Author – Jon Russell
Edited by Noah Persin
The cannabis industry is diligently working to change an image tarnished almost entirely by misinformation and propaganda over the past century. The business landscape has shown the need for cannabis entrepreneurs to drop the laid-back, “Shaggy” image. Dressing the part and toeing the line has finally generated a shift in acceptance amongst the American populace. However the green ceiling is still a very real thing and more needs to be done to further cannabis’ embrace by the mainstream. Philanthropy has long been a way for businesses to win ‘hearts and minds’ and generate community goodwill. What do we do when our charitable acts aren’t accepted though? Let’s take a look at some of the issues that the cannabis industry has faced in regards to donating time and/or money or goods, and talk about ways we can unlock the philanthropy puzzle.
Nonprofits Say “No” to Cannabis
Early in the cannabis industry many nonprofits flat refused to accept any donations from a cannabis related business. Oaksterdam University, a Californian agency focusing on teaching people how to grow marijuana, attempted to donate to a local food bank. Unfortunately, it was early in the game and the donation was refused. The food bank receives federal funding and officials worried that cannabis donations would interfere with that.
After a couple more years public perception has shifted even further with the first four states legalizing cannabis for recreational use. This has created more businesses to look into the possibility of giving back to the communities where they operated; not only in job creation but charitable funding. However, some schools and nonprofits still aren’t accepting donations from cannabis businesses. Prosser School District in Washington state refused a $14,000 donation from a local cannabis farmer. When asked why they refused the donation, School District Superintendent Ray Tolcacher said, “We’re not taking it; end of story.”
Women Grow has also experienced difficulties with philanthropy. They are an organization that serves as a catalyst for women to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry as the end of marijuana prohibition occurs on a national scale. Even though they don’t actually sell any cannabis or related products, their affiliation with the product caused the Oregon Department of Human Services to refuse the gift of Thanksgiving gift baskets for needy families. DHS officials cited not only the federal statutes but the fact that many people who use their services had drug or alcohol related issues and didn’t want to be seen as supporting drugs or alcohol. Colorado Homeless Families, an organization who helps homeless individuals, feels the same way. Connie Zimmerman, founder of the group, said that she feels cannabis is detrimental to her clients and wouldn’t accept donations from cannabis groups. “We don’t feel right about accepting donations from the profits and proceeds of the marijuana business that can devalue or diminish the quality of the family and lifestyle relationships of individuals,” Zimmerman stated.
Unlock the Philanthropy Puzzle
How do we break through the green ceiling and gain acceptance among the communities? It’s not all bad, I promise. Communities are warming up to cannabis businesses and groups, and nonprofits are beginning to accept donations from them more and more. A prime example of cannabis gaining some legitimacy is the sponsorship of the Chicago Marathon by Cresco Labs, a cannabis cultivation company. Race participants received inserts in their participant bags explaining the Illinois medical marijuana program and what Cresco Labs offers. This was the first time cannabis was involved in an U.S. sporting event and marked an important landmark for mainstream cannabis.
Surprisingly enough, children’s charities seem to be the most accepting of cannabis donations. Cannabliss owner Matt Price donated $4,000 worth of toys for kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Jon Russell (Author of, ”Unlocking the Philanthropy Puzzle”) owner of PNW CannaReviews, is holding a Christmas Day food drive for the Portland East House of the Ronald McDonald Children’s House Charities for the 2016 Christmas season. Both agencies were very happy to receive donations and volunteers, even from cannabis affiliated businesses.
Image Courtesy: PNW CannaReviews
Food and durable donations may not be the most popular but they are the easiest received. While cash donations are the most common way businesses donate, it’s also problematic. Nonprofits have to be extremely careful how they use funds from cannabis donations. Team Fort Collins, an organization focusing on drug and alcohol abuse prevention, has several cannabis businesses as member organizations. Member dues from these businesses are kept separate and only used for hard costs: materials on responsible storage and safe usage. Any items purchased with these funds are also marked with special stickers. These special measures are taken because of the potential for the feds will stop ignoring cannabis contributions. If donations from marijuana retailers were mixed in with Team Fort Collins’ overall budget all funds — whether they came from the marijuana industry or not — could be seized.
The face of cannabis is continually evolving and unlocking the philanthropy puzzle will be an important way to show the public that “reefer madness” is just that, madness. Although there has been hesitation due to cannabis’ federal standing, more and more nonprofits and organizations are beginning to accept cannabis and the charitable acts from business owners in the industry.