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Top PR Firms in Cannabis of 2017

By Aaron G. Biros, William Sumner
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The end of the year is often a time for reflection when people look back at their accomplishments over the last year; and those in the cannabis industry are no different.

2017 was a year of monumental change for the cannabis industry. Riding high on a wave of electoral victories and changing public sentiment, more states than ever have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion and nations like Canada are headed down the path of full legalization.

Part of the thanks for this seismic shift in public policy and consciousness has to go to the countless women and men who have tirelessly campaigned for cannabis reform for years; but a sizable portion of that thanks must also go towards the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry: the cannabis PR firms.

Fighting on the front-lines of the war for public perception, cannabis PR firms have been essential in the reversing decades of Reefer Madness and, through constant branding and re-branding, have helped make the cannabis industry the billion dollar industry that it is today. While helping their clients achieve the branding and marketing they need, PR firms have also helped considerably in normalizing cannabis and bringing it into the mainstream lens.

So in reflection of this past year, and in thanks of those that made it happen, here’s a look at some of the top PR firms in the cannabis industry for 2017 in no particular order.

Evan Nison, Nison Co.

Evan Nison is the founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co. and Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya. Nison Co. has over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis. In 2017, the company grew to over 30 industry leading cannabis clients and 7 full time staff and 8 part time staff focusing exclusively on the cannabis industry.

Evan Nison, founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co.

Nison is the youngest member of the board of NORML, and sits on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In 2016 he helped launch Whoopi & Maya, a women-centric medical cannabis company with actress Whoopi Goldberg and edible maker Maya Elisabeth and currently acts as its chief financial officer.

During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Evan pressed Hillary Clinton for her stance on marijuana legalization on Good Morning America during a live town hall event.

Evan has been mentioned in news sources such as the NY Times, Politico, USA Today, NBC New York, Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and has been profiled in the Ithaca Times, Home News Tribune, the Cannabist/Denver Post, and the Sun Times. He also received the 2011 NORML Student Activism Award and High Times Freedom Fighter Award for his advocacy.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Co-founder of Whoopi & Maya
  • Executive Director of NORML NJ, in a state where cannabis could be on the path to legalization shortly.
  • Drug law reform efforts in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML and others.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Success with public companies across the cannabis space.
  • Over 1,200 published stories for cannabis clients in 2017
  • Grew to over 30 clients in cannabis, over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis

Cynthia Salarizadeh, Salar Media Group

Cynthia Salarizadeh, founder and chief executive officer of Salar Media Group

With more than 15 years in public and media relations, Salarizadeh has made waves in her short time in the cannabis industry and has helped start multiple successful companies and organizations, such as Green Market Report and Industry Power Women.

As the founder and chief executive officer of Salar Media Group, Salarizadeh has worked with some of the top cannabis firms in the industry, including the likes of BiotrackTHC, CannaRegs, Inc., Cannabis Benchmarks, Humboldt’s Finest, MassRoots, Inc., Tikun Olam USA, ebbu, Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Frontera, Marijuana Investor Summit, Cannafundr, The Marijuana Show, Weed for Warriors Project, CannaMoms, Robert Hoban and 99 High Tide.

In 2017, Salarizadeh shook both the world of cannabis and fast food when Green Market Report published a study she wrote analyzing the fast food habits of cannabis users. The report became a viral sensation overnight, sent up shares in McDonald’s up by .58% (approximately $3.55) and became the topic of discussion in universities around the country and as well as McDonald’s headquarters. Stories for her clients have been mentioned on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, Playboy and Fortune. 

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Launched and assisted in managing full scale event execution for the Marijuana Investor Summit 2014 – the first investor summits of its kind for the industry.
  • Launched Cannafundr 2014 (editor and chief of the news section and pr director – acquired by MJIC in 2015).
  • Co-founded Industry Power Women 2017.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Managed the launch of Israel’s, and the world’s, original cannabis company Tikun Olam in the USA as the lifestyle brand Tikun.
  • Launched the first brand to be recognized in the media as “America’s Craft Cannabis” out of Humboldt – Humboldt’s Finest .
  • Responsible for one of the largest cannabis news stories of 2017, the McDonald’s-food habits of cannabis consumers campaign, raising their stock price and becoming a viral sensation.

