Cannabis Philanthropy Helps Heal Drug War Wounds

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By Ricardo Baca | March 21, 2018

While most Americans in the 1980s learned about AIDS on television news years after it erupted into a legitimate epidemic, Matthew Huron saw the virus on the faces of his friends and family while growing up in San Francisco’s vibrant Castro neighborhood.

“A lot of those men there were very sick and dying, and that included my father and his partner and all of their friends,” Huron said. “Every week my dad was going to another funeral, and it was just a really challenging time.”

It wasn’t long before Huron was that socially conscious teenager volunteering at an AIDS hospice in the heart of the Castro. Philanthropy was important to his father, and so it was also important to son. And as Huron grew up and started noticing how cannabis was helping his friends and family living with the disease — restoring appetites, diminishing pain, remedying nausea and generally treating the patients’ wasting syndrome — he opened a medical marijuana co-op in 2000.

“The fundamental reason we started that co-op was to give, not sell, medical marijuana to sick men dying from AIDS,” said Huron. “That’s what we did. We delivered to a variety of hospice care and assisted living facilities around San Francisco.”

Huron’s involvement in cannabis these days is more official. But the CEO of Good Chemistry Nurseries’ cannabis businesses in Colorado and Nevada is still donating medical marijuana (and leafy-green cash, as well) to those in need.

He donates to One Colorado to support their political work on behalf of the LGBTQ community; In 2016, the organization bestowed upon Huron an Ally Award. He assembles a team for, and sponsors, the AIDS Walk every year. He donates to Urban Peak, a nonprofit fighting homelessness, as well as the Denver Police Brotherhood, the Comitis Crisis Center of Aurora and the Harm Reduction Action Center.

To boot, Good Chemistry’s Compassion Program is a direct descendant of the co-op he started more than 16 years ago.

“We’re one of the only dispensaries in Denver that has an organized and internal compassion program, which gives free and low-cost medicine to low-income and 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.”

As marijuana businesses continue to assimilate into America’s traditional corporate world, philanthropy and responsibility have become key initiatives for some ganjapreneurs. Some of these community-forward businesses are being celebrated this week at the second annual Cannabist Awards, which will celebrate the marijuana industry’s best and brightest – including awards for philanthropy, volunteerism and community innovation – from 6-10 p.m. Nov. 16 in Las Vegas during the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo.

While the weed industry faces stringent regulations and higher-than-average taxes, they also battle stigmas that are left over from a failed War on Drugs. Corporate responsibility is one way to overcome decades of misinformation and, even, to be a good neighbor, experts say.

“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 KindColorado Foundation, a new Denver-based organization that helps pot businesses with community engagement efforts. “What we get most excited about is the opportunity for communities (those disproportionately impacted by institutional neglect) that happens to be where many grows and processing facilities are located, to be served by the growing cannabis industry that gets to define itself as a business for good — people, profit, community.

“Working to change the cannabis narrative from the War on Drugs to a force for social change is pretty damn cool.”

Michael Ray agrees. The former Wall Street hedge fund trader now runs Bloom Farms, a California cannabis grower best known for its popular Highlighter vape pens and its collaboration with vape pen giant Pax on the new oil-based vape, the Era.

Ray grew up in an middle class home in Northern California’s Calaveras County, where he often found his family hosting his childhood friends for school-night dinners or sometimes entire weekends. Ray’s mom was an “excellent cook” and a homemaker, and there was always enough food to feed his friends, he remembers.

“I didn’t realize this until I got a little bit older and started to understand that in many poor counties throughout California, people just don’t have enough food,” Ray said. “We’re not necessarily starving in the streets, but many of us don’t have enough. One in five children goes to bed hungry every night. One in four households is considered food-insecure, meaning they don’t have enough.”

Craving to make a difference, Ray instituted a one-for-one policy at Bloom Farms — and for every vape cartridge sold Bloom donates a healthy meal to a local food bank. Bloom has already donated more than 250,000 meals to the likes of Sacramento Food Bank, SF-Marin Food Bank, Alameda County Food Bank and World Harvest Food Bank, and the company anticipates hitting the half-million mark by July 2017.

“We’ve made a very pointed and focused mission to fight food insecurity in California with numerous volunteer days where we all go together and work together in food banks in Calaveras County and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Alameda County,” said Ray, who also pays his employees four hours per month to volunteer in their communities. “As a consumer brand and product, people care. People connect with companies that are providing positive impact in their communities. It’s also just the right thing to do.”

Bloom Farms’ latest initiative is the #WhereDoYouBloom campaign; Every time a customer posts a hashtagged photo of their Highlighter vapes on Instagram or other social media networks the company will donate another meal to its food bank partners.

The team that runs the Clinic marijuana shops in Colorado, Illinois and Nevada understands the importance of social engagement and community involvement. The same group that graduated high school together ultimately started the marijuana business together, and when one of their own lost his father to progressive multiple sclerosis, it served as a catalyst to the group to do what they could do to help.

First they formed a team for Walk MS, and next they took their annual friends-only golf tourney, originally timed each August to a buddy’s birthday, and expanded it into a community-wide, industry-inclusive fundraiser for the National MS Society’s Colorado-Wyoming Chapter.

In seven years of walks and golf tournaments, the Clinic has helped raise $430,942 for the National MS Society, according to company records. But as essential as those cash donations are, bringing awareness about MS to the general public is as important, says the Clinic’s director of operations Ryan Cook.

“Progressive MS is a fast-moving disease,” Cook said, “and (our buddy’s) father had gone from a normal, working individual to a wheelchair very rapidly — unable to feed or bathe or dress himself.”

