Gov. Ned Lamont is poised to sign House Bill 6699, Public Act No. 23-79, “An Act Concerning Cannabis Regulation.” This new law does many things, and I don’t care for all the pieces. The bit I worked on was first drafted in the 2023 legislative session as a standalone bill, House Bill 5539, and establishes The Connecticut Office of the Cannabis Ombudsman. All the related language is on page 130 of the public act.
This was my rookie attempt at turning an idea into law, so naturally I made some mistakes along the way. What follows are some of the lessons I learned from my time as a “citizen lobbyist.”
- Pay attention to state and local political reporting. Try to identify public officials, particularly state legislators, who might be receptive to your cause. Then reach out to them. This idea would still be just an idea if not for House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, who knew that 5539 had a better chance of advancing if it were part of an omnibus bill. Rojas believed in the idea enough to run with it, and for that he has my gratitude.
- Don’t let good be the enemy of perfect. Yes, I know that looks backward. My two biggest regrets here are elements that didn’t make it from vision to execution. While my public testimony included suggestions for divestiture requirements and a transparent hiring process, neither got done in the end. I wish I had fought harder for both, and now I worry that their absence means greater potential for corruption upon implementation. I thank Sherry Haller, Executive Director of The Justice Education Center, for her wisdom and guidance on navigating these waters.
- Use the tools available to you. The Connecticut General Assembly’s website offers free services for tracking bills, automatically notifying you of updates and actions being taken. It’s also a fantastic informational resource for the average citizen. If you take the time to initially configure the notifications, you will save yourself a lot of time throughout the session.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you have a friend or family member who is a political junkie, they’ll likely be happy to chat and offer advice about something that might have you vexed. My good friend and owner of Sugar Leaf in Middletown, Kristin Souza, was a godsend throughout this process. Her experience with Middletown DTC made her a natural collaborator, and it almost certainly would have taken more than one legislative session without her.
- Real Journalists and real journalism are essential. I didn’t have a budget for public relations, nor anything else for that matter. That means it’s on me to effectively communicate my positions and ideas to help medical cannabis patients in Connecticut, particularly when making initial contact. Signal amplification can have a compounding effect, so make sure your signal is high quality.
I share these lessons I learned with the hope that others may benefit when pursuing their own similar efforts. It’s a significant time commitment but if you’re willing to put the work in, change is possible.