Pot Warehouses in Denver Are Booming – at the Detriment of Low-Income Neighborhoods

Originally Published on PSMag.com
By Charlotte West | April 26, 2018

Soaring commercial real estate prices are a sign of a thriving pot industry in Denver—but low-income communities of color are taking a disproportionate property-tax hit.

As one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, Colorado has become a laboratory for the regulation and licensing of the cannabis industry. Due to industrial zoning requirements, most of Denver's grow operations have been concentrated in low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods.

While residents' fears that legalization would increase crime rates have not come to fruition, the saturation of marijuana grow licenses in particular neighborhoods of Denver has led to skyrocketing commercial real estate prices as businesses seek out warehouse spaces for indoor grow facilities.

The phenomenon has not been limited to Colorado. From California to Maine, the marijuana industry has fueled a boom in the commercial real estate market. Property owners have been able to charge above-market rates for tenants operating in a gray area between state and federal law. As a result, property values—and property taxes—in surrounding areas have soared.

In Denver, marijuana cultivation facilities are only permitted in industrial zones, which make up just 3.1 percent of the land in the County of Denver, according to a June of 2017 analysis from CBRE, a real estate services firm. While dispensaries are more evenly spread out throughout the city, cultivation facilities are concentrated along the industrial corridor.

CBRE found that Denver's 4.2 million square feet of grow operations are concentrated along the city's main highways—I-25, I-70, and South Santa Fe Boulevard. Warehouse space for marijuana cultivation is renting for two to three times higher than the average warehouse lease rates in the surrounding areas. And it's those rising rents that are putting additional pressure on the residential market, which is already being squeezed as Denver has one of the fastest growing populations in the United States.

Three North Denver communities that have some of the highest concentrations of marijuana business licenses, and some of the lowest household incomes, are Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. Collectively known as GES, the three neighborhoods are home to a predominantly Latino population of around 10,000 residents. While Denver has an average household income of $73,100, the household income is $44,700 in Elyria-Swansea, and $39,200 in Globeville, according to U.S. Census data.

GES currently has some of the fastest growing real estate prices in Denver. Between 2013 and 2015, the median home value in GES increased by 68 percent, compared to 30 percent in the rest of Denver, according to the Office of Economic Development. Growth has slowed somewhat but between 2015 and 2017, the average median home value in Globeville increased by 43 percent from $133,000 to $190,600 based on data from the Denver assessor's office.

A 2017 study from the University of Wisconsin found that single-family residences close to a retail conversion—a medical marijuana dispensary that had been converted to a recreational use dispensary—increased in value by approximately 8 percent. Another 2018 study estimated that legalization has led to an average 6 percent increase in housing values in metro Denver.

As a longtime resident of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, community organizer Candi CdeBaca lives in close proximity to four grow facilities. "When they were planning to legalize, we knew that they weren't addressing the zoning issues of how the burden would be equitably dispersed throughout the city. We anticipated that the concentration of dispensaries in the neighborhood would be similar to what we know about the concentration of liquor stores in poor and black and brown communities. What we didn't expect was the concentration of grow facilities," she explains.

Residents of GES say they have born the brunt of the negative impacts of the cannabis industry—which has generated more than $500 million in revenue for the state of Colorado since weed was legalized in 2014—while enjoying none of the benefits. "There's over 200 licenses for manufacture, grow, and sales of marijuana [in GES] and we've seen nothing given back to our communities," says Globeville homeowner Rey Gallegos.

The Denver Post found that, of more than 600 marijuana businesses, which include dispensaries, grow facilities, and manufacturing locations, Elyria-Swansea had 78 locations, including 54 cultivation facilities, while Globeville had 24 marijuana businesses, nine of which were grow operations. In an attempt to prevent further oversaturation, the Denver City Council passed a moratorium on new licenses in April of 2016, which capped the number at 467.

"[Our neighborhood] is one of the few places in Denver that's zoned for cultivation, so those [warehouse] spaces are highly coveted. The taxes have skyrocketed and we're seeing gentrification in a different form here in this neighborhood. It doesn't look like your typical scrapes and flips," CdeBaca says.

CdeBaca has seen her own property taxes more than double in the last few years. While rising taxes aren't the only issue plaguing GES—it's also the most polluted zip code in the country—property taxes have been particularly devastating for the area, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Denver county.

While many homes in GES have been passed down through multiple generations, more recent home buyers also wonder if they will continue to be able to afford their mortgages. Swansea resident Robin Reichhardt, for example, says his monthly housing payment has increased from $910 to $1,480 in the two-plus years since he bought his one-bedroom house.

