For cannabis companies, giving back to the community isn’t always easy. In fact, many charitable organizations are reluctant to accept donations from the cannabis industry, citing worries of legality at the national level.
No non-profit wants to risk their 501(c)(3) status by accepting donations from what could potentially be considered a criminal organization, and you can’t really blame them. However, that does present a few problems. As Organa Brands President Chris Driessen told Forbes after his company was rejected from donating to Wounded Warriors, American Cancer Society and The Children’s Hospital Foundation: “It felt like a slap in the face . . . because the message was essentially you’re a drug dealer.”
The good news is that the barriers haven’t stopped cannabis companies from moving forward with their philanthropy, and some companies—such as kindColorado—are working to make cannabis giving easier and more effective. And for an industry that’s expected to be worth $10 billion by 2020, according to Frontier Data, that’s good news for everyone.
Headquartered in Colorado, kindColorado is a consulting firm that works with cannabis companies across the country, helping them figure out how to get involved in their community. “We think cannabis can be an asset. It can contribute to economic health and impact communities positively,” says Kelly Perez, Co-founder and CEO of kindColorado. “The key is determining how best cannabis can meet community needs.”
That’s what kindColorado is all about. They work with cannabis businesses located in communities negatively affected by the drug war, and they figure out how cannabis companies within those communities can begin to change the narrative. It’s not about throwing money at projects and charities, but giving cannabis a seat at the table to engage in civic conversations and meet community needs.
“We want to create places for cannabis businesses to participate in the community, including in philanthropy, where they can be the hero of their own story—a force for good in their community,” explains Perez. “Our focus is to connect non-profits with the cannabis industry in a way that opens a dialogue and embraces the idea of ‘doing good.’”
They do this in three ways:
- Education & Training: Many non-profit organizations have a difficult time understanding the cannabis industry. “We work with them to organize a framework for giving where the cannabis company can be actively engaged, and not just a wallet,” explains Courtney Mathis, Co-founder and President of kindColorado.
- Philanthropy Projects: For cannabis businesses who want to give back but don’t quite know how to get started, kindColorado helps them develop their concept of Cannabis Social ResponsibilityTM, which opens the door for mutually beneficial partnerships between cannabis and the community.
- Volunteer Opportunities: Finally, kindColorado matches cannabis businesses with current charitable projects and volunteer opportunities for active charitable giving.
For example, kindColorado recently partnered with The Gathering Place, the only daytime drop-in center in Denver that serves women, children and transgender individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness. Through this partnership, kindColorado and five women-owned or operated cannabis businesses—Lightshade, Wana Brands, Olio, the Marijuana Industry Group and Mason Jar Events—raised $35,000 for the organization. More than that, they got a seat at the table to participate in volunteer opportunities, sponsorship and more.
“We think cannabis can be an asset. It can contribute to economic health and impact communities positively . . . The key is determining how best cannabis can meet community needs.”
Another cannabis company volunteered with 12-15 of their staff members at the Denver Urban Gardens, DeLaney Community Farm, which partners with refugee farmers to grow food and nourish the community. During this volunteer time, the cannabis employees broke down cultural barriers and represented not just their company, but the cannabis industry as a whole.
“This was possible because the cannabis company owner was value-driven and 100% open to listening to his community and figuring out what it needed based on their priorities,” says Mathis. “Whenever we organize efforts, we ensure that the entire business is excited to actively engage.”
How Can Cannabis Give Back?
As for how cannabis businesses can and should get involved in giving back, Mathis and Perez recommend starting with your community. “Before you volunteer and before you give money, find out what your community wants and needs,” says Mathis. “You need to understand the community dynamic. Find out what they care about and what they’re afraid of. That’s the only way to get their support and to change their perception of cannabis business.”
Many of the communities where cannabis businesses have been set up, based on zoning and local policy, are the same areas that have been most negatively affected by the War on Drugs. That means marijuana businesses already have a huge hurdle to overcome in terms of their public perception; they need to move forward carefully if they want to change the cannabis dialogue.
For instance, kindColorado is currently working in a community where the local soup kitchen, Grant Avenue Street Reach, desperately needs help to serve 1,200 meals every Monday. Specifically, they need a security guard at just $250 a week to stay open. Mathis and Perez would love to find a cannabis business to fill this specific need instead of just throwing money at something else. “The sweet spot for giving back is where a cannabis company’s values align with what the community cares about,” explains Perez.
If you’d like to get your business involved in your community, kindColorado has many options, including their trademarked Cannabis Social ResponsibilityTM program, which matches cannabis businesses with non-profit partners for a mutually beneficial relationship. You can learn more at kindcolorado.org.
If your cannabis business is involved in giving back or you’d like to share your personal cannabis story in our next #End420Shame article, post on social media using the hashtag or email Kellyv@dopemagazine.com.