Negotiation Training: Turning the Lows of Colorado’s Marijuana Laws into Highs

As the best negotiation training shows, disputes can be redrawn as deals.

By — on / Negotiation Training

marijuana laws

In the best negotiation training courses, executives and other trainees are taught not only how to effectively manage the negotiations they face, but also how to uncover new negotiation opportunities they may otherwise have missed.

To take one recent illustrative story from the news, the city of Denver faced a dilemma when the sale of marijuana was legalized in the state of Colorado back in 2013, Ben Markus reported for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. Marijuana stores popped up all over Denver, yet, for a time,  there were few legal places buyers could legally smoke the drug: Smoking marijuana in bars, restaurants, hotels, and public places remained against the law.

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That meant the thousands of tourists flocking to Denver pot stores face a Catch-22: they could buy their drug of choice legally but, if they wanted to smoke it and had no access to a private home, they may have felt they had little recourse but to break the law. Not surprisingly, Denver’s police department issued over 1,000 citations for the public consumption of marijuana in 2014 alone.

On the heels of their successful statewide campaign to legalize cannabis, marijuana advocates began mobilizing for another fight. They began collecting signatures for another ballot measure, this one aimed at allowing citizens to vote on whether to legalize pot smoking in many Denver bars and restaurants.

To the activists’ surprise, however, the Denver City Council approached them and asked to try to negotiate a solution instead. The councilman who represented Denver’s downtown area, Albus Brooks, supported by bar and restaurant owners in his district, initiated the conversation with the activists. They agreed and withdrew their ballot measure.

“We were very excited to be able to work with the city together to create a policy that everyone agrees is the best step forward,” marijuana activist Mason Tvert told Weekend Edition.

For his part, Councilman Brooks said he was motivated to reduce pot smoking in and near public parks, including playgrounds.

In 2016, The City of Denver is crafted a new ordinance with marijuana advocates and local businesspeople to allow businesses like bars, cafes, restaurants and yoga studios to allow recreational marijuana consumption—making it the first US state to do so. To update the law, negotiators needed to address key areas of concerns, such as how to prevent a surge in the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana if smoking in designated bars, restaurants, or clubs became legal. They made the age limit 21 for consumption at these venues.

Additionally, neighborhood groups need to approve any venues looking to offer consumption areas, and have ongoing rights to modify conditions of the consumption areas. After approval, the business is granted an annual or temporary permit.

Personal beliefs and opinions regarding marijuana use aside, the story points to the benefits of initiating negotiation to head off disputes and contests before they escalate. If the city had allowed activists to pursue their ballot initiative, it might have lost control of the nature of the proposal being considered and ultimately been displeased with the outcome. By extending an olive branch, the city wrested back some degree of control while also taking steps to defuse an adversarial relationship.

In both the private and public sector, when one party takes a competitive stance, we tend to respond in kind. If a fellow department head attempts a power grab over key resources, for example, our first instinct will be to seize back as much as we can for own department.

By contrast, the best negotiation skills training encourages us to take a step back and look for ways to defuse the situation, as the Denver City Council did. Is it possible to transform a would-be dispute into an opportunity for collaborative negotiation? When looking for negotiation training for yourself or for your team, be aware that the best negotiation courses encourage both collaboration and competition. Research consistently shows that when negotiators work with one another to meet the needs of all parties involved, in addition to claiming value for themselves, they do better than if they focused sole on competing over finite resources.

At the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, our executive education programs emphasize the value of finding ways to transform disputes into deals. The experts who lead our negotiation courses offer innovative means of looking for ways to bridge differences with those whose interests at first glance seem incompatible with our own.

When looking for a negotiation training program for yourself or your team, be sure to consider the following questions:

  • Does the negotiation training promise to give you opportunities to practice joint problem-solving and fact-finding?
  • Is the negotiation training program led by experts who have experience studying observing, and engaging in complex negotiation situations where a competitive mindset can be difficult to break?
  • Does the negotiation training teach principles of negotiation in business that you believe you will be able to adapt to negotiations and disputes in your career?

If the negotiation training you are considering can answer these questions in the affirmative, it is likely to teach the kind of collaborative approach to negotiation that breaks disputes and leads to win-win agreements.

Related Negotiation Training Article: Negotiation Training with Heart

Claim your FREE copy: Negotiation Skills

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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