Indisputably, the heart of the cannabis legalization movement is medical marijuana. One of the most powerful forces behind cannabis reform has been compassion for the most vulnerable communities. These roots in charity remain integral to the development of the industry. However, legal barriers make offering philanthropy a much more challenging endeavor for cannabis businesses than it is for businesses in other industries.
Although it is legal for medical use in over half of the country, cannabis retains its federal Schedule I designation as a substance with no proven medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I substances are classified as illegal, and because federal law has supremacy over state law, this means that certain organizations are wary of nurturing any type of relationship with a cannabis brand, even if that means rejecting a much-needed donation.
Additionally, there is no tax incentive for cannabis companies to donate. While most businesses receive a deduction for their charitable giving, this benefit does not apply to cannabis because of IRS Tax code 280E. That law prohibits businesses from deducting typical business expenses from gross income associated with the “trafficking” of Schedule I or II substances.
Because of cannabis’ Schedule I label, cannabis businesses are forbidden from accessing the kind of tax breaks that incentivize companies to give back to their communities. This means that in addition to being rejected for their association to cannabis, pot companies that want to donate to philanthropic organizations must also bear the full weight of those expenses without any financial return.
However, as anyone who has ever donated or served knows, the act of giving is almost always the reward. Entrepreneurs who make philanthropy a priority have learned that giving back to the community gives a brand something much more valuable than a tax break—it gives it a purpose. Despite the legal challenges pot entrepreneurs face, many cannabis companies continue to make giving a central part of their work. Here are 4 cannabis brands that carry on a legacy of compassion through their philanthropy.
Probably the business most well-known for its donations, the California-based cannabis oils and vape pens company, Bloom Farms, has donated over one million meals as a part of its one-for-one program. The farm has pledged to donate one meal to a food-insecure family for every product purchased from its brand. In addition to making donations, the Bloom Farm team volunteers in local service projects.
To help address food insecurity, the brand donates to and volunteers with the following food banks: Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, Alameda County Community Food Bank, El Dorado County Food Bank, SF Marin Food Bank, Redwood Empire Food Bank, and World Harvest.
Good Chemistry Nurseries
The marriage between healing and cannabis was made apparent to Matthew Huron, CEO of Colorado-based Good Chemistry Nurseries, during his childhood as he watched AIDS ravage the lives of close relatives and friends including his father and his father’ partner. Cannabis clearly alleviated many symptoms of the disease such as pain, nausea, decreased appetite, and wasting syndrome.
That experience nursed a love of cannabis that led him to start a co-op that gave the plant away to men dying from AIDS. As CEO of Good Chemistry Nurseries, Huron has incorporated that spirit of giving into his brand’s identity. The cultivation and dispensary company supports Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation, the homeless-serving Denver Rescue Mission, the LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado, AIDS Walk Colorado, and more.
Miller Rail Farms
When the cannabis growing Miller Rail Farms made an indirect donation of $3,000 to a small elementary school in Calaveras County, it started an interesting conversation about the ethics of cannabis giving. In 2016, Rail Road Flat Elementary had a tiny enrollment of only 69 students and had faced several threats of closure. However, the school was seeing an increase in enrollment likely as a result of the cannabis growers who had moved to the county and were enrolling their children into the school.
The school accepted the donation, but only because it was received through a non-profit organization that helps to fund the school. Were it not for that middle-man, it would have been inappropriate for a non-smoking and non-drinking school to accept a donation from a cannabis company according to Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell. However, because Miller Rail Farms found a third party to donate to, the school was able to accept those funds and use them to run pre-school and music programs that had been previously shut down.
Colorado Harvest Company
When Tim Cullen, CEO of Colorado Harvest Companies, decided that he wanted to take his brand to the next level by donating to non-profits, he discovered something surprising. “I have been shocked at how few places will take our money,” he said to the Cannabist. Even though he faced numerous rejections, Cullen eventually became the largest private donor—in partnership with O.penVape—to the construction of an amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park in Denver. The amphitheater will host 50 free concerts each summer in addition to other events.
“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 about the deal. “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.”