The jump is due to increased taxes after his property value was re-assessed. He currently puts about 60 percent of his income toward housing. "In many ways I consider myself very privileged, but we're struggling," he says.

Art Way, state director the Colorado office of the Drug Policy Alliance, says that GES was one of Denver's few neighborhoods of color that had survived the gentrification taking place in other parts of the city over the last 15 years. "When marijuana legalization came, they could no longer stand untouched," he says.

Since the 1960s Elyria-Swansea has been bisected by I-70, which is now undergoing an expansion that is displacing more than 90 households through eminent domain. The city is also pouring more than $1 billion into the re-development of the National Western Complex, home to an annual livestock show.

A June of 2017 survey from the GES Coalition, a community-based organization working on health and housing justice, found that the majority of families in GES are "rent or mortgage stressed," and have become extremely vulnerable to involuntary displacement. More than 80 percent of property owners identify as Hispanic, nearly twice the national average of home ownership rates for Hispanics. While 80 percent of homeowners said they do not want to move out, those who do want to sell cited "I-70 related development" and "marijuana commercial impacts" as the primary reasons.

Erik Soliván, former executive director of the city's Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, says that marijuana has increased commercial land use and there's an expectation that commercial density in the neighborhood will increase with the completion of the National Western project and the expansion of I-70.

"That pushes up the residential values. The land that those homes sit on, just like in lots of other places around Denver, is more valuable than the structures," Soliván says.

He says that some residents are cashing out and selling their homes to move elsewhere. The challenge is for those households that are forced to sell because they can no longer afford the rising property taxes in the area. "Can you afford to go anywhere else at that point? Most of them can't."

Way stresses that it's the way the marijuana industry has been zoned, not the businesses themselves, that poses the biggest challenge. "The marijuana industry is basically a reminder of the fact that the city has not prioritized those neighborhoods when it comes to affordable housing and growth over the last decade or so," he says.

KindColorado is a Denver-based organization that has developed a Cannabis Social Responsibility framework that it hopes to use to encourage the marijuana industry to engage with the communities in which it operates. According to founders Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis, Denver can provide lessons to other states and municipalities such as California that are in the process of legalizing marijuana—for one, that officials need to make sure both the positive and negative effects of zoning requirements are spread evenly across jurisdictions, and that legalization does not exacerbate existing racial and economic inequalities.

Read Original Article Here.

Charitable Cannabis Companies Find Giving Back Isn’t As Easy As You’d Think

Originally Published on Thecannabist.co
By Joe Vaccarelli | April 2, 2018

Tim Cullen ran into an unexpected obstacle recently when he decided it was time his cannabis business should start donating money to nonprofit organizations.

“I have been shocked at how few places will take our money,” said Cullen, CEO of the Colorado Harvest Company chain of shops and a shareholder with O.penVape, a company that makes vape pens.

But then Levitt Pavilion Denver came calling. O.penVape and Colorado Harvest Company together donated $250,000, becoming the largest private donors of a project to build an amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park in southwest Denver that will host 50 free concerts each summer among several other events.

Philanthropy is something a number of marijuana businesses have begun to explore as profits roll in, but Cullen is not the only one who has faced difficulty in finding a group that will accept cannabis-funded donations.

However, giving back remains important to many in the cannabis industry.

“I think philanthropy is what responsible businesses do. It’s not a choice so much as the next logical step,” Cullen said.

Finding the right fit

In the three years since recreational marijuana sales started in Colorado, some nonprofits have decided not to accept money from marijuana organizations for various reasons, whether it’s the fear of losing nonprofit status or because they receive federal funding or the cannabis industry doesn’t align with their organizational goals.

But for groups that have been searching and have yet to find a nonprofit that will take their charity, those groups might not be looking in the right places, says Kelly Perez, CEO of the KindColorado Foundation.

KindColorado seeks to enhance community engagement and social giving from emerging businesses — such as cannabis — for beneficial local impact.

“It’s silly to not just explore all options and see what kind of relationships you can have,” Perez said.

So far, a cannabis company has contributed to the Montbello neighborhood’s efforts to celebrate its 50th anniversary and others have been connected to nonprofits that are open to accepting cannabis money, according to Perez.

Rich Male, a 40-year community activist in Denver who now works with KindColorado, said partnerships like these could lead to others relaxing their rigid stances on marijuana money.

