Many philanthropic organizations spend the days leading to the holidays donating their time and resources to those in need — but one local non-profit made headlines for its choice of charitable gifts. Wearing sweatshirts that said, "I helped 1,000 people get high for Cannamas," members of Cannabis Can handed out free joints to homeless adults and bystanders on Christmas Eve in an effort to raise money for and awareness of Denver's homeless population.
Hoping to spread the word about its crowd-funding campaign— which will support renovating used RVs to provide accessible bathrooms, showers and haircuts to Denver's homeless population— Cannabis Can members handed out fliers, rolling papers and over 1,000 free joints (all legally grown, the group's founder says) to adults around town on the day before Christmas.
"Half of the people we interviewed weren't even proponents of marijuana, but everyone was interested in having access to a regular-working shower or haircut," says Nick Dicenzo, founder of Cannabis Can. "Most of them were like, 'What organization are you with, again? We don't have to hear a sermon, do we?' The reaction was unbelievable."
While it's illegal for adults to smoke pot in public or sell it to other adults, Coloradans can still give away up to an ounce of marijuana product for free to those 21 and over. According to Dicenzo, Cannabis Can members were instructed to stay within the law during the giveaway.
"It had nothing to do with where you live or how much money you make. It was about giving back and spreading some joy," he explains. "It wasn't just for the homeless. We just wanted to get people to interact."
In a poll of over 800 metro-area residents conducted by the Denver Foundation, only 3 percent of respondents said homelessness wasn't a problem in Denver, compared to 58 percent who considered it a very to extremely serious problem. Almost half of those polled said they had a close family member or friend who had experienced homelessness; 64 percent thought the situation could be improved.
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Colorado's legalization of adult-use cannabis has been accused of being a catalyst for an influx of homeless individuals in various news pieces. Many of these stories relied on nothing more than anecdotal information, though, and they were criticized by homeless shelter administrators in Westword pieces by Chris Walker and Kristin Pazulski.
While Cannabis Can's website says it uses the spotlight of marijuana advocacy to highlight other social issues that don't get enough attention, homelessness is its main focus. The group hopes that events like a legal marijuana giveaway will not only provide some needy people with herbal relief on the holidays but raise money for their long-term vitality as well. And the move worked, at least in regards to gaining publicity: National news outlets like ABC World News Now, United Press International and The Washington Post ran stories on the giveaway. The tangible results have yet to be felt, however, with only $75 of the group's $10,000 goal donated as of this posting.
"We pretty much said, 'If we go out and just give away a bunch of weed, we may be able to get some media attention.' The next step is directing people to the crowdfunding campaign," says Dicenzo.
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The group can renovate a used RV to provide showers for the homeless for around $700, Dicenzo adds; the group hopes to have multiple RVs around Denver that will each provide access to eight to ten showers a day, five days a week.
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