When Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis launched their consulting company, kindColorado, six years ago to help cannabis companies build social responsibility and social equity programs, they quickly realized that more was needed to advance the equity and racial justice conversation in the industry.
Through working with businesses to build their community engagement programs, Perez and Mathis were able to slowly introduce discussions about ways to more directly address equity. Then, two years ago, the duo went a step further to launch Cannabis Doing Good, a separate company dedicated to helping cannabis businesses craft their own unique approaches to racial justice, sustainability and social responsibility.
The goal is threefold, Mathis says. First, Cannabis Doing Good aims to build a network of purpose-driven companies through the launch of a membership program and a consumer-facing business directory.
“For example, if you’re in Illinois and you’re looking to shop a black-owned business, women-owned business or a LGBTQA business, you can do that,” she says. “If you’re looking for a brand that has sustainable packaging or you’re looking for a brand that contributes to your local food bank, you can find companies in our purpose-driven business directory [and] use your dollars to support them.”
The second goal, Mathis says, is to showcase companies that are supporting equity through a Cannabis Doing Good awards program.
Finally, Cannabis Doing Good aims to set the standard for social justice, sustainability and social responsibility in cannabis.
Earlier this year, the company launched a giving initiative to raise $10,000 to support those most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative was successful, raising more than the $10,000 goal, but it showed Perez and Mathis that Cannabis Doing Good needed a much larger mechanism to enable the cannabis industry to support the causes they believe in.
“We needed to make it easy, [and] we really wanted it to be focused on racial justice,” Mathis says.
With the help of Sensible Colorado as its fiscal sponsor, Cannabis Doing Good launched the Cannabis Impact Fund, a nonprofit arm that allows companies to pledge 1% of sales or profit to support six organizations that are exclusively focused on racial justice for the next 12 months.
“There are folks … that have been doing work in racial justice, social justice and equity for decades, and we think it’s really important to leverage the cannabis community to support them in masse,” Mathis says. “We think we’ve made it as easy as humanly possible to pledge 1%, or they can donate.”
In the future, Perez and Mathis hope to open the Cannabis Impact Fund up to support other causes, including sustainability, homelessness and hunger.
“The cannabis community can always point to the Impact Fund to say, ‘Look what we did, look what we’re doing and look at our commitment to show up for our neighbors,’ which I think is really cool,” Mathis says.
“We in cannabis aren’t always invited to participate in nonprofits and movements in general,” Perez adds. “The Cannabis Impact Fund is really the first of its kind in the country for the cannabis industry to step up in a concerted way to join the movement for black lives [and] to support the organizations within cannabis that have been working on social justice since the movement started.”
Embracing Cannabis Social Responsibility
Another way Cannabis Doing Good helps the cannabis industry support their communities is by fine-tuning their approach to social responsibility. Each company’s approach must be unique to benefit both the business and its local community.
Perez and Mathis have never felt that corporate social responsibility in the traditional sense was a good fit for the cannabis industry, but they have embraced what has become known as “cannabis social responsibility,” which often includes community engagement plans.
“For us, it was, how do you see the licensing requirements?” Perez says. “How do you differentiate your brand? How do you really become an asset in the community that the community knows about? … What are the actual things that are supporting people and the planet in this community, and how can this business pitch in and be a part of it? By doing that, you’re also engaging your employees, you are improving the culture of your company [and] you are building cannabis’s reputation out in the community, as well as your brand.”
Over the years, Perez and Mathis have seen many companies doing good things for their communities, and Perez points to Colorado-based Terrapin Care Station as a business worth noting.
The company hired Cannabis Doing Good to help them take the efforts they were already involved in and create a more unified approach to community engagement.
“When we sat down with them, a couple things rose to the top: basic human needs, veterans, homelessness and prison reentry—that connection between criminal legal reform and cannabis,” Perez says. “We crafted … Terrapin for the People. … It’s really good work to be proud of.”
Terrapin for the People allows the company to collaborate with local social justice programs and efforts in the community to help advance their missions.
“They are contributing, not only with donations but also serving on the board and helping to be a community member that solves community problems,” Perez says.
There are many ways that businesses can support social and racial justice, she adds, but creating equitable opportunities in the cannabis space often centers on three main efforts: repairing the harm done by the war on drugs through reentry, expungement and criminal justice reform; creating business opportunities for those impacted by prohibition through funding and training; and finding ways for a legal and regulated cannabis market to benefit the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.
“If you’re a person of color and you’re in cannabis, you may be that example of social equity,” Perez says. “You could be that person who’s participating in the industry and who’s reaching back and making sure there are opportunities for others, highlighting inequities in the system.”
More Good to Come
Perez and Mathis say they’ve set out to change the world and have taken on many difficult issues in the process.
“Racial justice is not an easy check-off box,” Perez says. “But contributing 1% of your revenue or product sales or being a founding member for the [Cannabis Impact Fund], that’s a statement on the national stage about what cannabis is and what we care about. That is participating in a movement that is the largest in our lifetime. We take some hard things like environmental degradation and find a way … to carve out what the right thing is to do and then make it easy for businesses [in an industry] where nothing is easy.”
“We continue to create pathways and mechanisms for the cannabis industry to show up,” Mathis adds. “If we can make the right thing the easy thing, I think we’ll have done a really good job and then have impact to show for it. … I think that if we can look back and say, we have contributed to community health, social equity and the conversations around sustainability, and we’ve created a pathway for cannabis businesses to participate in a way that’s really easy, I think we would be really, really proud of that.”
Cannabis is still a new industry, Perez adds, meaning policy and business practices largely have yet to be established—and Cannabis Doing Good aims to set the bar high.
“I think this is going to be the first time in our lifetime that we’ll have an industry step up and create some of the social change they hope to see,” Mathis says.
“We have at our fingertips this new [opportunity] to craft it in a way that does support communities, that is racially just, that does have opportunities for women and people who haven’t had opportunity,” Perez adds. “Why on earth wouldn’t we take it?"