Gaynell Rogers, Bond & Moroch

Twice a cancer survivor, Gaynell Rogers was first recruited into the cannabis industry by Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo in 2009. Since then, she has grown to become recognized as one of the leading voices in the cannabis industry.

As the director and developing partner of Bond & Moroch, Rogers works with veritable list of who’s who in the cannabis industry; including Hoban Law Group, one of the first national law firms to specialize in the cannabis industry.

Gaynell Rogers, director and developing partner of Bond & Moroch

Although Rogers is perhaps best known for securing the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel, she has also been responsible for countless cover stories de-stigmatizing cannabis that have appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.

In 2017, Rogers helped make history when she worked with Hoban Law Group to create the first-ever national cannabis television commercial. Her clients also include the 420 Games, New West Summit, Power Plant Fitness and Harborside.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • First national publicist for Arcview Group, Harborside and Steve DeAngelo​.
  • Responsible for a number of major cannabis news stories in The NEw York Times and Washington Post.
  • Secured the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Made history with getting the first-ever national cannabis TV commercial on air with the Hoban Law Group.
  • Success of 2017 New West Summit and 420 Games

KCSA Strategic Communications

KCSA Strategic Communications, a fully-integrated communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, social media and marketing, has been working with clients in the cannabis space for more than five years, and has deep institutional knowledge as well as access to decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs and analysts who are writing the rules for this new marketplace.

Lewis Goldberg, managing partner at KSCA

As a result, in 2017 KCSA launched a dedicated KCSA-Cannabis website as well as launched “The Green Rush,”a weekly, 30-minute show dedicated to the business of cannabis. Hosts KCSA Managing Partner Lewis Goldberg and Managing Director Anne Donohoe speak with reporters, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, investment bankers, CEOs, and investors.

KCSA represents a dozen public and private cannabis companies, accounting for nearly $1B in market cap and $100M in annual sales across the entire supply chain in WA, NV, NJ, CA and CO. The company will also be moderating the “Cannabis and the Capital Markets” speakers series at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo events in 2018. Their mix of traditional PR and IR services has helped professionalize communications efforts of many cannabis business players and has helped move the industry forward in the financial sector considerably.

Cannabis Industry PR Achievements worthy of note:

  • IR Work with Terra Tech
  • Key clients also include: Kush Bottles, 4Front Ventures, Medicine Man Technologies and Golden Leaf Holdings
  • Their client base grew to span the entire supply chain, from growers, refiners and dispensaries, to ancillary product companies and consulting firms.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Launched “The Green Rush” Podcast
  • Terra Tech’s marked success in expanding the cannabis segment of their business, accounting for 86% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2017.
  • They have helped their clients secure speaking slots at the major conferences and trade shows.

The Rosen Group

Established in 1984 and headquartered in New York City, The Rosen Group has been working in cannabis since the inception of adult-use in Colorado to bring cannabis messaging to the national stage, collaborating with mainstream and industry media outlets and working with brands to cement positioning as thought leaders.

Shawna McGregor, senior vice president, The Rosen Group

TRG partners with brands to expand into emerging markets while educating target audiences and conveying critical narratives. Cannabis clients include infused products producers such as Wana Brands and Next Frontier Biosciences, cultivators and dispensaries such as L’Eagle Services, industry associations such as Cannabis Business Alliance and professional services such as Urban-Gro.  

