(This is an abridged version of a story that appears in the July issue of Marijuana Business Magazine.)
Marijuana businesses nationwide are finding they can reap generous rewards from giving to their local communities.
Being a good corporate citizen can make it easier for marijuana businesses to work with regulators and local officials, stand out from competitors and attract new customers and high-quality employees, according to industry executives and experts on corporate giving.
There are a variety of ways cannabis companies can give back to their communities, ranging from providing volunteer time for events and projects to collecting food donations.
“Giving back has always been a part of my life, but part of my mission is also breaking stereotypes about people who use cannabis as not being contributing members to society,” said Annette Atkinson, owner of HWY420, a Washington state marijuana retailer that has been recognized for its charitable giving.
“If I can increase the population that believes marijuana is an OK alternative to alcohol and opioids through showing that people who use marijuana are not horrible people, then on the business side, I think that will help me.”
In some states, giving back isn’t just good business; it’s required to even open for business.
In 2016, Denver started requiring applicants for retail marijuana licenses – and those seeking to renew their permits – to submit “community engagement” plans.
The idea was to “create positive impacts in the neighborhoods where the licensed premises are located.”
Some options for companies include:
- Neighborhood beautification.
- Increasing access to healthy food.
- Homelessness assistance.
- Improving connectivity and transportation.
Municipalities such as Oakland, California, and Thornton, Colorado, also have adopted requirements aimed at ensuring the marijuana industry creates social benefits.
Similarly, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states rolling out new marijuana markets are introducing merit-based application programs as well, making community outreach and engagement increasingly important in the industry, said Courtney Mathis, president and co-founder of KindColorado.
Denver-based KindColorado helps cannabis companies in the state strategize how to connect with neighborhood groups and nonprofits.
Among other activities, KindColorado has organized opportunities for marijuana company employees to pull weeds alongside refugee farmers, serve food for women struggling with poverty and fund senior-focused food banks.
“Cannabis companies are really becoming a part of their communities, and they feel really lucky about that,” said Kelly Perez, co-founder and CEO of KindColorado.
“It isn’t about hitting licensing requirements. It’s about getting to serve a community where you don’t have to be in the shadows anymore: Coming out, standing tall and using your privilege and opportunity to be an asset.”
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