Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are known throughout the world for being two of the richest men on the planet. But fewer people realize the enormous commitments they’ve made to charity.
Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, started the Gates Foundation in 1994 with the goals of reducing poverty, improving education and combating health issues in the developing world. Within a few years, Gates had funded the nonprofit with billions of dollars. Together, Gates and Buffett, the two richest individuals in the world before recently being supplanted by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, gave billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation, which now has an endowment of more than $50 billion.
When Gates announced his plan to give the vast majority of his enormous fortune to charity, it inspired Buffett, a longtime friend, to do the same.
The two then embarked on an even more ambitious venture, starting the “Giving Pledge,” urging America’s super-rich to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. In addition to Gates and Buffett, notable signatories include Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft.
However, you don’t have to be a billionaire to make a positive impact, and many in the cannabis industry are recognizing that giving back can be its own reward.
“Giving back should be part of what we all do,” says Lillach Mazor Power, co-founder and managing director of Giving Tree Wellness in Arizona. “It doesn’t matter how much or how, just do it! You can make a real difference.”
Below are a few examples of cannabis companies that have donated time and money to nonprofit organizations and local causes.
Ocean Greens, the owner of a marijuana retail store of the same name, was immediately impressed with the United States when he emigrated from Albania. His real estate background taught him that perseverance was the way to success. He also knew instinctively that in this vast country, where millionaires are minted daily, his eventual success was guaranteed if he worked hard and carefully managed his money.
After his career in real estate, Greens opened a small, but thriving cannabis retail outlet in the suburbs north of Seattle. His Ocean Greens store, while modest in size, has proven to be another success.
“I liked the opportunity that cannabis presented and got lucky in the state retail lottery,” Greens says. He opened his shop in a former nightclub, left many of the bar’s decorations in place and made a profit right from the start.
“Yes, this business is difficult and we’re taxed like crazy, but you can make money if you’re thrifty and careful,” he says.
Greens made news when he donated $5,000 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, something he did simply because he believes in giving back. He has now donated more than $50,000 to cancer research.
Giving Tree Wellness
“Giving” is more than just a part of the company’s name at Giving Tree Wellness (and a reference to Power’s favorite book). It’s part of the philosophy on which the Arizona-based company was founded. Since its inception in 2013, Giving Tree has participated in numerous fundraising and community efforts, including Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Take Steps for Crohn’s & Colitis, Roosevelt Greenhouse, Chrysalis (a domestic abuse shelter) and the Pat Tillman Foundation. Kindred Cannabis, a new brand launched by Giving Tree, is a social conscious brand that helps combat human trafficking. The company’s charitable donations have surpassed $70,000.
“Making a difference is part of our DNA,” Power says. “Our industry is all about passionate people who are actively changing history. This is part of who we are. I believe corporate activism is important and we can make a real difference.”
Power says when she first started reaching out to nonprofits, many declined because of Giving Tree’s connection to cannabis. But those rejections are getting more and more uncommon.
During the recruiting process, Power meets with every person that joins the company and asks them why they chose Giving Tree. If the volunteering aspect is part of their answer, she knows she’s found somebody that will fit with the culture of the company.
“It is also important to me to be part of the community we operate in,” she says. “We want the community to see who we are and what we stand for, to change the cannabis stigma; we want them to get to know our people; we want other cannabis companies to become part of this movement. If we as industry become social investors we will create a big impact.”
Hundreds of cannabis companies across North America contribute to a wide variety of charitable causes. Here are a few of those companies:
– Bluebird Botanicals: Donates money and CBD oil to dozens of organizations including Headcount, Doctors Without Borders, Elephant Circle and more.
– Green Lion Partners: Donated $25,000 to Students for Sensible Drug Policy in 2017.
– JuJu Royal: 1% of JuJu Royal’s proceeds are distributed to the Weed for Warriors project.
– Lightshade: The Colorado company teamed up with Goldleaf to create four custom art prints to benefit Project Sanctuary, a nonprofit dedicated to re-acclimating veterans to family life.
– Lucid Mood: Hosted a charity dinner to fight Parkinson’s Disease called Highbrow Dinner.
– MPX Bioceutical Corp.: Donated 10% of all sales from its disposable, pink vape pen during the month of October. The disposable, pink vape pen was designed as a tribute to breast cancer awareness and were sold through Health for Life dispensaries.
– Oregrown: Regularly partners with nonprofits, including groups dedicated to helping animals in the wake of Hurricane Florence, immigrant children following the Trump administration’s separation of families and, in conjunction with Pax Labs, the LGBTQ community.
– The Source: During its October canned food drive, the Nevada-based retailer collected 150,000 pounds of food for local food banks.
Shango is a rapidly growing chain of retail dispensaries with locations in Oregon, California and Nevada. In addition to its retail operations, the company produces high-quality edibles, extracts and flower through agreements with select cultivators in other markets.
The company recently made news when it teamed up with Breast Friends, a nonprofit that provides hats to women who suffer hair loss as a result of cancer treatment.
Giving has been part of the Shango culture from its inception, and the company has made similar commitments to veterans groups, other cancer charities and families in need. According to Julie Dubocq, a company spokeswoman, the Shango culture is one of caring from the top down, and employees regularly donate their time and money to good causes.
“Businesses of all kinds need to help (wo)mankind; it’s what makes the world a better place,” Dubocq wrote in an email to Marijuana Venture. “I know that if I was in need, I’d be grateful for the help.”
Colorado Harvest Company
Not all charitable donations are about helping veterans or people with life-threatening illnesses. Sometimes it’s about contributing to the overall wellbeing of a community, such as Colorado Harvest Company’s sponsorship of Levitt Pavilion in Denver.
The Levitt Foundation is a nonprofit that aims to bring people together through music, by transforming under-utilized public spaces into entertainment venues. Colorado Harvest Company contributed $100,000 toward construction expenses of Levitt Pavilion, an amphitheater in Denver’s Ruby Hill Park that hosts about 50 free concerts a year and can seat up to 7,500 attendees.
“At the time, we believed it was the right thing to do because it was a strong, community project,” Colorado Harvest Company CEO Tim Cullen says. “We really liked what their mission was.”
The collaboration also gave Colorado Harvest Company the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the City of Denver in a way that highlighted the cannabis industry in a positive light, while also helping the nonprofit.
“It was just a win-win-win all the way around,” Cullen says, adding that even though most of the shows are free, all the musicians get paid.
Cullen is also a partner in Organa Brands, which also contributed $100,000 as a title sponsor of Levitt Pavilion. The only downside, he says, is that the charitable donation cannot be used for a federal tax deduction — a sad fact for all American marijuana companies, and a glaring example of how the industry is singled out.
Nevertheless, Cullen is proud of the sponsorship and thinks it sets a good example for cannabis brands around the country.
“The biggest challenge cannabis companies still face is a 70-year negative propaganda campaign that’s come directly from the federal government,” Cullen says. “We have a lot of negative stigma to overcome. To be a part of a success story like Levitt Pavilion, and be able to very openly give back to the community, is a great way to overcome a stigma like that.”
Herbs House owner David Sloan is a big believer in his employees. Prior business experience taught him that success is closely associated with retaining quality employees, something he wanted to instill at his marijuana retail shop in Seattle. One key to retention is how a company treats its employee, so Sloan has instituted numerous programs that add to his employees’ job satisfaction, including:
– Medical insurance. Sloan pays 70% of their premiums.
– Employee discounts. Steep discounts allow employees to try products they might not otherwise afford.
– Free Quicken. Herbs House provides a free, two-year subscription to Quicken, which allows employees to better understand their finances.
– Holiday pay. Employees get time-and-a-half for work on most major holidays.
In addition to treating his employees well, Sloan has donated money to cancer research, National Public Radio, Planned Parenthood and a variety of music and arts organizations.
“Having a happy community leads to a happy customer base, and that in turn leads to a more successful and prosperous business,” Sloan says.