Giving Back: Cannabis Supports Communities
Author – Jon Russell
Edited by Noah Persin
The cannabis industry has seen huge boosts recently. With over half of the United States having access to legal medical cannabis and now 9 states (and Washington D.C.) have legalized recreational cannabis. Conservative forecasts show the cannabis industry’s projected worth at $40 billion by 2020. This influx of hard cash has some cannabis business owners giving back in a big way! We know that some businesses have taken issue with cannabis philanthropy, but today we would like to highlight and say thank you to several who have successfully implemented philanthropy programs.
Philanthropy vs. Charity
Before we can focus on those companies who have implemented full philanthropic programs we need to define the difference between “charity” and “philanthropy”.
Webster’s defines charity as the act of giving money, food, or other kinds of help to people who are poor, sick, etc. This is different from philanthropy; defined as the act of an organization distributing or supported by funds set aside for humanitarian purposes. Many businesses perform charitable acts; donating to local food drives, purchasing a small sponsorship in a local homeless shelter one time, etc. These are wonderful contributions but lack a formal structure or setting. They many only happen one time and the receiving organizations can’t count on those donations being given again. This is where philanthropy comes in.
Many cannabis business owners are implementing formal philanthropic programs. These are long standing programs or sponsorships that provide both time and money to an adopted or “sponsored” nonprofit or group. From a percentage of each sale being donated to fundraising teams for Relay for Life and AIDS Walk, there are many ways businesses can reach their philanthropic goals. Now that we understand the difference between the two types of giving, let’s look at a few successful philanthropy programs.
Cannabis Philanthropy Successes
Most of the existing cannabis industry was formed in the medical marijuana markets and has begun to move into recreational markets. The success of the industry has left many wanting to give back to the patients who helped them get started, charities that assist patients and/or medical research . One of these is Scott McKinley of Caviar Gold. Caviar Gold works with the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Relay for Life in Everett, Washington.
McKinley remarked, “The way that I look at it is that we came from medical. We wouldn’t be here without it. And everyone who started in medical got medical by getting a medical marijuana authorization from a doctor. I have fibromyalgia, that’s why I got it. Other people have real legit issues why they got it. That’s why we’re in this industry.”
To put his money where his mouth is McKinley worked with the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) and the ACS to add a third party logo to their products. Products with that emblem have five percent of the purchase price donated to the ACS. The first donation is estimated to be near $5,000 mark. This marks an important step forward in the acceptance of the cannabis industry’s positive role in our communities. McKinley feels that every cannabis business should step up. “If we can get 50 brands to participate, we can play a part in finding a real end to the suffering of cancer,” he said.
Colorado joined Washington in legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use. Just like in Washington, Colorado cannabis businesses felt the philanthropic call. Businesses such as Good Chemistry, KindColorado and The Clinic have all been major supporters of local nonprofits.
Good Chemistry is a major contributor to One Colorado, an organization dedicated to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans and their families. Although they declined to give a specific amount, Good Chemistry’s efforts supporting One Colorado’s work on behalf of the LGBTQ community earned founder Matt Houron an Ally Award in 2016. Good Chemistry also has a Compassion Program that donates medicinal cannabis to low income or terminally ill patients. Huron said. “My father passed away in July of ’09 (to complications from AIDS), and I moved the business here in December ’09 … It was important to me and to his legacy, and it was why I got into this industry in the first place — to continue the Compassion Program.”
The Clinic is a supporter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Over the past few years, the Clinic has been recognized for its continued support of the National MS Society. Through the annual Clinic Charity Golf Tournament and the Walk MS, the Clinic has raised nearly $300,000 for the National MS Society in the state of Colorado since 2010. According to Kaylin Daniels, donor relations officer at the MS Society, The Clinic “became the top corporate team for Walk MS for Colorado and Wyoming.”
These aren’t the only businesses who feel the call to help out in their communities. However, many aren’t sure how to get started. KindColorado saw that need and stepped in to fill the void. The new Denver-based organization helps cannabis businesses develop community engagement efforts. “One of these days it won’t be cannabis and the community — it’ll be cannabis in the community,” said Kelly Perez, founder of the group.
In our own backyard here in Oregon we have Pure Green, a family owned and operated retail cannabis store in Northeast Portland, Oregon. Pure Green worked with Nirvana Ranch Philanthropy to host the Philanthropy and the Cannabis Industry: Creating High Impact Partnerships seminar. Pure Green has hosted a food drive for the Oregon Food Bank and makes sure to allow for employees to volunteer as well. Founder Matt Walstetter believes that community service is an important role in his business. He said, “Our 3% or 2% that we’re able to reserve back from the tax revenues that are due each month and have to submit to the city for non-recreational sales, we use that to fund community service hours for our employees. So we provide them paid hours where they can go volunteer in the community and we’ll pay them for that.”
Cannabis’ Community Impact
It’s difficult to judge exactly the overall value of the philanthropic endeavors of the cannabis industry. Many nonprofits keep these donations quiet and don’t report how much they receive. However, we can extrapolate a little here. American’s typically donate an overall value roughly equivalent to 2% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Cannabis projected to be a $44 billion industry by 2020, which is approximately 0.28% of the current GDP. With our current GDP at $16.77 trillion, we could potentially see almost $1 billion is philanthropic donations by 2020! *
Those donations will have a huge impact. However, it is also important to note the community goodwill these programs generate. Cannabis is fighting to overcome its historical stigma. Giving back has helped communities accept dispensaries, farms and other cannabis businesses that were previously reviled. As more begin to become long term donors we will see the cannabis industry come fully into the mainstream and accepted as an industry who gives as much as it receives. The fact that it also helps generate business growth is the icing on the cake.