“As cannabis becomes part of the community, the issue will be more acceptable and mainstream and we won’t have these kinds of issues,” Male said. “But initially, we’re dealing with a new idea, which is controversial where a lot of people are hesitant and resistant.”

Careful consideration of cannabis cash

For some nonprofits, such as the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Westminster that aids those who have multiple sclerosis, accepting marijuana-based donations required considerable vetting.

According to development director Jules Kelty, the board had extensive conversations about whether to accept such donations and ultimately decided that it would allow it.

“There was a lot of back and forth. We had to do due diligence and talk to experts in the industry and outside the industry to make sure the organization would be OK,” Kelty said. “We wanted to make sure we did what is right for the organization and our patients.

“One big piece that helped us decide is that many MS patients use cannabis to help treat their symptoms and it seemed hypocritical to not work parallel with an industry that had helped them.”

Regulatory issues have dissuaded some nonprofits. Colorado Children’s Hospital Foundation cites banks that won’t handle cannabis money as a reason it won’t accept donations.

While federal decriminalization and banking complications may not see immediate change, other nonprofits that have decided not to accept donations for other reasons might be missing out on a good opportunity to get funds from groups that truly want to give.

“I think there is some misunderstanding oftentimes between cannabis (businesses) and nonprofits where nonprofits assume what cannabis wants out of donations is marketing and visibility, and we find the industry does not want that,” said Courtney Mathis, COO of KindColorado.

Shannon Brooks, director of marketing and co-owner of the Lightshade shop chain, notes that cannabis businesses can’t write off their donations on tax filings, meaning they are not benefiting from any deductions.

“Some businesses like to make donations so they can write off,” Brooks said. “Those giving back from cannabis organizations really are doing it for the right reasons. I do think the public needs to know that is the case.”

Amanda Gonzalez, CEO of retailer Kaya Cannabis, recently began philanthropy efforts within her business and found difficulties. She said it’s been a mix of groups either saying yes or no or asking for anonymous donations. Others may ask for service donations as opposed to cash.

“It really varies. We were looking for breast cancer organizations during October (for breast cancer awareness month). Some locals said they could not accept from us, one national organization said they could. It took a lot of hunting,” Gonzalez said. “I do think it’s improving. As the industry is improving, communities get to know us better. People are beginning to realize that not only is it not a bad thing, it might be a good thing.”

‘We will be a good example’

As it happened with Levitt Pavilion Denver, which is a chapter of a national nonprofit based in California, local executive director Chris Zacher initially made the call to Colorado Harvest Company, but he still needed permission from the national organization.

“We took it to Levitt, they took it to the board and as long as it is legal in their state and not promoting the sex trade or tobacco, they were fine with it,” Zacher said.

Despite being in a city park, Denver did not support nor disapprove of any funds coming from a cannabis organization. The city allowed Levitt to make its own decision, according to city licensing spokesman Dan Rowland.

Cullen said he thought the situation would be a win-win, as he gets to help a community organization in an area his company resides in and Levitt got some much-needed money to fund its nearly $5 million project. Colorado Harvest Company and O.penVape will be the headline sponsors for the pavilion.

“I think the true winners will be the people who get to enjoy Levitt Pavilion for the next 30 years and all the awesome memories they will make there, and we’re glad we get to be part of it,” Cullen said. “We will be a good example of how cannabis companies can work with a city municipality and a nonprofit and have a successful outcome for all groups involved.”

Read Original Article Here.

Cannabis Philanthropy Helps Heal Drug War Wounds

Originally Published on TheCannabist.co
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.”

Read Original Article Here.

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

Originally Published on Dopemagazine.com
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.

Read Original Article Here.


Originally Published on TheMindMill.com
By Seth Marcus | Dec. 14, 2017

Last November, seven more states legalized marijuana, increasing the total number of states where the use of marijuana in some capacity (recreational or medical) is not illegal to twenty-eight. Overall, the legal marijuana industry could gross as much as $20 billion in revenue by 2020. Many of the new businesses making up the legal marijuana industry are looking to give back to their communities, but many nonprofits are hesitant to accept their donations.

Courtney Mathis is a serial entrepreneur within the Cannabis Space. Her history in the non-profit sector has given her a unique passion for business/community involvement, which she now applies to the emerging cannabis industry. Her motto “Cannabis Doing Good” represents her core values in all projects she leads.

Courtney and I get into it quick, and discuss everything from travel stories and plans, our relationships with cannabis, work-family balance, and the universal power of purpose. We became fast friends, and I’m so excited to share Courtney Mathis with the MindMill Community.

