How Weed Brands Can Give Back

Our guide to making a real difference.

The Broccoli Report 
Monday, November 23, 2020
Time to read: 9 minutes, 52 seconds. 1975 words.

Good morning, from my WFH office to all of yours!

If there’s anything I’m grateful to 2020 for bringing me, it’s the reminder that my dollars, in the right place at the right time, can make an actual difference. As we transition into the official season for giving, we thought it’d be a good time to talk about giving back and doing good with your dollars. Real good. Because giving back is not just a box you check after making one donation, and no single nonprofit is going to fix the weed industry. It’s all hands on deck, y’all.

I’ll have a fresh dispatch ready Friday that demystifies how third-party fulfillment and shipping works. Thinking about outsourcing? If you’re feeling the pressure of having to pack and mail all those holiday orders yourself, you won’t want to miss this interview—you’re going to love it. Thank you for making The Broccoli Report possible.

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How Weed Can Give Back: The organizations, campaigns, and mindsets with real impact.

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There is no single path that leads to a strong, socially equitable cannabis industry, but rather multiple goals we must work towards simultaneously. The silver lining to this multipronged attack on systemic discrimination and disenfranchisement? There’s room for every kind of business to have a real, significant impact. 

Here are the primary umbrellas of issues we see holding the cannabis and hemp industries back, as well as starting points for helping with each of those efforts.

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The Problem: Legislation

Laws determine what’s possible—what can and can’t be done. There are narrow windows for amending legislation throughout the year, and it takes hours of dedicated networking and lobbying to make cannabis issues a priority for lawmakers during those limited weeks. 

How you can help: In this arena, experience counts for a lot. This work is not just about connecting with lobbyists to get the industry’s concerns before lawmakers. It involves assembling proof—data, numbers, testimonials from producers, patients, retailers, etc.—and putting it in a package that persuades politicians to change their minds. NORML has been doing it since 1970. It’s an established, trustworthy organization that has the reach to use your donations wisely. You can donate to your state’s local chapter (there are some international chapters, too). Donations support their lobbying efforts for reforming flawed laws and enacting new ones, sponsoring scientific research, providing legal advice to those with cannabis-related records, and a lot more. 

The fine print: Legalization doesn’t fundamentally solve the systemic racism at play in our criminal justice system. The laws bringing new adult-use markets online reveal a problematic pattern in how we distribute cannabis tax revenue; most of them don’t contain any language about social equity at all. Even after states go legal, Black and Latinx people are still statistically more likely to be arrested than white people. In short: the work doesn’t end when cannabis becomes legal.


The Problem: Entrepreneurial Barriers

Despite its youth, the cannabis industry is not a level playing field. First-come, first-served licensing practices have given a leg up to individuals with more moneyed networks who can pay for costly applications on the spot. Aspiring entrepreneurs who need more time to gather resources are just out of luck, stuck at the bottom of the pile. Legacy cultivators with prior cannabis-related charges are denied adult-use licenses because of their criminal records, leaving them out of the modern industry completely (along with their valuable experience and insights).

How you can help: Seek out organizations directly supporting people trying to break into the industry. Our Academy—the nonprofit arm of media site Our Dream—provides mentorships and workshops to connect experienced entrepreneurs in the space with fellow BIPOC and social equity applicants. Don’t forget to look in your own community for smaller organizations doing big work. In Oregon, for example, there’s the Oregon Handler’s Fund, which covers the costs of a marijuana handler’s card required to work anywhere within Oregon’s adult-use industry, and the NuLeaf Project, which invests cannabis tax and corporate revenue into Oregon-based businesses owned by people of color. Oakland, California-based Supernova Women empowers people of color to become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis industry. They are currently directing donations towards a relief fund for BIPOC and equity businesses who experienced losses and damage during the summer’s protests.

The fine print:  We’ve yet to crack the code on implementing an effective equity program. From California to Illinois, a wave of lawsuits, amendments, and resources are popping up in response to flawed equity programs. It’s a work in progress, and it’s going to take more effort to get it right.


The Problem: Donations and Capitalizing on Allyship 

“Performative allyship.” One of the phrases that will define 2020 and one of the least helpful things you can do for the cannabis industry! Also, one of the most obvious. Instagram posts “pledging to do better” don’t do anything except make the poster feel better. One-time donations, even large ones, are challenging for nonprofits that need financial consistency to do their most effective work. Self-serving allyship does nothing to benefit the people to whom you’re apologizing.

How you can help: To quote Natalie Papillion from our podcast chat on equity: 

“It’s ok to be late to the party. We’re happy you made it. Just stay. And maybe bring two bottles instead of one, and help me clean up afterward.”

Organizations like Papillion’s Equity Org rely on regular, consistent donations. When you donate to a nonprofit, you are starting a relationship with that organization. Recurring donations allow you to become vested in the intent of your donation long after you send that e-check. If you need guidance vetting nonprofits to support, check out the Floret Coalition, a collective of small businesses in the cannabis and cannabis-adjacent space committed to monthly donations of at least $50/month for six months, facilitated by Broccoli. Rather than focusing on cannabis-specific organizations, the Floret board chooses a different organization each month to donate Floret funds to, always selecting groups led by and benefitting Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities; these communities bear the deepest scars of the war on drugs. Floret is up to over $10k in monthly pledges.

