Cannabis has poured money into our state’s economy, including a whopping $76 million in taxes in 2014. And many dispensary owners and progressive marijuana advocates do much more than just provide jobs, pot and tax money; they also give back to the community. These ganja do-gooders are proof that the marijuana industry has the potential to make a difference not only in the lives of consumers, but in charitable, political and educational ways, as well. Here are some of the most interesting philanthropists in Colorado cannabis:
Conservative Coloradans going to Washington, D. C., with a pot of pot money? My, how times have changed. Business-boosting Accelerate Colorado went to D.C. in June to speak in front of the Library of Congress on topics important to Colorado, including small business, water, energy, aerospace defense…and tax issues affecting the marijuana industry. Among the hundred business leaders who attended was Kevin Daly, whose MiNDFUL dispensary sponsored the trip. As presenting partners, MiNDFUL helped fund Accelerate Colorado’s schedule of events, which included a private tour of Mount Vernon, three congressional meetings, a Potomac riverboat cruise and other perks.
This was the first time that a cannabis business had been a presenting partner, but Accelerate Colorado didn’t get any flak. “We had a lot of support from our members,” says executive director Morgan Cullen. “Not just from small-business owners, but legislators and other government officials who are big advocates of the industry, as well. We are just trying to make sure that the federal government knows how their decisions impact the state. It’s not just Colorado anymore. It’s a national issue.”
According to Daly, marijuana businesses face a substantial hurdle that other small businesses do not: “Under current provisions in the IRS tax code, marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to deduct their expenses from their taxes like every other business, putting them at a huge competitive disadvantage,” Daly says. “If this issue isn’t addressed in the near future, it will kill the marijuana industry in Colorado and in other states that have reformed their laws. Our industry has no complaints about paying our fair share of taxes, but not being able to deduct expenses creates a disproportionate burden that cannot be sustained.”
Several of Colorado’s elected officials — including senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, as well as representatives Jared Polis, Ken Buck and Mike Coffman — spoke to Accelerate Colorado’s crew. Accelerate Colorado members each paid $3,600 to register for the trip, and other sponsors included Arapahoe County, Glendale 180, Mile High Racing & Entertainment, City of Aurora, The Boeing Company, Comcast and Xcel Energy. But MiNDFUL’s contribution was particularly noteworthy.
“There are now 23 states that have either recreational or medical marijuana industries,” Cullen says. “The door has been opened — not just in Colorado, but around the country. That need for intelligent advocacy is crucial.”
Good Chemistry founder and owner Matt Huron is doing good in Denver in many ways. His initial involvement was personal: His father and his father’s partner were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the ’90s, and when medical marijuana became legal in California in 1996, Huron could see the relief that the alternative medicine brought to them. This relief became Huron’s driving force: In 2000, he began growing medical marijuana for AIDS patients, operating a nonprofit called Elmar Lins Compassion Co-Op. The co-op soon earned a reputation as an important medical advocate for AIDS and HIV patients.
After ten years of operating the co-op, Huron moved to Colorado to co-found the Wellspring Collective, then decided to start his own dispensary, Good Chemistry. And after Good Chemistry opened its doors in 2010, Huron’s philanthropy gained momentum.
Why is it important to give back? “We nurture a set of core values: science, access, dignity and compassion,” Huron explains. “We care. Giving back shows appreciation and establishes a connection with our community. Internally, there’s pride in working for a company that does give back.”
Huron is one of the founding members of the Cannabis Business Alliance, a leader in advocating for well-built marijuana industry policies. He started what is now known as the “Compassion Program” at Good Chemistry; unique in its aid for seriously ill and financially challenged medical patients, the program gives qualifying members free product once a week to help with their medical conditions. The company began working with one of the largest LGBT lobby advocates in the state, One Colorado, contributing tens of thousands of dollars to its advocacy events, including the Ally Awards, Pink Party and the annual AIDS Walk. Good Chemistry also sponsors the Colorado Juvenile Defenders Center, a local nonprofit juvenile-defense program that helps provide lawyers for kids who cannot afford representation.
“We believe that it’s essential that people who are looking for a better quality of life from cannabis have product they can depend on. That product we give people through the Compassion Program is our top quality, the same as we sell for full price,” notes Steve Spinosa, vice-president of Good Chemistry’s dispensary operations. “Besides donating money and medical product, our goal is to continuously demystify cannabis and educate everyone on its truths and benefits.”
Those truths are evident at Good Chemistry’s locations in Denver and Aurora, where the meticulous cannabis descriptors include four fundamental elements: relaxation, relief, sleep and stimulation.
The Clinic Colorado
The Clinic is one of the biggest, baddest and most philanthropic names in the Colorado marijuana game. Led by CEO Max Cohen, the Clinic has carefully built a canna-business that grossed over $10 million in revenue in 2014. Three of its locations are medical only, the other three a combination of medical and recreational. The Clinic model operates under two brands: The Bank (cannabis genetics) and The Lab (oils and concentrates). Cohen has been approved for expansion into numerous states, but he hasn’t forgotten the community here in Colorado.
Since its creation in 2009, the Clinic Cares initiative has raised more than $200,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, including $100,000 in 2014 alone. The biggest component of that campaign is the Clinic Charity Classic Golf Tournament; the sixth round of the tournament is set for Saturday, August 15, at City Park Golf Course. “Through their annual golf tournament and Walk MS team, [the Clinic has] raised almost $40,000 for the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the National MS Society,” says that organization’s Kaylin Daniels. “Those funds have been used to help people in Colorado living with MS remain independent, as well as fund critical research. The Clinic Colorado is passionate about finding a cure for MS, and the National MS Society is thankful for their continued support of our shared mission.”
Registration for the tournament is already sold out, but $20 spectator tickets are still available.
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When Kayvan Khalatbari moved to Denver from his home town of Lincoln, Nebraska, a decade ago, he began volunteering for SAFER: Stavanger Acute Medicine Foundation for Education and Research. And his do-good activities just kept growing after he co-founded Sexy Pizza in 2007, then Denver Relief the next year. Today Khalatbari and his businesses — Sexy Pizza, Denver Relief, Denver Relief Consulting, DRx, Sexpot Comedy and Birdy magazine — contribute to the community in a variety of ways. From early support of nonprofit organizations including SAFER, Sensible Colorado, SSDP and LEAP. he soon added contributions to the Harm Reduction Action Center, Freedom Service Dogs of America and the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra (Khalatbari sits on that nonprofit’s board of directors). Khalatbari is also a “big brother” mentor for Denver Kids Inc., something he’s been involved with since 2007, and even ran for a Denver City Council at-large seat this past May.
To help inspire others, Denver Relief created the Green Team in 2011, taking on the important task of destroying stereotypes and pushing the positive aspects of legalized cannabis in the state. The group’s projects include cleaning up trash at the 4/20 Rally, planting a community garden at Ekar Farms, organizing food and clothing drives, even hosting free wheelchair and bike repair — and it’s always looking for fellow do-gooders. Find the Green Team on its Facebook page.