When reaching out to Courtney for our interview, she provided this amazing email, which gives great insight into all of her current project and her vibrant personality:

EMAIL FROM COURTNEY: kindColorado: We are a nearly two-years old, female founded agency that facilitates community engagement for the cannabis industry (particularly those communities impacted by the War on Drugs). We have trademarked Cannabis Social Responsibility and developed a framework for how industry businesses can meaningful show up in their communities in a way that creates mutual benefit and thus positive community impact. (we are re-launching website soon, ignore its current state now)

RootedSpace: This is my marketing and branding agency. We recently pivoted to serve only cannabis through market demand (very lucky). Our unique position is that we help craft messaging for companies that showcase their values – in hopes of cultivating increased brand affinity and fan loyalty. We also strive to get cannabis business owners to think about how their products are an illustration of values. In essence, giving them a chance to tell their market what they care about and why.

Conscious Cannabis Co: This is a newly launched initiative of RootedSpace. Our goal is to elevate the cannabis industry’s narrative while giving the cannabis community and the cannabis curious a way to support curated causes. We will first launch two t-shirts (including tanks and long-sleeves) – one will say “cannabis is the new kale”, the other will say “Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin CBD”. A percentage of proceeds (still working on #s) from cannabis is the new kale” will go to hurricane relief and “vitamin A…” will go to support Wildfire relief. We will launch new shirts and new causes every quarter. Hemp and sustainably farmed cotton materials.

The Daily Organic: Our goal is to create a no frills, entertaining cannabis newsletter. We eliminate the consumers’ need to visit multiple websites for cannabis news and deliver into their inbox (soon, daily). We also add much needed levity to very serious topics including regulation and politics. We are in beta phase but very excited about the potential of our product (modeled after The Skimm and Finimize).

Okay so that’s all the fun that I’m up to. Most of these projects have prevailing themes, which is that I want to elevate the industry while also giving business owners the necessary tools to show up in their communities as good neighbors. I come from the nonprofit world, over 15 years management and strategic planning. It is a broken sector, handicapped by its own poverty mentality and inability to end cycles of bad philanthropy. What if we could take the courageous from the cannabis sector and embolden them to support the vulnerable from the nonprofit or service sectors. Whether we do this through thoughtful giving, authentic messaging or amazing swag – the goal is the same – marrying cannabis with a cause (other than it’s own). And The Daily Organic is such a fun way to get an audience and overtime, share some our opinions about the unfolding cannabis landscape.

Also, doing all of this while being a first time mom is FUCKING hard. Balance is nearly impossible. It takes an incredibly patient husband and an insane amount of self-awareness to create moments in the day where I can be with my family and still run my businesses. I mess up all the time and am a long way off from achieving any sort of entrepreneur meets mom nirvana – but I’m trying. My two mottos every day are:I am abundant(meaning I already have enough) – being broke and in constant start-up mode takes its toll – but I try and remind myself I have what I need (family, food, shelter). And my other is, “play more, make more”. Very few successful people worked themself into miserable oblivion. So I take walks every day with my family and have started to hold Saturdays sacred – no working. Baby steps towards that one.

And when I’m done changing the cannabis narrative and creating huge positive change for communities – I hope to write science fiction and hang with my kiddo.

Read Original Article Here.

End 4/20 Shame: How Can the Cannabis Industry Give Back?

Originally Published on DopeMagazine.com
By Kelly Vo | Dec. 12, 2017

or 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.

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.

About kindColorado

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.

Read Original Article Here.

Cannabis Companies Struggle To Be Charitable

Originally Published on CBSLocal.com
By Kathy Walsh | Nov. 7, 2017

DENVER (CBS4)– Colorado cannabis companies have found it is hard for them to be charitable. Nonprofits often turn away pot profits for fear of losing federal grant money. But at least one Denver-based organization is not feeling any joint pain.

There is such a thing as a free lunch at The Gathering Place. The daytime drop-in center serves women, children and transgender individuals.

On Monday, those volunteering to serve the meal also happen to sell weed. “Cannabis is willing and wanting to help,” said Shannon Brooks, VP of Marketing at Lightshade. The helpers handing out lunch are employees of Lightshade, a company that operates seven dispensaries in Colorado.

Lightshade has a lot to give, but Brooks says it is a struggle to find nonprofits that will take their cannabis cash. “It’s a shame because these organizations will accept money from tobacco or alcohol but not cannabis,” said Brooks. With pot illegal federally, charities fear losing federal funds or their 501c3 status. That is not an issue for The Gathering Place.

