Fire Friday: Fighting for Philanthropy

“I still catch myself calling customers, patients,” remarked Scott McKinley as he sat in the DOPE Magazine offices in Seattle. Amidst the litany of change the medical marijuana community weathered as the industry in Washington state moved forward with the implementation of recreational pot policies, McKinley’s viewpoint has genuine staying power. Not to mention, room to carve out a new movement.

Caviar Gold has, without doubt, been a staple in the medical cannabis scene in Washington state since 2010. They have been the lead sponsor of Seattle HEMPFEST for five years, bringing generosity and authenticity to these massive crowds on an annual basis. Also well-known and celebrated for giving free cannabis to the terminally ill, they stayed true to their medicinal mindset and gave their profits back to patients. However, the regulatory transition into the recreational cannabis industry proved to be convoluted and did not leave room for the level of generosity that the Caviar Gold team had previously become accustomed to. “We have always had the mandate of giving away free marijuana. Always, that’s what we’ve always done. Now I can’t and I have excess funds. We’ve always been the company that tried to help people,” said McKinley.

Regulations governing the recreational cannabis market in Washington state involve extensive systems of tracking that follow cannabis from seed to sale—not from seed to someone who you believe needs it for free. With the option of giving free cannabis to the terminally ill officially off the table, it became apparent to Caviar Gold that donating profits might be the best avenue for positively influencing the lives of many patients. While the Caviar Gold team witnessed the plant as a helpful treatment for several illnesses, cancer stood out as a specific target for their well-aimed philanthropy. Thus began a two-and-a-half-month search to find a cancer research center that would accept their donations, where the complicated nature of conflicting federal and state cannabis laws presented significant hurdles. Here, working with companies that operate in a federally-illegal space such as cannabis can jeopardize an organization’s ability to receive federal grants and funding.

Following extensive work with the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) and a conversation with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life chapter in Everett, Caviar Gold’s philanthropic plans began to take shape. While federal regulations did not permit the ACS from officially partnering with a cannabis company, donations fell within the realm of acceptability. And the WSLCB gave the go-ahead for a third-party logo design to adorn Caviar Gold products, indicating to customers that 5% of their purchase will go to the ACS. Knowing how easy it is to spend $100 in a recreational cannabis store in Washington state, putting five dollars toward cancer research provides a fine incentive to purchase from Caviar Gold.

In sound philanthropic spirit, Caviar Gold is encouraging more cannabis companies to participate in this movement. As McKinley noted, “If we can get 50 brands to participate, we can play a part in finding a real end to the suffering of cancer.”

As the bridge between medical and recreational cannabis in Washington state sits undeniably fractured, Caviar Gold’s attempts to heal the surrounding casualties remind us of the wellness-based roots that unite this industry. As 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.”

Toward the end of our conversation, McKinley noted that the WSLCB, and people in general, can be a bit perplexed as to Caviar Gold’s motivations for going to such great lengths to give company profits away—especially in an industry as new and controversial as cannabis. As he simply concluded, “We want to create an atmosphere that says, ‘We are very privileged to be in this industry.’ If we’re not doing anything with that privilege, then that’s not an industry I’m proud to be a part of. And I want to work in an industry that I’m proud to be a part of.”

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