Few CEOs are as adept at activism as they are at growing a business. But then again, few CEOs have taken the acronym to mean Cosmic Engagement Officer.
David Bronner – who leads the charge at the iconic Dr. Bronner’s soap company, which was founded by his grandfather – is one such businessman. Under his watch, the company’s annual revenue has exploded, and the company’s products have become ubiquitous, growing beyond the realm of hippie culture to become a mainstay in normie bathrooms across the world. At the same time, Bronner has used his position and the company itself to elevate and champion several causes, chief among them drug reform and regenerative organic farming.
To call 2020 a big year for the causes that Bronner supports would be an epic understatement. Campaigns to legalize medicinal psilocybin in Oregon and decriminalize plant medicines in Washington DC both won big at the ballot. Oregonians furthermore voted in favor of Measure 110, which decriminalizes virtually all drugs and ushers in an unprecedented approach to addiction treatment in the United States. (Bronner is also on the board of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and is donating $10 million to the company over a ten-year period).
And every cannabis legalization initiative that made it on the ballot – adult-use in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, and medical marijuana in Mississippi and South Dakota as well – were all approved by voters…although Republican prohibitionists in Montana, South Dakota, and Mississippi are fighting tooth and nail to overturn the voice of the people because that’s…how democracy works?
As if this year’s monumental “Green Sweep” wasn’t enough, Bronner additionally launched a new regenerative organic cannabis certification program, Sun+Earth, to provide the services that a USDA Organic certification could do for cannabis if only cannabis wasn’t a Schedule 1 drug (c’mon, Joe, cmon!!!). The program is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign to certify more farms; through December 20, the company will be selling an exclusive hemp terpene soap and, naturally, schwag, to support the effort.
Among the companies supporting Sun+Earth is Brother David’s, David Bronner’s own cannabis company that he launched in 2019, which sources its flower exclusively from farms that adhere to Sun+Earth standards.
“It’s a big moment for drug policy reform,” Bronner told Wikileaf. “We’re psyched to keep going. We’re very interested in basically ending the drug war completely. Addiction is not a crime, and we should be treating people compassionately with effective treatment.”
For Bronner, however, 2020 was less of a culmination than a continuation of a life of activism.
We caught up with Bronner to dig into both his family history and his own experiences with mind-altering substances to learn more about the philosophies that guide both his company and his activism. Our conversation spans continents and centuries, starting with the role that the Holocaust played in shaping Bronner’s grandfather’s nascent soap business and humanism; it continues through Bronner’s post-college psychedelic heyday in Amsterdam; his role in the battle to legalize hemp; this epic year of reform and what comes next.
My biggest takeaway from our conversation had less to do with these specific campaigns, or even drug reform in general than it did with contemporary altruism. David Bronner is by no means the first capitalist to embrace activism, nor will he be the last (even megalomaniacs like Bezos are starting to pour big money into vital causes like the climate crisis). But especially in a time of extreme income inequality and dire societal ills, any CEO – no matter what the letters stand for – who is willing to forgo a yacht or a bonus to do something good for the world warrants our recognition, and to be emulated.