Giving Back from Ganja Profits: Industry Efforts Raise Thousands for Charity

A man in blue plaid shirt holding a bud, he could be contemplating using marijuana to treat depression/anxiety.

By now the word is out that legal cannabis means big boosts in revenue for crucial civic agencies and social services, but many people are unaware of the additional efforts cannabis companies are making to give back to their communities.


Cannabis dispensaries have always worked to help the less fortunate in their communities, ever since the very first one opened its doors two decades ago.

Twenty years ago California’s Prop 215 effort — the very first successful statewide ballot initiative to legalize medical cannabis — was spearheaded by progressive San Francisco communities dealing with the AIDS epidemic. A large ensemble of the Bay Area’s most visible dispensaries and brands joined together, for the fourth year running, to form Team Cannabis in the SF Aids Walk.

Despite having to duke it out with tech giants like Twitter and Google for a spot on the donation leaderboards, they’ve always held their own. In the past, the team has seen up to 160 walkers and up to 19 cannabis businesses and organizations have participated.

Team Cannabis raised over $60,000 in this year’s effort, with popular Northern California dispensaries like Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside contributing big bucks, $25,000 was raised by the walkers, putting the team in ninth place overall. The other $40,000 in the donation came from the team’s decision to sponsor one of the walk’s checkpoints, putting the grand total at $210,000 raised since Team Cannabis was founded.

Denver has also seen its full share of cannabis businesses giving back over the years, with everything from picking up trash in the park to building housing. In the age of corporate cannabis, plenty will find it easy to write a check. But the hands on approach by the folks at Denver Relief Consulting makes them one of the more civically active pot businesses  — and not  in a “going to city council meetings just to keep their doors open” kind of way.

Ean Seeb of Denver Relief Consulting said the Green Team started in 2010.

“I’d imagine we’re probably one of the oldest community service organizations that are dedicated to improving the stereotypes of cannabis users that came about as a result of the cannabis industry,” he said, adding that the real foundation of the Green Team was the aftermath of Denver’s uber-popular 420 Rally — a PR disaster resulting from piles of trash left by attendees. “The rally was such a black eye for cannabis users in 2010. So we made some shirts, bought some trash bags, and picked up trash.”

This past April, the organizers lost their permit to throw the rally: Seeb doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that it was the first year that organizers chose not to work with The Green Team.

“For whatever reason, they didn’t want us there,” he said. “So we didn’t send The Green Team this year and they got the whole thing taken away. Had we been there maybe it wouldn’t have been taken away.”

At their own dispensary, Denver Relief started free bicycle and wheelchair repair clinics. A couple bike shops down the road pitched in and it took off.

People were extra generous in paying for their repairs and the bike shops were providing the supplies at nearly wholesale costs. Seven years later, the bike and wheelchair clinics are still going strong, with four a year during the summer months. And despite the break from the 420 rally, the Green Team still participates in a couple clean up efforts every year with a big one planned for August.

They’ve also been heavily involved with one of Denver’s biggest urban farms for many years.

“Our volunteers are responsible for the largest harvest the farm ever had in one session,” Seeb said. “Our volunteers harvested over 1,800 pounds of food. All of that food was donated or used in 24 hours.”

Seeb said the Green Team saw some pushback from traditional charity organizations in the early days, but not much since.

One exception was a shelter, which accepted a Green Team donation initially, but rejected one offered the following year out of fears that accepting it would threaten their federal funding.

“We went to set things up again and they said they couldn’t work with us because of who we are and had to reject the donation,” Seeb said, adding that Denver Relief Consulting is now transforming the Green Team into a certified nonprofit, which will allow the team to work with the community while providing a bit more distance for organizations worried about donors with cannabis ties. “It gives nonprofits protection on the feds side, and it gives cannabis companies the opportunity to donate to an organization they know is going to work to better what they’re doing”

Seeb believes more and more cannabis companies are getting serious about giving back.

“The companies with dozens of stores are setting up their own foundations.” he said. “It’s a unique industry given the fact that it’s rare one gets to create a new industry in one’s lifetime.”

TELL US, what’s your favorite cannabis charity program?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7x7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal's most recent book This Bud's for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

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