“Because we’re privately funded, we’re really not worried about that at all,” said Leslie Foster, President of The Gathering Place. She said, this year, her organization received $30,000 in marijuana money. “Thirty thousand is a really substantial gift for us,” said Foster.

It has helped women like Ashley Stewart, a mother of four, who just got her GED and hopes to attend college. “Everything they do here is wonderful. The money, I don’t think where it comes from is a big issue,” said Stewart.

Pot people say they are dedicated to philanthropy. “I’m pretty sure there are millions of dollars across the industry that people are willing to give,” said Brooks.

The Gathering Place is happy to accept.“It’s been a wonderful partnership,” said Foster. It is a budding relationship, with room to grow.

KindColorado, a group that helps match the industry with community organizations, believes right now, there are about 12 to 15 nonprofits in Colorado that have formed a cannabis partnership.

Read Original Article Here.

Lightshade Dispensary Gives Back to the Community

Originally Published on Leafbuyer.com
By Leafbuyer Writing Team | July 17, 2017

As the legal cannabis industry turns into a big business, there is the potential to lose the sense of community that goes part and parcel with the marijuana lifestyle. One company that has not forgotten the importance of the cannabis community is Lightshade, a Colorado-based business that operates six dispensaries in Denver and Aurora- with two more locations opening this fall. Lightshade has begun a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to give back to the communities in which it serves and the environment itself.

As a cultivator of top-shelf cannabis strains like Durban Poison and Blue Dream, Lightshade is constantly looking for new ways to reduce its carbon footprint. The company is currently in the midst of testing new high-efficiency LED lights as well as building an innovative greenhouse that will significantly lower the amounts of carbon emitted during a growth cycle. Lightshade also uses capillary mats during cultivation, as they attempt to ensure that not a single drop of water is wasted.

In June 2017, Lightshade’s CSR team took a trip to DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora, Colorado to assist refugees from Burma, Senegal, and Afghanistan in preparing the fields to grow fresh food for their use as well as a community share. Lightshade team members worked alongside the refugees weeding and preparing the fields for planting. The team from Lightshade was happy to be in the community supporting area residents and the farm was very grateful for the extra hands.

“We take our role in the community very seriously,” said Lightshade co-owner Steve Brooks. “We want to spread the message that cannabis is about so much more than just ‘getting high.’ It’s about building relationships, promoting empathy and just keeping in touch with the importance of helping others in creating a stronger and healthier society. Our CSR initiatives are a way Lightshade can make an incremental positive change in the world, and we hope to continue on this journey.”

Unfortunately, federal regulations often slow down Lightshade’s efforts. While cannabis is fully legal at a local level in the state of Colorado, some non-profits are reluctant to work with Lightshade due to restrictions from a national standpoint. These organizations might fear that their 501c3 status or federal grant funding could be revoked as a punishment for partnering with a cannabis company. They also may have moral issues associated with marijuana use. It’s another reminder that, despite the incredible progress that has been made in eliminating social stigmas about cannabis over the past several years, there is still a long way to go before it is fully accepted as a cultural norm in our society.

The Desire to Help the Community

Still, Lightshade continues to push forward and create its own path for serving the community; specifically targeting homelessness and hunger. Members of Lightshade’s CSR team are working in tandem with kindColorado LLC on a joint mission to help cannabis businesses become welcomed contributors to communities. kindColorado is currently supporting Lightshade’s resolve to volunteer at food banks and urban gardens. Lightshade funds the food bank at Amazing Grace in Federal Heights for example, providing approximately 800 meals each month for area seniors in need.

In May 2017, Lightshade sponsored Manny’s Summerfest, a beer and wine tasting event held at Tears-McFarlane House in Denver, benefiting homeless senior citizens. Shannon Brooks, Director of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at Lightshade, is also leading an initiative to pull together $50,000 in donations from women leaders in the cannabis industry to support The Gathering Place. This daytime drop-in center is truly unique in the city of Denver and provides a broad spectrum of services for homeless women, children, and transgender individuals in need. The Gathering Place is an enthusiastic partner willing to work with cannabis businesses willing to take risks in service of their members.

Providing the Best Product

In addition to its corporate social responsibility initiative, Lightshade continues to create a dispensary experience that is largely unmatched in the legal marijuana marketplace. The company sells its home-grown strains in all of its locations. Lightshade has created its own scale of effects for cannabis strains, beyond the simple indica, sativa or hybrid classifications that are typically used. The scale includes four types of “ambiance” “awaken, enliven, calm and rest” and categorizes each strain appropriately so that customers know what they’re getting and what kind of effects to expect.

Lightshade offers an order online/pick up in store option and has special cannabis discounts on many of its products including flower, pre-rolls, edibles, and tinctures. The dispensaries often have demonstrations from cannabis industry vendors. Its Twitter page has become a source of helpful information for 420 enthusiasts. Lightshade clearly goes beyond just being a local dispensary as their determination to effect positive change at a societal level is something that more cannabis companies should aspire to replicate.

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In the Philanthropic Weeds: Cannabis Giving Goes Local

Originally Published on Nonprofitquarterly.org
By Gayle Nelson | Feb. 17, 2017

Last November, seven more states legalized marijuana, increasing the total number of states where the use of marijuana in some capacity (recreational or medical) is not illegal to twenty-eight. Overall, the legal marijuana industry could gross as much as $20 billion in revenue by 2020. Many of the new businesses making up the legal marijuana industry are looking to give back to their communities, but many nonprofits are hesitant to accept their donations.

Tim Cullen, the CEO of the Colorado Harvest Company, was surprised by the challenges he encountered when he decided to donate some of his business’ earnings. “I have been shocked at how few places will take our money,” he said. Colorado Harvest Company is a chain of shops selling marijuana products. Cullen is also a shareholder of O.penVape, a company producing vaping pens.

Although Colorado legalized recreational marijuana over five years ago, many nonprofits continue to refuse gifts from the industry. Luckily, Cullen felt strongly about the need to give back. “I think philanthropy is what responsible businesses do. It’s not a choice so much as the next logical step,” he said. Eventually, he and his business partners at O.penVape made a donation of $250,000 to Levitt Pavilion Denver to partially fund a new amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park in the southwest part of the city. Once it is finished, the nearly $5 million Levitt Pavilion will host many events, including fifty free concerts each summer.

Accepting this gift was not a simple decision for Chris Zacher, the local executive director. Since the pavilion will be located in a city park, he first reached out to the city of Denver. City officials did not approve or object to the potential partnership but encouraged Levitt to reach its own conclusion, according to city licensing spokesman Dan Rowland. Zacher’s second phone call was to the organization’s national board. “We took it to Levitt, they took it to the board, and as long as it is legal in their state and not promoting the sex trade or tobacco, they were fine with it,” he said.

Although there are 2,966 medical marijuana dispensaries, 3,973 retailers, and 4,200 cultivators across the country, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. This is the same classification as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. At the same time, the public’s views of marijuana continue to evolve. According to a Pew Research Center survey taken in October of 2016, 57 percent of adults in the U.S. believe marijuana should be legal while 37 percent believe it should remain illegal, compared to 32 percent supporting legalization and 60 percent against ten years ago.

This evolving landscape creates risk and uncertainty for the industry, for the thousands of people who legally use it to relieve pain, nausea, muscle spasms, and other conditions, for those who use it for recreational purposes, and for the philanthropic community.

One misconception is why the industry is giving. Although Colorado Harvest Company and O.penVape will be the Pavilion’s headline sponsors, most do not give for marketing or visibility. “I think there is some misunderstanding oftentimes between cannabis (businesses) and nonprofits where nonprofits assume what cannabis wants out of donations is marketing and visibility, and we find the industry does not want that,” said Courtney Mathis, COO of KindColorado. Additionally, since the industry remains illegal in the federal government’s view, businesses can’t write off or deduct their gift on their taxes.

Due to the continued hesitation, the industry as a whole has created a giving campaign through the DoingGood.FOUNDATION. DoingGood.FOUNDATION is a national organization “providing small and local charities with free resources to help them grow and help meet more of our community’s needs!” On April 20th, 2017—yes, 4/20—they are organizing a national campaign to educate the public on the connection between the cannabis industry and local communities. All of the funds raised during the campaign will be given to small nonprofits in the states where the donations originate.

In our opinion, there are far more questionable industries nonprofits take donations from and invest with. As people’s judgment of marijuana and the legal marijuana industry continues to transform, more and more nonprofits will be exploring potential donations and beating back the unease surrounding them.—Gayle Nelson

This article has been altered from its original form. The $250,000 donation to Levitt Pavilion Denver came as two $125,000 donations, one each from Colorado Harvest Company and from O.penVape. NPQ thanks CHC for the clarification.

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