Originally Published on MJBizmagazine.com
By Adrian D Garcia | July 2018
Cannabis companies around the nation are finding they can get back nearly as much as they give to their local
communities. Being recognized as a good corporate citizen can make it easier for marijuana businesses to work with regulators and local officials, stand out from competitors and attract new customers and highquality employees, according to industry executives and experts on corporate giving.
They said cannabis companies can give back to their communities in a variety of ways, ranging from providing volunteer time for events and projects to collecting food donations. And with U.S. cannabis retail sales estimated to reach $8 billion-$10 billion this year, many companies have room in their budgets to cut checks to cause-driven organizations.
“Giving back has always been a part of my life, but part of my mission is also breaking stereotypes about people who use cannabis as not being contributing members to society,” said Annette Atkinson, owner of HWY420, a Washington state marijuana retailer that has been recognized for its charitable giving. “If I can increase the population that believes marijuana is an OK alternative to alcohol and opioids through showing that people who use marijuana are not horrible people, then on the business side, I think that will help me.”
Being a good corporate citizen could be a government requirement for marijuana entrepreneurs. In 2016, Denver started requiring applicants for retail marijuana licenses – and those seeking to renew their permits – to submit “community engagement” plans. The idea: “Create positive impacts in the neighborhoods where the licensed premises are located.”
Some options for companies include neighborhood beautification, increasing access to healthy food, homelessness assistance and improving connectivity and transportation. Other locations such as Oakland, California, and Thornton, Colorado, also adopted requirements aimed at ensuring the marijuana industry creates social benefits. Similarly, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states rolling out new marijuana markets are introducing merit-based application programs as well, making community outreach and engagement increasingly important in the industry, said Courtney Mathis, president and co-founder of KindColorado.
Denver-based KindColorado helps cannabis companies in the state strategize how to connect with neighborhood groups and nonprofits. The consulting firm works with dispensary operators such as Lightshade and Buddy Boy Brands as well as cultivators like Veritas Fine Cannabis.
Among other activities, KindColorado has organized opportunities for marijuana company employees to pull weeds alongside refugee farmers, serve food for women struggling with poverty and fund senior-focused food banks. “Cannabis companies are really becoming a part of their communities, and they feel really lucky about that,” said Kelly Perez, co-founder and CEO of KindColorado. “It isn’t about hitting licensing requirements. It’s about getting to serve a community where you don’t have to be in the shadows anymore: Coming out, standing tall and using your privilege and opportunity to be an asset.”
Community engagement will look different for each company. Bloom Farms in California has been described as a leader in corporate social responsibility. The company tracks sales of its cannabis oils, vape pens and other products and donates the equivalent amount of meals to a food bank on a one-to-one basis. The Giving Tree has taken a different approach: Employees who work at the company’s production facility and two dispensaries in Arizona participated in the Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis walk and the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K. Altogether, the team raised more than $21,000 for Phoenix charities in 2017.
In Washington state, Marley Natural partnered with the Minority Cannabis Business Association to host the Rise Up Washington Expungement Day in 2017. The event helped 18 people convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses file motions to clear their criminal records. Also in the Pacific Northwest, the owners of TJ’s Cannabis in Washington and TJ’s Gardens in Oregon started The Forrest Initiative, a center dedicated to helping under-resourced families obtain CBD for children experiencing seizures, neuropathic pain and other medical issues.
The team at KindColorado recommends cannabis executives see for themselves if their community outreach plan is really getting the support and brand differentiation desired. “If the answer is, ‘Yes, we are impacting or supporting the community in a meaningful way. We’re able to tell a story and tell our narrative in a meaningful way, and we’re able to get our employees engaged in our efforts,’ then you are seeing some wins,” said Mathis, the consulting firm's president.