Grow For Vets is a charitable organization that was happy to accept donations from cannabis company Organa Brands.
Charity organizations are reluctant to take donations from cannabis companies, even if the state has legalized the industry. Organa Brands learned this the hard way. The company was flush with success and wanted to give back to the community, but charities just said no.
“It felt like a slap in the face,” said Organa Brands President Chris Driessen. “Because the message was essentially you’re a drug dealer.” Organa Brands is the parent company of O.penVAPE, one of the largest cannabis vape companies in the country. Organa is also home to cannabis brands Bakked, District Edibles, Magic Buzz and Organa Labs. Driessen said that if a charity was willing to take the money, it wanted it to be anonymous. “The optics were more important than helping the people,” he said. Some of the charities that turned down Organa included Wounded Warriors, American Cancer Society, Children’s Hospital Foundation.
This created a conundrum for the company. Was the donation to be public in order to pat the company on its back for its generosity or was it simply an attempt to be considered as legitimate as other businesses? Does a public donation bring more attention to the company making the donation or does it bring attention to the charity itself? Driessen knew that Organa felt it should not have to hide in the shadows.
One group that was willing to work with Organa was the Denver Rescue Mission that works with the homeless. Not only did they happily and publicly take Organa’s charity, but the group also volunteered man hours. “We had 29 people at 5 am the day before Thanksgiving. Certainly not the image of stoners that people expected.”
Another charity that has been working with Organa is Grow for Vets. Driessen said that Organa was hosting a golf tournament on September 11 to raise money for the charity that helps veterans that need cannabis to treat pain and PTSD. Again, golf tournaments break the stereotype of what one may think of a cannabis company.
“We turn down probably 25 companies that want to work with us,” said Roger Martin, Executive Director of Grow For Vets. As far of the other charities that turned down Organa’s help, “They have a snooty, up in the air attitude,” said Martin. Grow For Vets is an organization that helps a veteran get medical marijuana for free. Martin noted that veterans get opioids for free through their medical benefits to treat pain and PTSD, but while these prescription drugs were free the cost was high in the terms of overdoses and suicides.
“They had to pay for marijuana, but not opioids,” he said. Martin said the money raised at the golf tournament will be used to help expand his program into all 50 states. While some states haven’t legalized marijuana, Martin said he can get these vets hemp-based CBD, which is more easily obtained. “Cannabis is the only thing that has helped me with PTSD,” he said. “Cannabis money isn’t dirty money.”
Organa also established its own foundation called Open Heart as another way to facilitate charitable donations. However, the actual management of running a foundation proved overwhelming, so the group partnered with Growing Hope foundation run by one of their banking partners.
Another beneficiary of the golf tournament is a foundation that supports the family of Franco Loja, a man that went around the world searching for pure cannabis genetics. He passed away in January after contracting malaria from his world travels and the foundation supports his kids.
“We just want to give back,” said Driessen. “By being able to publicly give we bring attention to the cause and hope others will give as well.”