It’s easy to forget the medical cannabis movement’s roots were planted by the benevolence of activists. People like “Brownie Mary” Rathbun and other activists laid the groundwork for a compassionate crusade. But after Proposition 215 passed in 1996 and obtaining a card became as easy as a five-minute consultation, marijuana’s charitable value was overshadowed by its offer of easy recreational pleasure.
That means the work of people like David Goldman and his husband Michael Koehn often goes unnoticed. As cannabis activists living in San Francisco for over 40 years, they’ve met people who are HIV-positive or have other medical issues; people who are low income and on disability; people who have had bad reactions to their prescriptions drugs, or who are addicted to them.
People who desperately need, but can’t afford, cannabis.
“We know of several folks who have either cut their opiate use by 50 percent or have completely replaced their opiate intake with medical cannabis,” he says. “Their use of cannabis helps them eat properly by restoring their appetite, helping them overcome nausea and chronic pain, and combat alcoholism.”
Fortunately, Goldman and Koehn have been able to provide high-quality, lab-tested medical cannabis products to the impoverished — at no charge. And their philanthropy is only possible because of the generosity of another San Francisco-based organization, Weed for Good.
Weed for Good was initially a personal project for Jennifer Lujan and her boyfriend after they were approached by a veterans group for product donations. At the time, Lujan was working for the philanthropic arm of Lyft, the ride-hailing tech giant, but her boyfriend was a 20-year veteran of the cannabis industry.
As the couple started delivering free medication on a small scale, Lujan saw there was a need beyond veterans, and the community service grew into a full-time job. “More than anything, I felt that it was more of a responsibility,” she says. “It seemed like it was really hard for patients to find something like this.”
Lujan now works through a network of nonprofit agencies, hospitals and hospice centers to vet terminally ill patients who would otherwise have a hard time obtaining and affording cannabis. Since many of the affiliated doctors receive federal funding, they can’t supply a Schedule 1 drug directly to patients themselves; even if they did, the medication wouldn’t be covered by insurance. Weed for Good gives doctors a much-needed loophole.
For recommendations, Meadow MD and RecMD help diagnose the patients online at no cost. Then Lujan connects with a large number of dispensaries and manufacturers, including Jolly Meds in San Francisco and the Higher Path dispensary in Los Angeles, to deliver medicine in Northern and Southern California.
Thanks to Weed for Good, 70 to 80 terminally ill Californians receive free medication every month. Lujan has met with almost every single one of them, at least in the Bay Area — she likes to get a sense of how much experience they have with cannabis to provide the medicine that suits them best. And because of the generosity of the cannabis community, none of her patients are ever left wanting; even if Lujan runs out of free product, she has monetary donors too. They usually contribute enough that she can buy whatever’s lacking directly from the manufacturers.
“It’s such a huge difference between when I first see [patients] and they’re completely uncomfortable, they’re drugged up from their painkillers, they can barely open their eyes, much less talk,” she says. “And then within a few months or even just a month of them having used cannabis, their mental state completely changes.”
Cannabis Corporate Philanthropy in Action
California’s longest continually operating dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group was founded on giving free medication to low-income patients. Today, that policy is city law. BPG also funds the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, and out-raised Google in the Bay’s annual AIDS Walk 2015.
Alameda County dispensary Garden of Eden has chipped in over $200,000 to Meals on Wheels and six other local charities.
New California company Bloom Farms is also helping rebuild its community. After the Calaveras County fire did $2 billion in damage in 2015, the Northern California vape pen makers worked with local dispensaries to earmark $20,000 in vape pen proceeds for fire relief.
In the Centennial State, Clinic Colorado has contributed to the MS Society for years. And Denver Relief Consulting runs a number of charitable and community involvement efforts. This year, a number of Denver-based businesses banded together for the Leafly-sponsored Cannabis Charity Open golf tournament, which raised money for the Denver Colorado AIDS Project.
“Our philosophy on charitable giving really boils down to a simple concept: Give back and help enhance the communities that support your business,” says Luke Ramirez, the event’s organizer and owner of Premium Pete’s Cultivation.
Citizens with marijuana convictions had their records wiped clean, thanks to The Bob Marley family brand Marley Natural, who sponsored a Record Expungement Workshop in Portland in August.
Originally published in issue 23 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE