1. Pick a location. Choose a setting for your press conference that will accommodate as many reporters and observers as you expect. Of course, you may not always know how many people are coming – so leave some margin for error. It is always best to have speakers elevated on steps or a platform so that they are visible to everyone. Reporters will bring their own equipment, but having a PA system is always helpful. Be conscious of the ambient noise. Try to stay away from busy streets if your press conference is outdoors. You may want to consider a location that is meaningful – i.e. a courthouse where someone is on trial, the location of a recent bust, the home of a newsmaker. Remember you must have permission to conduct a press conference on private property or in government buildings.

2. Assign tasks. Think ahead about what needs to be done and delegate the tasks well in advance. Someone will have to get permission to use a certain site for the event. Someone will have to invite media, print press materials, and set up the physical location. Someone needs to call speakers and get commitments. Some formal press conferences often have refreshments. Do not wait until the last minute to make a task list and assign duties. It will save you some unnecessary stress and make your event seem much more professional.

3. Line up speakers. Who is going to talk to the media? Generally, you want primary sources at your press conference. Primary sources are the people who are actually making the news – patients in trouble; researchers announcing a breakthrough, local politicians support the issue, lawyers defending patients, etc. Whether or not you have a primary source, ask yourself why the media will listen to the speaker. Are the well known, sympathetic, an authority on the topic? Call the speakers well in advance to get a commitment. It is also a good idea to send a confirmation letter or email specifying exactly when and where the speaker should be for the conference. Have them come early to avoid delays!

4. Create background materials. Do not assume that the media knows the background for the press conference. Have some printed materials ready to fill them in on medical cannabis in general and the specific reason for the press conference. If your press conference is concerning a patient on trial, for example, have brief information on medical cannabis and the defendant’s personal story. This will help the reporters in preparing the story and greatly increase the chances of being covered. Check the ASA website for general medical cannabis background material. Remember to keep it short – one or two pages.

5. Create visuals. Having an interesting visual presentation makes a press conference more effective and memorable. It also increases the chance of photographic and television coverage. Consider the backdrop of your event. Is there a landmark building or monument? You may also want to make signs, banners, or puppets to communicate something visually to the media. Or have everyone wear the same color shirt or have similar messages on your shirts. You only have a few seconds to make an impact. You can also use the podium as a place to put your organizations logo and website. 

6. Write and send a press release. 
The press release is the usual way that media outlets get news. See the sample press release for guidance. Keep it very short. You are only trying to get their attention, not tell the whole story. Be sure to include the nuts and bolts information: date, place, time, speakers, and who to call for more information. Many press releases are faxed to news outlets, but email is also acceptable. Send the press release a few days before the event, and again the day of the event. 

7. Make pitch calls. You will want to call everyone you sent a press release to and ask them to attend. This is a crucial step because reporters get numerous unsolicited press releases each week. Be prepared to offer a little more information about the topic, why it is important, and who will be speaking. Get the name, telephone number, and email of the reporter who will attend if possible. That way, you can follow up afterwards if needed.

8. Make press packs. Neatly print your press release, background materials, and other materials (relevant flyers, brochures, or supporting documents). Put a copy of each item in a folder with your business card or contact information. You will want to have enough copies for every reporter, so make a few extra.


1. Resend the press release.
 Send the press release to everyone again early in the day (or the night before for a morning event). Daily news assignment can vary, and you want to be at the top of the list.

2. Make more pitch calls. If time permits, you should call everyone who receives a press release again on the day of the press conference. If you do not have time to call everyone again, focus on those who you want there most or those who were most enthusiastic. 

3. Set the stage. 
Set up your room or outside area for good visibility. Have the speakers in a prominent place. Set up tables and chairs if necessary. Have someone standing by the entrance or in a prominent place to greet the press. A nametag is a good way to identify this person. Assemble the speakers early so you are ready to go on time and there are no surprises.

4. Greet and identify the press. You should designate a media liaison to welcome reporters as they arrive and distribute press packs. This person can also let reporters know where to set up cameras and microphones and when the speaking will begin. The liaison should also collect business cards or contact information from each reporter. This is normal; so do not be reluctant to ask. You will use this information to build your press list for follow up or future events.

5. Let the MC take charge. The MC (“master of ceremonies”) will conduct the press conference and introduce speakers. The MC should be confident, friendly, and able to keep the pace going and in order. The MC must also keep the reporters in line. If questions are to be answered at the end of the press conference, do not allow reporters to interrupt speakers. Politely decline to answer the question and remind them that there will be a time for questions later. 

6. Q & A. 
The MC should recognize reporters individually for questions. Allow the appropriate speaker to answer the question before taking another. Do not be intimidated if more than one reporter is trying to get your attention at the same time. Try saying something like, “I’ll take you first, and then you will be next.” Decide in advance if you will take all questions, or allow a fixed amount of time for questions. You can always invite reporters and speakers to speak informally after the press conference is closed. Be sure to thank the speakers and the press for attending.


1. Watch or read the coverage. You will want to see if and how your event is covered. Make note of which outlets carry your story. Those will be your hot prospects for future events. You may also identify “hostile” outlets with bad coverage. You should send a thank you note to a reporter who does a particularly good job. Likewise, you may want to send a correction if someone’s coverage is inaccurate or biased.  Be sure to note how the event looks in pictures and television. You can make improvements next time if you see something you do not like.

2. Make your press list. Now that you have collected contact information, make a list of every reporter who attended. Ad notes about anyone who was very supportive or enthusiastic. Keep this list for future use!

Sample Press Release 

For Immediate Release–December 7, 2006    Contact: William Dolphin (510) 919-1498

Medical Marijuana Patients Win Big as Court Upholds State Law
Judge Sides with Americans for Safe Access, ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance in Saying California Can Protect Patients

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego Superior Court today handed a critical victory to medical marijuana patients nationwide, affirming the ability of states to exempt qualified patients from criminal penalties, despite federal policy that prohibits all marijuana use.  Following oral arguments by AG and defendants, the court confirmed the validity of California's medical marijuana laws, rejecting the contention of several counties – San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced – that such laws are made invalid by federal law.  

“The judge agreed with us that there is no real conflict between federal and state law, and that the state's voluntary ID cards program does not interfere with the purpose of Prop. 215," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access. “This ruling upholds both the will of the voters and the legislature's attempt to help implement it. The protections provided to patients under state law have been confirmed.”

Enacted in 1996, the Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215, allows qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana.  The Medical Marijuana Program Act, passed in 2003, requires counties to implement an identification card program that allows law enforcement to properly identify legitimate patients.

The California Attorney General’s office argued in parallel with ASA, the ACLU, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) that state medical marijuana laws are not rendered invalid by conflicting federal statutes – consistent with the opinions of the attorneys general of several other states, including Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon, which permit medical use of marijuana.

The case originated from a lawsuit initially brought by San Diego County, and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties, against the state of California.  ASA, the ACLU and DPA intervened in the proceedings on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers and doctors in order to assure adequate representation of those most impacted by the case.

These groups represented Pamela Sakuda, a patient who passed away after the lawsuit was filed, as well as Sakuda’s spouse and caregiver, Norbert Litzinger and Dr. Stephen O’Brien, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California, and believes that many of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana as well as several other local patients.

“For the tens of thousands of seriously ill Californians who depend on medical marijuana, this victory could not be more significant,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn stated he was seeking clarification from the courts. Now that the court has ruled, we hope that San Diego and counties across California will move forward with implementing state law.”

# # #

With more than 30,000 active members with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states, Americans for Safe Access is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research.

Sample Letter to the Editor  


Los Angeles Times - Nov 04, 2002 

I was so pleased to read that doctors can no longer be accountable for suggesting marijuana use to patients when needed ("Medical Pot Use Given a Boost," Oct. 30). I just finished a year of treatments for breast cancer. While in chemotherapy treatment, nothing could control my severe nausea and vomiting. I was prescribed the so-called best prescription drug: Zofran. I even had it in IV form. After being so weak from vomiting that I didn't have enough strength to crawl back into bed, I tried marijuana following my fourth chemo treatment.

The symptoms were gone instantly. 

The marijuana was the only thing that kept me symptom-free. It was a miracle drug for me. I don't condone drug use, but feel that medical marijuana is better than the very expensive and synthetic alternatives in many medical cases.

Allyson Santucci,
Palm Desert