Tips for advocating for medical cannabis legalization in your state

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Co-Director for Medical Cannabis Advocacy, U.S. Pain Foundation

I wish all people in our country had safe and affordable access to medical cannabis in their states. Although we are getting closer, many of you still live in states where it is illegal and may have the desire to know what you can do to help expedite the process of legalization.

I thought it might be helpful to share my experience with you, in order to help you work to turn your state into a more compassionate state. My husband, Stu, and I are the Co-Directors for Medical Cannabis Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation. We are very proud of the foundation for supporting the choice of this medication and taking a positive stand.



  • Google your state or use http://org/legal/medical-marijuana-2and become familiar with where your state stands presently.
  • Contact to let us know about your goal of starting or expanding a medical cannabis program and request their support.
  • U.S. Pain can provide you with tips, resources, and let you know about other advocacy efforts going on.
  • You will need to reach out to your state legislators who support a current bill, have supported a bill in the past, or seem like they might be willing to introduce a bill. You can research this on your state government’s website.
  • You might send them an email, call them, and/or request a meeting to discuss. Contact information can be found on your state government’s website.
  • If you are able to attend a meeting, be sure to dress like you are going to work, keep the language clean and show them that you are one more everyday person trying to live life with major medical difficulties. You do not want to be perceived as a recreational drug user.
  • You will find that telling your story, sincerely and succinctly, is the key. Share information about your condition, how it affects your daily life and how using medical cannabis, in the past, has made a big difference or why you want to try it.
  • Remember, if you are in an illegal state sharing your success with medical cannabis, you want to share the success you had while living or visiting a legal state. You do not want to take any chance getting arrested!
  • If they want you to come testify in support of a bill, again, your demeanor matters – show them you are “their family, their neighbor, their friend” in need of safe pain relief. Be on your best behavior and educate them! Prepare your speech before your arrive.
  • Find out the time limit
  • Consider putting your main points on a card to talk from, instead of just reading it all for eye contact can really help!
  • Stay on point – time is limited and you must respect this or they will shut you off to allow others their time slot
  • State your name and address
  • Share your medical condition and a description of this condition has on your daily living
  • Share how medical cannabis has made life more tolerable than in the past
  • Ask them to have a heart and help you and all the others in your state.

Along with sharing your story as to why this would help improve the quality of your life, you also need to discuss what the qualifying conditions are on the bill proposal. There is no way they will ever include listing every possible condition that causes pain. So it is very important to include “chronic pain” as a qualifying condition.

Other wording that may work well:

“A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following:

  • Cachexia or wasting syndrome
  • Severe, debilitating, chronic pain
  • Severe nausea
  • Seizures, including but not limited to, those characteristic of epilepsy
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to, those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease
  • Agitation related to Alzheimer’s disease

Finally, any other condition or its treatment approved by the [state name] Department of Health.”

Final note: Many legal states allow a process where you can submit a condition for consideration. Complete proper documentation and submit your condition … or try submitting the wording from Rhode Island that covers many conditions.


  • If you have no bill submitted at the present time, then your work will be a bit different. You need to look back and see if a bill had been submitted that never made it through and locate the name of that person. Again, you would want to contact that person or persons and tell them you are ready to advocate and ask what they need from you.
  • Contact to request support.
  • Make it easy for your legislature by providing samples of other successful state laws already established across the country.
  • Consider reviewing the wording used in Rhode Island’s bill. Lawmakers who crafted the legislation were clever and all-inclusive with the wording of the bill.
  • Whether you have a bill submitted or are working to get one started, you want to keep the topic alive in the media, so write letters to the editor, send a written story to news stations and radio stations, telling them you would like to share your story and why you want to see this legalized. You will be surprised how they can respond!