With strong roots in the cannabis, business, technology, agriculture, food & beverage and entrepreneurial sectors, TRG has a tremendous breadth of experience developing and implementing impactful communications plans, strategies and tactics. TRG clients receive customized, personal service and strategic initiatives specific to their goals and objectives via aggressive, 360-degree communications campaigns to maximize coverage.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Senior Vice President Shawna Seldon McGregor, who founded the Denver office in 2012, was honored with The Cannabist Award for Best Firm in 2016.
  • TRG has helped to position Wana Brands coowner Nancy Whiteman as one of the foremost thought leaders in cannabis. Inc.’s May 2017 issue declared Nancy “The Queen of Legal Weed.”
  • TRG successfully positioned Urban-Gro in front of cannabis producers, potential investors, and industry and mainstream publications through strategic thought leadership, brand messaging and media outreach.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • TRG helped to position L’Eagle as a leading voice on sustainability for the cannabis industry through speaking engagements and in over 200 features and articles reaching an audience of over 200 million.
  • Since signing on with Next Frontier Biosciences in June 2017, TRG helped get coverage in more than 60 news outlets reaching an audience of over 193 million.
  • For the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), TRG leveraged the 2nd annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium to secure more than 40 media placements for the Symposium’s speakers, sponsors and attendees.

Jennifer Price, Potnt Agency 

Potnt Agency is a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Reno, Nevada and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm has deep expertise in cannabis and hemp markets with extensive knowledge of cannabis history, products, science, innovations, politics, legal compliance and best business practices.
Jennifer Price, founder and lead communications strategist, Potnt

Potnt is led by Founder and Lead Communications Strategist, Jennifer Price, who has over 24 years of experience in public relations, product promotion and event marketing experience in consumer, tech, B2B and investor relations practices.

Potnt has represented many well-established brands across the cannabis space, including Strainz, a leading national cannabis brand management company, HelloMDGolden Tarp AwardsNew West SummitCannMed, and Pure Analytics.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
  • Facilitated one of the first multi-page features on cannabis in Playboy Magazine, “The White-Collar Future of Weed” -this article included four of Potnt’s clients and was focused on a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to revolutionize America’s cannabis industry.
  • Worked in partnership with HelloMD and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, former lecturer in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, to promote a groundbreaking study on cannabis use as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medication
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
  • Assisted in managing full scale event execution for the New West Summit 2017, the first conference to focus exclusively on the disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space.
  • Supporting successful branding campaigns including Strainz, a leading national cannabis brand management company, HelloMDGolden Tarp AwardsNew West SummitCannMed, and Pure Analytics.

These are a handful of some of the most valuable public relations experts the cannabis industry has to offer. There are many more unsung heroes in the cannabis legalization movement that work tirelessly to improve the image of our industry and support businesses in need of exposure. Next time you see a cannabis public relations expert, give them a big thank you.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill? Cannabis Reform Proposals and the 115th Congress

By Brian Blumenfeld, J.D., M.A.
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As CIJ readers are probably aware, last month Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017—the annual budget, in other words. Lying within this 1,665-page document is Section 537, which for one year restricts the Department of Justice from using any funds to prevent states from implementing their medical cannabis laws. Medical cannabis businesses and patients can take some solace in this restriction. Last summer, the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting in San Francisco, confirmed that this appropriations rider prevents federal prosecutors from bringing suit against medical cannabis businesses and users operating in compliance with state law. Two problems remain glaring, however: one, the protection only applies to medical cannabis activity, not recreational; and two, it is only guaranteed to last for one fiscal year.

To be sure, for the 115th Congress to address the profusion of issues emerging from the nationwide legalization movement, they must do something more. Various reform proposals have in fact been introduced during the current congressional session, and in order to fully digest where they stand and what they have the potential to accomplish, it will help to make sure that we know how they fit within federal legislative procedure.

