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Compassion in the World of Profit




[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]T[/dropcap]he cannabis industry was born from the act of giving.

Early activists like “Brownie” Mary Rothburn brought the medical cannabis movement into public’s consciousness with her generosity. She collected donations and spent her social security money baking infused brownies for San Francisco AIDS patients in the 1980s. Her arrest in 1992 brought international attention, due in part to her age, adorableness and message of compassion. She was subsequently acquitted of her charges because, according to the judge, Rothburn “was able to testify that her deliveries were made to assist others in need, not to advance individual greed, that the nobility of her actions outweighed the reprehensibleness of her offense according to the law.”

Since its inception, the medical cannabis industry has evolved greatly, but through all the changes, the spirit of compassion remains. Harborside Collective, one of California’s most successful and well-connected collectives, donates medicine to members that can prove financial hardship. They have free member services that range from yoga to acupuncture and are regularly the biggest corporate contributor to the Alameda County Food Drive. It is hard to find a collectivethat doesn’t give products or services to members in need.

Now, producers and extractors are following suit. Jetty Extracts, a CO2 extraction company based in California, recently started its Jetty’s Shelter from the Storm Project, which aims to provide cancer patients with all the medicine they need for their treatment. “One for You, One for Cancer” is the slogan printed on a burlap sack hanging in the company’s office. Jetty, like many other companies in the medical space, was created with the idea of helping those in pain. Now, as they look forward towards a for-profit industry, the Jetty team believes that they can make the transition and still help people like Michelle Zagert, a recipient of donations and outspoken proponent of Jetty’s Shelter from the Storm.

Michelle uses cannabis products everyday for her Synovial Sarcoma, a rare disease that causes soft tissue tumors. In a recent interview, she told us about her initial struggles to pay for her medicine, “It became so expensive that it was almost the cost of a car bill and I was slowly weaning myself off of it right before I found Jetty Extracts.”

Some outreach programs have gone on to change the industry as a whole. In 2013 CNN’s Sanjay Gupta told the world about Charlotte Figi, a five-year-old girl with Dravet Syndrome. Despite a variety of treatments, she suffered about 300 grand mal seizures a week. Her parents, in thier search for a way to help their child, came into contact with the Stanley brothers, five siblings that had succeeded in breeding cannabis with industrial hemp. The result was a new strain of cannabis that had almost no THC, but contains high levels of CBD, a chemical that was being studied for its positive effects on brain function. Physicians noticed a reduction in the number of seizures after the first dose was administered.

Now the strain, named “Charlottes Web” after the brave little girl that pioneered its use, is one of the most sought after varieties on the market. Not bad for a product that was originally called “Hippie’s Disappointment.” The Stanley brothers went on to start The Realm of Caring, a non-profit organization that sells Charlotte’s Web products, sponsors research and consults patients thinking about trying the natural treatment. Their contribution to Charlotte, and countless others, have helped create a new product category and have given hope to many who suffer from seizure causing ailments.

As legalization and permitting initiatives pass some worry that for-profit companies will not participate in the same types of programs that medical non-profits do. Founders of medical cannabis organizations had to risk a lot in the past decade from police raids and asset seizure to social stigma. To wade into the murky legal waters of a legalization movement without much precedent took a lot of courage. Often times the only people with this type of courage were those willing to risk everything to stand up for something that they believed in, namely, providing medicine. Luckily, new regulations and changing public perception have made it much less risky to be a cannabis entrepreneur. The downside is that we might not see the same kind of organizational cultures focused on altruism as we did with the medical movement. Ultimately, it is the consumer who will decide. Every dollar spent on organizations that give to people in need is a vote toward a compassionate future. To bastardize a great Gandhi quote, “Buy the change you want to see in the world.” We are witnessing a new industry sprout before our eyes, now it is up to us to make it into the type of industry we can be proud of. The type of industry “Brownie” Mary would have been proud of as well.

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