Medical Marijuana Program Lessons Learned: Clarity through Communications (Part One)

Medical Marijuana is legal in 34 states and the District of Columbia, with legalization being considered in at least a half dozen other states. Despite the uptick in legalization, expertise within this nascent field remains scarce. Harnessing our experience supporting five state medical marijuana programs, we’ve unpacked the actionable insights that other states can apply to their respective program journeys. In this installment, we’ll examine the importance of communications and stakeholder engagement.

Communication is a key aspect of a medical marijuana program. Healthcare practitioners, caregivers, and patients all require targeted engagement due to their unique circumstances and roles. Practitioners must understand the potential benefits as well as the administrative requirements for themselves and their patients. Caregivers hold a unique responsibility that can include both the initial decision-making process as well as the logistical realities of acquiring and administering the medication for their patients. This responsibility requires a thorough understanding of both the health implications as well as the strict procedures that may be required.

While every state’s journey to medical marijuana program design and implementation will vary, leaders can commonly expect strict regulation and compliance needs, highly scrutinized licensure and selection processes, and strong interest from businesses and citizens in joining the program. Managing communication through clear messaging will support a transparent initiation process and operationalization in turn minimizing disruptions that could delay or derail medical marijuana program delivery.

Like putting together the pieces of a puzzle—an understanding of the perspectives, needs, and constraints of each impacted group is critical to an effective medical marijuana program.

The Key Players

Patients: Patients are likely to have wide ranging questions, especially as the program starts.  Patients need to understand the registration requirements, dispensary operations, potential adverse events, and potential medication interactions.


  • Communication takeaway: Focus on accessible and timely communication, which can minimize potential areas of confusion and allow staff to stay focused on where they can provide the most value.

Caregivers: The role of the caregiver can be extremely complex as they assist patients navigate both registration and product acquisition as well as serve as an advocate for the patient both with physicians and medical marijuana dispensaries.



  • Communication takeaway: Provide clear communication about the role and requirements for caregivers, mitigating the potential for confusion and misunderstanding – all of which ultimately leads to registration challenges and product acquisition delays.

Physicians: Physicians are the most likely to have high expectations regarding understanding the data that supports the use of medical marijuana. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure easy and clear physician access to data.



  • Communication takeaway: Ensure that physicians have a clear understanding of the program to build a strong base of physician engagement and participation with the program. Otherwise, patients will have difficulty finding physicians to certify their conditions.

Healthcare Providers: Many physicians are employed directly by health care providers (HCP). HCPs can play a key role in shaping physicians’ perspectives of a state’s medical marijuana program, including program awareness, patient value, and medical condition qualification.



  • Communication takeaway: Facilitate a robust dialogue with healthcare providers to ensure that the registration process is accessible for patients.

Nursing Homes: Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities where many patients may live can have a significant impact on the accessibility and ease of use of the medical marijuana program.



  • Communication takeaway: To ensure ease of patient access, focus on engaging nursing homes and educating decision-makers on the impact of medical marijuana.

Law Enforcement:  Ensuring law enforcement has a clear understanding of how the program operates and is managed will assist in developing program credibility.



  • Communication takeaway: To avoid downstream law enforcement challenges with patients, caregivers, and physicians, promote a robust understanding of the program among law enforcement stakeholders.

As with any high-stakes, highly regulated program, medical marijuana programs are closely monitored by the media and are the subject of heightened public awareness. In our experience, we’ve observed that lack of clear communication leads to media—and in turn, the public’s mistrust in the program. To navigate this complex landscape, clear and consistent communication emerges as an imperative in any medical marijuana program implementation agenda.

In the next installment of our series, we’ll unpack the key role that permitting plays in medical marijuana system design.

Click here to read parts two, three, and four of our series.