An Oklahoma public school has rejected financial donations made by a medical marijuana dispensary. Despite an ongoing lack of funding, Ponca City Public Schools turned down the monetary offer, likely owing to its controversial source: cannabis sales. Eleven states, along with Washington, D.C., have already passed legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, with a total of thirty-three, including Oklahoma, allowing access to medical cannabis for patients with qualifying health conditions.
Unfortunately, despite legalization on the state-wide level, cannabis’ federal illegality remains a significant barrier due to the plant’s stigma. The donation offer to Ponca City Public Schools was made by Flippin Farms, an Oklahoma based medical cannabis dispensary chain. The company has four existing locations and has current plans in the works to open an additional four stores.
Like many cannabis dispensaries, those who founded the medical marijuana company had hoped to return some of the profit back to their community, and more specifically, the local public schools, which are heavily underfunded. Corey Fisher, part-owner of Flippin Farms, told Oklahoma’s News 4 in a recent interview,
“We’re here to help not only our patients, but we also want to give back to the local community – they support us. Our schools are underfunded; they have programs that are cut annually. Our salaries for our teachers are among the lowest in the country.”
The attempt by Fisher and his partner to donate to Ponca City Public Schools was rejected immediately. According to Fisher, “They pretty shortly said, ‘Not interested; we can’t do business with you,” without any further explanation being given at the time.
Shelly Arrott, Ponca City Schools Superintendent, said in a statement to Oklahoma’s News 4, “The Ponca City Schools appreciates the generous offer made from Flippin Farms; however, accepting donations from a medical marijuana dispensary is uncharted territory for Oklahoma school districts in relation to federal funding sources. At this time, the district cannot risk compromising these funding sources which are relied on heavily for the education of students. In the future, we would certainly appreciate the opportunity to work with Mr. Flippin to accept donations to help our students if it will not in any way jeopardize district revenue sources.”
Interestingly, as Fisher is quick to point out, Oklahoma public schools already receive 75% of the surplus tax revenue generated from the sales of medical cannabis in the state. Just in January of this year alone, the state of Oklahoma collected over $300,000 in tax revenue from the sale of medical cannabis. Evidently, at least in the eyes of the Oklahoma public school district, indirect financing from the tax revenue of medical cannabis sales is acceptable.
Direct donations from private businesses, on the other hand, remain “uncharted territory.” Fisher rightly questions, “If it’s ok for them to take tax money from this industry, why not be able to take money straight from this industry. We were just kind of confused and alarmed that in a school district that is constantly underfunded, we’re willing to walk in there and say 'hey, I can write you a personal check even', and they just declined.Hopefully, we can strike a good c[h]ord with the school district and we can come to an understanding. And if nothing else, just open a dialogue.”