Would you rather shop with a company that aligns with your internal views on social justice issues and the environment?
From IKEA to LEGO, companies around the world are increasingly prioritizing social and environmental responsibility in their business strategies. This trend is seen in Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike; including businesses in the cannabis space.
California cannabis delivery company bud.com and Sacramento dispensary Abatin are now collaborating on a joint philanthropic campaign to amplify the companies’ individual social responsibility efforts.
Local award-winning cannabis dispensary Abatin Sacramento is led by Aundre Speciale. Speciale is one of the few folks with experience retailing legal weed for decades not years. She got her start canvassing the country with cannabis legend Jack Herer, author of an essential weed history tome: The Emperor Wears No Clothes. From tabling to raise cannabis literacy next to Herer’s Hemp Bus, Speciale graduated to agitating with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) on behalf of imprisoned growers outside of Sacramento’s courthouse.
One of the many protests in front of the Capitol - you can see Aundre Speciale there with the megaphone
In 2005, Speciale launched the first of her California state medical marijuana dispensaries, in Sacramento. Speciale says one of the first things they did was clean up the block. Shortly after, she cold-called the Sacramento police department to invite them for a dispensary tour: she was able to demonstrate how a cannabis dispensary could help clean up the neighborhood
At this time California and North America were still learning what “legal weed” might look like. In 2003, the California State Senate bill SB420 had strengthened legal cannabis rules. Medical marijuana collectives serving their patient members had to be nonprofit, but there wasn’t much other guidance on operating. Speciale and her crew identified a nearby building that could be used as a community center, and came up with an innovative idea to find teachers for free classes or volunteers to help elderly neighbors - she offered patients weed in exchange for providing these no-cost services to other patients in need.
By 2010, the Sacramento News & Review reported that Speciale’s dispensary was offering daily classes in yoga, tai chi, massage, cooking and fitness, life, and spiritual counseling. They hosted a chess club, art therapy, veterans meetups, HIV/AIDS support group, guitar lessons, a book exchange, and more. Her facility had an apartment for hosting people coming to town for cancer treatments. Speciale remembers, “it was a place of comfort, and cannabis was just a part of it.”
Today Abatin Wellness works with bud.com to help them reach and support Sacramento cannabis users. bud.com helps their dispensary partners build their online presence, so they can focus on the people and the products in the store. bud.com’s CEO Dean Arbit has a background in building new businesses. He left college before graduation and built an out-of-home media company in San Francisco, which he later sold. With a taste for growing companies and a curiosity for the power of the plant, Arbit launched New West Summit, a cannabis & tech event in 2011. Arbit has since co-founded cannabis businesses in manufacturing, technology, and media.
Arbit co-founded bud.com in 2017 as a California benefit corporation: requiring the company to account for more than just monetary revenue and profit. Arbit explains “this obligation for social good is a key part of our company’s DNA.” Since bud.com is a software company serving the cannabis industry, they don’t have a license but they serve a range of license holders including both dispensaries and brands. This gives them an opportunity to forge new partnerships across companies and regions to help better the cannabis industry and the communities it serves.
By focusing on win-win deals, Arbit positioned bud.com to help multiple parties throughout the emerging cannabis retail supply chain. “We have always looked at bud.com as a place to activate and connect with cannabis customers,“ says Arbit, “We can offer them products, and if we offer good service, we can ask their attention for some local issues that could use a lift.”
Social and environmental responsibility looks vastly different across industries and businesses. An analysis in Harvard Business Review, groups corporate responsibility efforts into strictly philanthropic, integrated into a company’s operations, or foundational to an entire business model. Whatever the approach, many agree that social and environmental responsibility should be a priority for companies. In two separate surveys, both CEOs and consumers ranked this as the most important aspect of a company’s success or offerings.
Within the cannabis industry, efforts also range from philanthropy to transformative business models, although there can be differences from other industries. Thanks to Federal prohibition, cannabis companies can’t take advantage of tax deductible donations to nonprofits. Just like banking restrictions on cannabis, the lack of common sense to these laws actually work to dissuade companies in the space from philanthropy, by nullifying basic charity deductions. But they haven’t stopped the industry from growing and supporting causes as well as their communities.
Abatin and Bud have philanthropy in their roots. More recently under the leadership of Sophia Linares, the General Manager, Abatin has contributed to community organizations such as the Gender Health Center, Front St. Animal Shelter, and the North American Parkinson’s Conference. Currently, the Sacramento-based dispensary serves as a donation point for Nor-Cal Resist, a community aid and activism group. Abatin customers who drop-off dry foods, diapers, or formula for those in need receive a 5% discount on their purchases.
Meanwhile, Bud has oriented their community efforts towards supporting digital literacy, equal justice and using cannabis to reduce harm. Bud also currently offers discounts to retirees and veterans, and matching contributions to local charities in coordination with their local dispensary delivery partners. In July 2020, Bud ran a donation campaign to benefit the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit focused on ensuring justice for the wrongly incarcerated - the results surprised Bud’s CEO Dean Arbit, who told the Bee; “We were floored by the numbers and humbled by the generosity of our customers..we got donations on 31% of all orders over the course of a long weekend”
Now, Bud and Abatin are teaming up to help the Sacramento community. During the month of September, customers making Sacramento dispensary delivery orders through Bud with Abatin will be offered the opportunity to donate to the Mustard Seed School. The Mustard Seed School, run by Loaves and Fishes, provides free private school for children 3-15 who are experiencing homelessness. Loaves and Fishes is a community pillar in the Sacramento area, supplying food, shelter, medical care, and mental health and legal services to people experiencing homelessness.
The Mustard Seed School is one of several ways Loaves and Fishes provides resources to local children. The school can give kids a sense of belonging and continuity. Their living situation may be in flux, but school and a community of peers is still available to these children. The staff at Mustard Seed also help students and parents prepare for enrollment or re-enrollment at public schools once the family is settled. With their new donation partnership, and their commitment to each match customer donations, Bud and Abatin hope to raise money and awareness for Mustard Seed School and all that it does for Sacramento’s kids.
It’s only been 5 years since the end of prohibition in California and cannabis businesses are still experimenting and finding the business models that are right for them. However, it’s clear that many of them have integrated social and environmental responsibility into their priorities from the start. Even as bigger players become involved, there still seems to be a sense that the industry should make a positive impact.
Recently, entertainment power couple Beyoncé and JAY-Z started directing funds towards social equity in cannabis. JAY-Z even has his own cannabis line, MONOGRAM, and investing company, The Parent Company. Both companies have focused on creating positive cannabis experiences and righting wrongful incarcerations from prohibition.
So, what comes next? Speciale has an interesting take on another form of ‘activism’ "we have new varieties like ENHANCED+, which are specifically designed to deliver a great and fun high, but without negative side effects like anxiety or paranoia. So this means patients who might have had a bad experience in the past, or thought cannabis wasn’t an option for them, can now enjoy the benefits… This to me is what ‘next-level’ activism is about — access at the flower-level itself.”
The future is evolving. Cannabis is becoming more mainstream and with that comes additional public scrutiny of the industry. Many other states and the Federal government are still deciding how they will handle cannabis. In the meantime, companies like Abatin and Bud are doing their part to steer the industry towards being a force for good in local communities.