending legislation and policy issues or budgets. It is also very important to stay focused. Personal stories can also be shared during a scheduled meeting with a legislator (group meetings have greater power) or via a letter, email or phone call.
- Identify YOUR legislator. (Find your district HERE) Constituents are given top priority by legislators. In all communications with legislators, you should identify yourself as a constituent whenever possible. Legislators want to feel like they have a good handle on what is going on in their district and will be more likely to focus on a legislative issue if they hear directly from their constituents about it.
- Repetition. The number of times that a legislator hears about an issue, from the time they are elected to office until they leave office, plays a key role in whether they favor a cause or issue. Therefore, it is important that advocates communicate on a consistent and respectful basis with their legislators in order to keep them updated and informed about an issue during all stages of the legislative process. Bring your concisely crafted key messages to colleagues, friends and family in order to ask for their help in contacting legislators on important issues.
- Keep materials brief, straightforward and simple. When sharing printed materials with a legislator, try to keep it to a one-page, bulleted fact sheet that reinforces the key points on the issue. Lengthy materials are often not read. Again, please feel free to print the attached letter for your use.
- Clearly communicate what you are asking for. Whether it is support for a bill or asking a committee chair to hold a hearing or move a bill -- be clear on the action you want taken.
- Stay informed. Advocates should keep their legislators informed about their issues and how they want the legislator to vote, if there is an impending vote. On the flip side, advocates should also stay informed on where their legislators stand on issues, the actions they have taken, and any debates they have participated in on the issue. If legislators know their constituents are watching, they are more likely to vote in favor of the issues that matter most to their constituents.
- Be respectful. Dress respectfully, be punctual, start your conversation with a compliment (if possible), be friendly and polite, and thank the legislator for their service and for taking the time to meet with you. Always make your case without being critical of others’ personalities or motives. Never criticize another legislator, lobbyist or the opposition. If you find yourself in a disagreement with your member of the legislature, don’t get embroiled in an argument. Your responsibility is to present your case, not necessarily win your case in that moment.
- Listen. Allow the legislator a chance to respond, listen carefully to their advice and don’t interrupt. Be prepared to listen to give them an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.
- Follow-up. Advocates can never thank a legislator enough for supporting their cause, especially since they get pushed and pulled in many directions. It is essential for advocates to thank legislators when they are supportive of their issue by voting in favor of it, taking a public stance on it, or promoting the issue during a debate or speech. If a legislator is not supportive, a relationship can still be formed by providing education and resources on issues; the relationship that is established as a result will likely be beneficial when in the future when the issue comes up again.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
Thanks for all that you do!