Letters O-R-G with the opening of the O being the shape of the state of Ohio and underneath the words Ohio Rights Group

You’ve come a long way baby. Medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio. A bill passed, establishing an industry that will serve a significant portion of the state’s patient population. Certified physicians will recommend cannabis to those with one of 21 medical conditions. The plant will be grown in giant warehouses, processed into oils and tinctures, tested for contaminants and sold in dispensaries around the state. With patient numbers estimated at over 150,000, the Ohio market may well exceed $200 million.

But we still have a long way to go. The roll out of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program has hardly been smooth. As widely reported, marijuana will not be on the shelves by the program’s promised deadline of September 8th. Neither will it be tested as required in the legislation that begat the program. Processors have yet to be picked. Patients and caregivers must wait until September for cards. Further, hundreds of cities around Ohio have imposed moratoriums or even bans to keep medical marijuana businesses, and by extension, patients at bay.

Confused? Concerned? Distraught? Dumbfounded? Many Ohioans are. This makes them hungry for information and eager for education.

The Ohio Rights Group formed in 2013, laser-focused on ballot issues, but after assisting with three measures and lobbying for legislation, the organization accomplished its goal of legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio with the passage of HB 523 in 2016.

Some might have waved the mission accomplished flag, but not the ORG. The solid knowledge base in cannabis gained during its advocacy years revealed a clear-cut need for information and education in the new cannabis marketplace. The transition from an advocacy to an educational mission became obvious.

The medical marijuana community likes to talk to itself. It will banter, bicker, decry and debate among its own, but dares not cross ideological lines to engage wider audiences where it might encounter the skeptical, dubious or downright opposed. Meanwhile, the community wonders why so many remain unaccepting and why the many moratoriums.

Recognizing this, the ORG saw an unmet need that fit perfectly into its mission. It’s called the Ambassadors Program™.

The Ambassadors Program offers skilled communicators who are knowledgeable in all aspects of cannabis for events, classrooms, hearings, media and meetings, large and small. Ambassadors perform four functions:

  1. Liaisons to various groups, industries and individuals, as the name implies,
  2. Public speakers, akin to a speakers bureau,
  3. Facilitators, to engage in one-on-one or small group conversations, and
  4. Educators, in audience or classroom settings.

They aim to achieve these goals:

  • Providing credible information concerning cannabis in an easy-to-understand, interesting and time sensitive manner.
  • Conveying a trustworthy image by certifying qualified Ambassadors, exhibiting a professional appearance, utilizing compelling materials and giving persuasive presentations.
  • Improving the perception of cannabis and those associated with it, whether patients, physicians, cultivators or others connected with the new industry.
  • Gaining acceptance of cannabis so that businesses will grow, patients will thrive, and the injustices of cannabis prohibition will end.

The Program will be managed by the Ohio Rights Group Education Fund, which can receive tax deductible donations.

Here’s how the Ambassadors Program might work. True story. In the far northwest corner of Ohio lies a sleepy, uber conservative berg where a citywide ban on cannabusinesses is being reconsidered. The city council is holding an open session on the issue despite objections from the local sheriff and prosecutor whose anti-marijuana rhetoric usually dominates the debate. Desperately needed are credible, educated and articulate speakers (Ambassadors) to help overturn the ban. A three-part strategy is devised: Ambassadors will speak at the open session, Ambassadors will present at local civic associations and churches, and Ambassadors will conduct classroom training within the community. Ambassadors might also meet one-on-one with the city council. The results: improved image of cannabis and those associated with it, community-wide understanding of the plant and its benefits, an overturned ban and a welcoming environment for cannabusinesses. In turn, the economy grows, and the sick have safe, legal access to a non-lethal plant-based medicine.

As it turned out, there were no Ambassadors. Only one person testified at the open session where the sheriff and prosecutor held sway. Potential cannabusiness owners were heckled and run out of town.

Marijuana is a new industry in Ohio. Guidelines and regulations are in their infancy. The science behind the plant is emerging. New businesses are sprouting up. But even with a legal framework, the stigma that stimulates misinformation and misunderstanding remains bringing with it marginalization, moratoriums and bans. Wishful thinking won’t render change, but action and engagement will. Ambassadors will build these bridges, inspire learning and pollinate knowledge, for with knowledge comes understanding. As a sage once said, learn to see problems from the higher plane of understanding. Then, see them dissolve before your eyes.