Catching Up to Speed with the Legislative Process 

How A Bill Becomes A Law
Photo: Mary-Frances Main

Whenever confronting a question about government and politics, it is never a bad idea to start at the source of authority. In America, that source is of course the Constitution, and in Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, We The People have given to Congress the power to “determine the rules of its proceedings”.  When we remember back to the School House Rock cartoon for How A Bill Becomes A Law, the majority of political maneuvering behind the basic process taught in the cartoon actually happens according to these ‘rules’ or ‘resolutions’. In fact, at the beginning of each new Congress (every two years) each chamber, and each committee and subcommittee within each chamber, votes on the rules that will govern how they are to go about their legislative business. Traditionally, the rules from the previous Congress are carried over by this vote with only minor tweaks. On top of that, both parties in each chamber have their own internal rules and procedures for setting their policy agenda, directing political strategy, and determining which members will be nominated to certain leadership positions and committee posts. Playing the game of politics according to this layer cake of rules is a necessary part of the work of a legislator, and is often as important a factor in how our country is actually governed as is who wins election to office and what substantive provisions are formally enacted into law. So for the purposes of understanding federal cannabis reform, let’s take a quick look into the procedural status of the relevant legislation and who is in a position to influence what happens to it; then, when reviewing the policies they stand to codify, we will also understand the legislative landscape they must navigate.

Rep. Rohrabacher launches the Cannabis Caucus, Photo via Earl Blumenauer/YouTube

A good place to start is February 16, 2017 when Republican Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) along with Democratic Congressmen Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Under House and Senate rules, such a caucus must formally register with the House Committee on Administration as a Congressional Member Organization (CMO), disclosing its officers and members and declaring its purpose. These CMOs are sometimes referred to by different names: caucuses, conferences, coalitions, task forces, etc. The best known of these are the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses and the House and Senate Republican Conferences. By setting party policy, driving legislative strategy, promoting party cohesion and rewarding party loyalty, these largest of CMOs dominate partisan activity on Capitol Hill. Smaller CMOs, on the other hand, advance only specific interests and often cross the partisan divide. The Cannabis Caucus, for instance, was formed to catalyze a federal response to the nationwide legalization movement, and its “Path to Marijuana Reform” is a large part of the spate of bills that have been dropped into the congressional hopper over the past six months.

All in all there are twenty cannabis reform bills currently pending in Congress. In the House, all but two of the fourteen bills there have been referred to either the Energy & Commerce Committee or the Judiciary Committee, and all but one of the six in the Senate have been referred to either the Finance or Judiciary Committees.

A Note on Committees & Procedure

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is on the Ways and Means Committee
Photo: Michael Campbell

Under House and Senate rules, bills are referred to committees by matching the former’s subject matter to the latter’s jurisdiction. In the House, the Speaker may attach time limits for committee action, refer a bill or portions of a bill to multiple committees and determine the sequence in which they are to be considered. The Speaker may also convene an ad hoc committee to consider a bill, and “make such other provision as may be considered appropriate.” As can be gleaned, the Speakership holds substantial procedural powers, and is in fact the only congressional leadership position created by the Constitution. The Senate’s counterpart, the majority leader, has in comparison less discretion in moving along legislative business.

At the next step, both the House and Senate grant each committee the authority to make their own rules on how they are to consider bills. Once referred, committee chairs generally decide to further refer a bill to a subcommittee, hold hearings, subpoena evidence and witnesses, call ‘markup’ sessions to propose and debate amendments, and finally to schedule a vote to report bills back to the chamber floor. If a committee chair wishes to kill a bill, these procedural powers provide wide, though not absolute, authority to do so. Jockeying for a chairmanship is therefore big game in the life of a legislator. Ultimately, members are nominated and elected to their respective committees and chairs according to the rules of their parties’ caucus or conference, and upon a vote of approval on the floor. Seniority is only one factor in these votes, and so because nothing is predetermined, these intraparty contests can explain a great deal about member behavior.

With that background to help triangulate Capitol Hill politics, we should now be better equipped to look into the cannabis bills pending before the 115th Congress, the committees to which they have been referred, and their procedural status. Stay tuned for the next article in this series when we will begin our bill-by-bill review.