Charitable Challenges for Cannabis

By Ivy Summer

‘Tis the season for giving! Over the holidays, there’s an abundance of opportunities to give thanks, give gifts, and give back to the community. The cannabis industry plays a major role in philanthropic efforts during the holiday season (and all year round), as long as it jumps through the hoops created by the stigma associated with its industry. Nonprofits hesitate to accept donations from cannabis-affiliated organizations and businesses largely due to the potential of federal repercussions.

Some nonprofits don’t accept donations from cannabis organizations because they may be legally required to disclose their donors and/or prefer to keep their donor list free of controversy. Moreover, cannabis businesses can’t write off donations on their taxes due to IRS-imposed restrictions. Though there are obstacles for cannabis organizations to give back to the community, many cannabis businesses have creatively overcome to contribute to the greater good.

It’s not just about donating money. Some cannabis organizations have the capacity to donate cannabis products instead. The values that align with a cannabis organization’s mission may include diversity and equity regarding access to deeply discounted medication, economic opportunities, or social justice for formerly incarcerated folks and their families, for example.

Unfortunately, it can be just as difficult to donate cannabis because it requires non-vertically integrated license holders to arrange delivery and intake, which can become costly and time consuming. Organizations like Grow for Vets help provide free medicinal cannabis to veterans to treat pain and PTSD. Although veterans are able to get free prescription drugs, charitable cannabis contributions are much less costly in terms of overdoses and suicides.

In the era of COVID-19, Glass House Farms gave back to the Santa Barbara community in a multitude of ways. Most recently, since it had a large inventory of lab gowns originally reserved as backup for its staff in its pesticide-free greenhouse space, the company donated 1,000 lab gowns to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, which was in need of various personal protective equipment. Additionally, it launched its Keep The Lights On program to support local hospitality businesses that were forced to reduce operations due to shelter-in-place orders.

Its dispensary brand, The Farmacy, bought take-out lunches for employees from local restaurants. Cannabis farms in the area followed suit. Over 1,000 take-out orders per day to feed cannabis employees is a major factor in keeping other local businesses afloat during the pandemic.

When Californians lost their homes to wildfires this year, Emerald Harvest offered spaces to live in for those who were impacted. It supports its hydroponics industry by dedicating its stainless steel mixing equipment to make thousands of bottled hand sanitizers. Since then, they’ve partnered with Hawthorne Gardening to donate facilities and resources to the state government, the Center for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization for medical use, storage, or supply staging.

For cannabis companies that still struggle to find ways to give back to the communities in which they thrive, there’s even a non-profit that exists to specifically address that challenge. Responsible Jane does the research on deserving nonprofits, from local community organizations to large medical research programs. It provides cannabis businesses with the proper documentation and accepts both online and cash donations to grant to other nonprofits on behalf of their clients. Responsible Jane makes it even easier for cannabis companies to contribute directly to healing the harm done by the War on Drugs in addition to other social justice and equity initiatives.

Cannabis Doing Good is eager to educate the public about all the charitable contributions cannabis businesses are willing to make and create relationships between those businesses and nonprofit beneficiaries. It recently launched its Cannabis Impact Fund, which raises money specifically for racial justice over the next 12 months. This is a big deal considering that:

  1. Latinx and Black Americans make up 31.5% of the U.S. population but are 46.9% of people arrested for drug law violations,
  2. White and Black Americans use drugs at similar rates, but Black Americans are 6 times more likely to get arrested for it,
  3. Over 81% of dispensary owners are white and only 4.3% of cannabis business owners are Black or Latinx.

There are dozens upon dozens more charitable cannabis businesses that give back in remarkable ways, even beyond the taxes imposed upon them to help fund public schools, the homelessness crisis, construction, and more. Nonprofits related to social justice, like Color of Change, Black Futures Lab, The Bail Project, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, The Hood Incubator, and many more benefit from contributions generated by the cannabis industry.

You can be a catalyst for the change you want to see in the world simply by asking your local dispensary how they’re giving back throughout the year and considering ways that you can personally support these organizations that disrupt systemic disparities that perpetuate the harm we stand against.

If you have tips, ideas, or thoughts about this piece, comment below or send an inquiry to Ivy Summer at [email protected]

About the Author:


“Ivy Summer is an independent consultant and collaborator with ECO Cannabis with 5 years of experience working in the cannabis industry both as a consultant and wedding planner. She introduced the annual Cannabis Wedding Expo to California in 2016 and launched America’s first cannabis art museum tours and cannabis yacht tours from 2016 through 2018.

From your workforce, content, or your customer base to your daily interactions – if you aren’t sure how to start incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging into various aspects of your life, and you want to commit to making an intergenerational impact in business and beyond, Ivy is your go-to. “Let’s make a diversity committee,” is one of the most common phrases she hears from her prospective clients. She’ll take you deeper. She helps solopreneurs and small-to-medium sized organizations develop ownership over real systemic change within their community and champion diversity and inclusion initiatives they never thought possible. Ivy specializes in identifying areas of business that hinder an organization’s potential for diversity and recommending how to establish best practices in a sustainable way.”

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