While Floret focuses on fundraising for community aid groups, there’s another coalition with an emphasis on business that you can join. Meet Cannabis for Black Lives (CfBL), led by Cannaclusive. Kassia Graham helps shape both coalition efforts, as a Floret board member and as the leadership team head of CfBL. Graham explains: 

“CfBL is focused on enhancing cannabis company culture via diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Uplifting those in the industry and others who want to enter is one of our three pillars (the other two being amplification and fundraising).” 

CfBL also features a job board on their website, a useful tool both for businesses and for people seeking employment opportunities. 

The fine print: While making a donation, or consistent donations, could qualify as an antiracist action, it doesn’t automatically make you or your business antiracist as a whole. Don’t over-congratulate yourself, and don’t fall back into the performative allyship trap by shouting out your donations if you aren’t doing the work behind the scenes, too. 


The Problem: Justice For Current and Former Incarcerees

The ugly reality of cannabis’s enduring status as a federally illegal substance is the people who are still serving jail time for cannabis-related offenses. There are people still unable to rent an apartment or get their dream job because of a past cannabis-related charge. This is a large umbrella that contains many issues, and the entire North American carceral system needs an overhaul far greater than the scope of cannabis convictions. But in a way, that means our industry can be the start of a revolutionary domino effect.

How You Can Help: Here is where keeping up with organizations like National Expungement Week and the Last Prisoner Project is vital. You’ll be able to hear about sponsorship and donation opportunities to fund expungement clinics or pay legal fees—even refreshing an inmate’s commissary account. The Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty is a multifaceted organization dedicated to clearing the records of those formerly incarcerated (you can learn more about it in my conversation with Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, their Director of Research). Organizations like Defy Ventures aren’t specifically focused on cannabis-related charges, but donating to their efforts supporting the transition back into life outside and empowering budding entrepreneurs with a record absolutely furthers the goals of a just, inclusive, equitable industry. 

The fine print:  Expungement isn’t a perfect system. As I learned writing about it for Issue 06 of Broccoli, depending on the state and the charge, some people have to wait years to be able to clear their record. It comes down to legal representation—most expungement clinics end up directing people to their local public defender to connect with a lawyer who can identify eligibility and file the right paperwork in the right way.


The Problem: Predatory Partnerships

We are no strangers to the precarious business of being in the business of weed. We’ve seen firsthand how quickly brands and retailers rushed to feature more Black entrepreneurs and creators this summer, but many forgot to connect these opportunities to meaningful, respectful compensation. I recently spoke to Rebecca Grammer-Ybarra, founder of Homebody, about how she distinguishes real opportunities from shady offers. She says:

“During the wave of support for Black-owned businesses, I had to make the tough decision to back out of a contract with a major retailer due to their policies and beliefs. You can keep your money. I have also had a very popular brand that went viral for their racist association reach out and offer us more money than I have ever seen on a deal to date—I turned them down. The integrity of my brand and who I am is the legacy of Homebody.”

How you can help: Reconsider how you structure partnerships and compensation. In case you haven’t received the memo: Exposure doesn’t count as compensation. If you have an opportunity to collaborate on a product or hire a designer for a product package, maximize how it benefits your collaborator. Profit-sharing models are one example, (see Brain Dings Artist label program), but there are a lot of options for creating fair compensation. If you have a creative shoot or a web redesign on the horizon, there’s a handful of opportunities right there—to hire someone, compensate them well, be the hand that holds open the door to this industry. If you zoom out and look at all the functions of your business, and who it interacts with in your city, hundreds of opportunities to engage with the communities you wish to support will emerge.

The point is: Take it from here, and make it your own. Crafting a sustainable approach that makes sense for your unique company can be the difference between a momentary gesture and a way of doing good weed business. 

The fine print:  No disclaimers here. Make it your priority to treat people fairly and with respect; everyone wins. 


One-Hitters: Cannabis News at a Glance

  • Although real weed can’t get in on Black Friday e-commerce sales, cannabis sales during Thanksgiving week are second only to 4/20 across the legal states. People (hopefully) won’t be stocking up on munchie materials for a big family dinner, but we imagine the emotional state of folks in the U.S. will drive impressive sales this week.

  • Exponential increases in Canada’s home cultivation sector show that way, way more people are growing at home since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

  • The newly formed Cannabis Regulators Association aims to assemble the experience of policymakers and regulators in all legal states, uniting disparate decision-makers to share knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t as new laws are written for new states coming online.

  • A federal judge rules in favor of a Missouri-based CBD chain pursuing unjust enrichment and defamation claims against Visa. The suit alleges that Visa withheld $66,000 in payments, fined MNG $25,000, and cut off transactions involving the business after wrongly determining that it was involved in illegal activities.

  • Education and advocacy platform Humble Bloom is back with a relaunch of their website that includes an online boutique of BIPOC and womxn-owned small businesses.

  • The Bureau of Cannabis Control, the regulatory agency running California’s adult-use program, awarded $29,950,494 in public university research grant funding across the state. The grants go toward numerous programs with focuses ranging from cannabis water-use effects in salmon-bearing streams to Tribal sovereignty over cultivation on Native Ancestral Lands and whether packaging and labeling on cannabis edibles impacts youth use.

  • Vertical launches a grant program for California-based cannabis and cannabis adjacent businesses (including those who haven’t launched yet), with $10,000 awarded each season. Applications open today.

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Until next time,
Lauren Yoshiko