Events

Ukrainian Dispensary Owner, Cannabis Drink Company Raising Funds for War Refugees

The special-edition cannabis sodas are currently sold in thirteen dispensaries across the Denver area, but Keef Brands hopes to partner with more stores.
The special-edition cannabis sodas are currently sold in thirteen dispensaries across the Denver area, but Keef Brands hopes to partner with more stores. Courtesy of Yuma Way
Rita Tsalyuk has been to her hometown once in the last thirty years, and she probably won't be going back soon.

A Jewish native of Ukraine, Tsalyuk says the Soviet Union still controlled her hometown of Kyiv when she left the country in 1991. With little desire to return to a place she remembers as authoritative, repressed and dangerous for her people, Tsalyuk didn't return to Kyiv until 21 years later.

"I left and I didn't want to go back. Then I finally did go back, and I noticed things had changed drastically. People were happier in the street, and they saw a future. It was a different country. Now they have a Jewish president, and it's more of a democracy," she recalls.

Tsalyuk is now an owner of Yuma Way, a dispensary chain with six stores in metro Denver and three stores in Michigan, as well as Denver marijuana lounge the Coffee Joint. She had scheduled a trip to Kyiv this summer, but then Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and she suspended it indefinitely.

Although she doesn't have any family living in Ukraine, Tsalyuk says she still has friends in the country, some of whom have lost their homes. Places she's visited as a child or on her return trip, such as Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial, have been hit by missile strikes.

"My friends are sending me photos of their homes, and a bomb went right through my friend's house. Luckily he wasn't killed, but it's devastating to see those people and beautiful cities, just gorgeous places for tourism, be destroyed," she says.

During a meeting with Keef Brands, one of Colorado's largest THC beverage companies and a Yuma Way vendor, one of Tsalyuk's employees suggested the two partner on a fundraiser for Ukrainian victims of the Russian invasion. Keef had just worked on a fundraiser for victims of the Marshall fire with Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based dispensary chain, so it already had a concept: donating $1 for each sale of a specific beverage.

"That kind of sparked the idea for more initiatives after seeing success there," Keef marketing director Kim Stolz explains. "We weren't aware [Yuma Way] was Ukrainian-owned until they said something about it. We thought it'd be a good thing to support, especially with all of the refugees having to flee the country."

Keef had a product with a blue-and-yellow label, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but the blueberry-lemon flavored water with 100 milligrams of THC has a higher price tag (around $20) than the companies wanted to feature on the fundraiser, so they instead chose a single Keef Cola soda: the blue raspberry version, the second-most popular flavor Keef makes.

"I wanted it to be more of an accessible add-on, something people would be willing to add to their carts when they're finishing their purchases," Stolz says.

Now Keef and Yuma Way — through Denver-area dispensaries 1136 Yuma, Berkeley Dispensary, Canna City, Cherry Peak, Lowell Gardens and Twin Peaks — are each donating $1 for every blue raspberry soda sold to the United for Ukraine fund, a United Way charity. Terrapin Care Station and Denver dispensary DANK are also participating, and Keef hopes to partner with more stores going forward.

The sodas, infused with 10 milligrams of THC, are usually priced at $5 to $8 each. A Ukrainian-themed soda label has been printed with a QR code that sends consumers to a United Way donation page if they want to donate on their own or see where the money goes. Donations made on Keef's United Way page will also be matched by the company, Stolz says.

Yuma Way and Keef will also partner on a special Ukraine fundraiser at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20, at the Coffee Joint. The event at the marijuana lounge will include cannabis vendors, a raffle and more donation opportunities, followed by afternoon tea and cookies.

"I think there are a lot of people who want to participate," Tsalyuk says. "They just don't know how to start."
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell