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Preparing for cannabis legalization: Effective communications and issues management

With the legalization of cannabis fast approaching, many organizations are busy planning for potential impacts broader cannabis usage will have on the workplace and our communities. Recently, we partnered with a local law firm to share insights with municipal administratorsabout the Cannabis Control Act and effective communications planning.

Before the session, we did a survey to determine the level of preparedness of the 100+ session participants. About 30% of respondents said they were actively planning for the legalization of cannabis. When it came to level of preparedness only 4% felt they were very prepared, 57% somewhat prepared, and 39% said they were not at all prepared. The majority of respondents (57%) said they were concerned about the legalization of cannabis.

With this in mind, we set out to share some thoughts on how municipalities could focus their planning efforts. While municipalities have the dual challenge of being both an employer and provider of public services, many of the same principles apply for any organization thinking about being prepared for cannabis legalization.

Phase 1: Understand

At the time of drafting this story, the senate had approved the Act and put forward some recommended amendments. A number of provinces have already determined how they will distribute cannabis, set legal age for consumption and personal possession amounts. Municipalities are busy planning for zoning and updating bylaws, licensing, rules for home cultivation, enforcement of consumption and possession, and how they will deal with nuisance complaints like odours and smoking or vaping.

What all organizations should be thinking about at this stage is understanding what changes are needed to workplace policies and practices to include recreational cannabis. Look for credible sources of information. For example, the province of Nova Scotia has public education materials available. What is our cannabis usage policy? How do we define impairment? What do we mean by fit for duty? Will there be testing?

Phase 2: Prepare

Armed with an understanding of the planned changes required to address the legalization of cannabis, organizations should work with human resources, legal and communications to update workplace policies. In addition to updating policies, this information should be packaged in a way that is clear, consistent and easily understood. Developing a plain language summary of the policy changes, frequently asked questions and identify usage resources are a good place to start.

Phase 3: Educate

In times of change, communication is key. According to NATIONAL’s best practices in employee education, determining employee attitudes and values will give you a good benchmark and understanding of where they stand on the issue and what resources they may need. Creating opportunities for formal and informal sharing of information and engaging employees in two-way communications help ensure great engagement and understanding. Empower employees by providing timely information and arming them with the tools necessary to ensure understanding. Set communications objectives that are measurable to ensure you’ll know if you’ve successfully engaged and educated employees.

NATIONAL Public Relations has a network of communicators that are working with organizations as they prepare for cannabis legalization. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the subject matter further.