There’s something special about a cannabis company donating time and money to one of the world’s most important MS organizations. An historic 2015 analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that, while cannabis hasn’t yet been proven scientifically to remedy most of the conditions governments have authorized it to treat, medical pot has been proven to help patients with severe pain, nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy and spasticity from multiple sclerosis.

“With MS, it’s one of those conditions we deal with in society that I truly feel has an ability, within our lifetime if not faster, to be cured,” said the Clinic’s Cook. “But that requires research dollars. We all understand how important that is to our industry — it’s just as important to the MS Society.”

The spirit of giving can be infectious. Cook said nine other cannabis dispensary companies and 11 edibles manufacturers helped sponsor this year’s Clinic Charity Classic. And KindColorado Foundation’s Perez is also feeling the love. Her organization is already working with more than 10 marijuana businesses including Buddy Boy, Lightshade, Veritas, Simply Pure, Seed & Smith, Groundswell, Natural Remedies, Endocanna, Starbuds and Natural Remedies — and she’s looking at how these organizations can create systemic change in their neighborhoods.

For Good Chemistry’s Huron, he sees charitable giving as “a moral imperative” — and one that’s not limited to this burgeoning industry.

“My perspective is that this goes beyond cannabis,” Huron said. “Quite frankly, I think it’s a moral imperative for any successful business to do what they can to help in their community. That’s been my position from the beginning: As folks get successful, they should give back.”

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End 4/20 Shame: A Dispensary, a Church and an Unlikely Partnership

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By Kelly Vo | March 5, 2018

Cannabis and church: not two items that typically go together. But, in Denver, Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade dispensary are working to change that. In December, as part of Lightshade’s corporate and local-level giving initiatives, the dispensary’s Federal Heights location partnered with neighboring Amazing Grace Community Church to give food to people in need.

Cannabis and church: not two items that typically go together. But, in Denver, Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade dispensary are working to change that.

In December, as part of Lightshade’s corporate and local-level giving initiatives, the dispensary’s Federal Heights location partnered with neighboring Amazing Grace Community Church to give food to people in need. To do this, Lightshade supported the church’s food pantry as well as its bi-monthly meal service through financial contributions and volunteer hours. And starting in January, Lightshade agreed to fully fund the church’s food bank.

It’s what most would consider an unlikely partnership, but one that is making a big difference in the Federal Heights community. It’s also a partnership that makes sense for both Amazing Grace Community Church and Lightshade.

It all started in 2011 with the creation of the Pastor’s Pantry as a way for Amazing Grace Community Church to help out local neighbors that needed food. From there, it quickly evolved into offering hot meals for free and, under its new name Dinner for a Dollar, feeds as many as 150 people each night.

However, its quick growth meant that it needed help, and that’s where Lightshade came in.

“Our friends at Lightshade found out about these programs and sent representatives to a meal. An immediate partnership was forged, and Lightshade began to donate a portion of their profits to feed the hungry of the community,” explained Pastor Kent Replogle. “But their support did not stop there. Employees of Lightshade have come to the Dinner for a Dollar to serve and meet those that show up for dinner. These are people that really care about the community and once they have witnessed the need are willing to jump in and help out.”

However, that didn’t mean it was always an easy partnership. At first, the church and Pastor Kent were hesitant about accepting donations from a cannabis organization. But they quickly realized that accepting help from the cannabis industry wasn’t any different from accepting donations from a bar owner or an employee selling tobacco products. So, in the end, any concern was mitigated, especially after meeting and working with Lightshade.

“The donations from Lightshade are coming from a place of care and concern for those that are in need, and we have never been asked to publicize their donation from the pulpit of the church,” Pastor Kent said. “Lightshade filled a huge gap in our ability to serve those that are hungry. It takes over a thousand pounds of food a day to fill the hunger needs of this community, and the ability to get a sustainable food source is always a challenge. Through the gifts from Lightshade, we are coming closer to meeting those needs.”

As for Lightshade, working with Amazing Grace Community Church was a natural fit. They found the church through their partnership with kindColorado, an organization that connects communities and cannabis businesses to give back. Lightshade’s goal was to partner with a non-profit focused on hunger relief and who was ingrained in the community.

“Amazing Grace checked the boxes and had little to no reservations about working with a business in the cannabis industry,” said Shannon Brooks, the VP of Marketing for Lightshade. “Pastor Kent is a kind and generous man, and a sincere pleasure to work with. He has accepted us with open arms and without judgment.” So far, it’s been an incredible partnership. Beyond regular donations and volunteer hours, Lightshade teamed up with Amazing Grace Community Church to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. And that’s just the start of how Lightshade makes a difference in their communities.

Giving back is a huge part of the Lightshade culture. They were the first Colorado dispensary to institute a Cannabis Social Responsibility program that looks for local initiatives to support, and they take their responsibilities seriously.

Lightshade has an ongoing partnership with The Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center in Denver service women, children, and transgender individuals who experience extreme poverty or homelessness. Each month, Lightshade volunteers to pay for, serve, and clean up lunch for their members. They also work with their career center to help match members with open job positions within the cannabis industry. They’re also a major donor for The Gathering Place’s annual fundraiser.

In addition, Lightshade works with Grant Street Reach, Senior Support Services, Denver Urban Gardens, and Colorado Homeless Families. For each organization, Lightshade offers their time and funds to make a difference.

“We feel that it is our duty to give back to the communities who have been so kind to allow us to conduct business as their neighbors,” Shannon explained. “We feel that it is important to be an integral part of the communities that we serve and to help elevate the collective good of its residents. We have skin in the game. In addition, we want to instill a spirit of giving in our employees by creating opportunities for them to engage in charitable work.”

So, while it might seem that a church and the cannabis industry have little in common, when it comes to helping those in need, they’re on the same page. “Taking care of our communities is very much a part of the cannabis culture,” said Shannon.

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