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Medical Cannabis Donations From Within the Industry Help Reduce Opioid Use

California has recently passed a law that allows cannabis growers to legally donate expired or excess product to any patient who is eligible.

Los Angeles NORML was established in 1965 as a 501c(3) non-profit organization. It is one of the oldest chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Los Angeles NORML Executive Director, Ian Rassman, and Veterans Cannabis Coalition CEO and Founder, Eric Goepel, made it their organization’s mission to focus on developing programs surrounding this unique legislation. 

The program follows a model that Goepel and Shelly MacKay developed. Shelly McKay is the co-founder of Kannabis Works, where this program was first introduced. The new SB-34 legislation went into effect March 1st 2020. It was launched by her. Kannabis Work has been making a monthly donation ever since. This legislation has made them the longest-running donor site and they serve as the model for other programs.

Rather than creating a standalone nonprofit or a “social justice” lifestyle brand, Los Angeles NORML and the Veterans Cannabis Coalition have been focusing on revitalizing and leveraging existing nonprofit entities. The two organizations strive to create cannabis donation programs that benefit patients and communities as well as the entire industry.

While SB-34 is not intended to create tax incentives it can reduce costs by exempting certain state taxes (cultivation use and excise), depending on license type. SB-34 can deliver donations to patients for a very low labor cost and material cost when it’s coordinated with the supply chains.

California’s licensed cannabis companies have the unique ability to legalize giving away life-sustaining medicine. Many people are severely affected by lack of access to or financial means. All corners of the cannabis industry are eligible to take part. This includes cultivators and manufacturers, retailers (storefront & delivery), distributors, testing labs, brands, and ancillary businesses (legal, tech, admin, etc).

“We have worked with many brands and retailers to locally implement corporate social responsibility programs that truly benefit medical patients in their communities. These communities are being helped by our safe and free access to laboratory-tested products. We are also empowering local brands and retailers to carry out their compassionate work beyond our events. This program is a big part of changing the stigma, and that’s a huge reason I continue to be a proponent of its expansion,” said Ian Rassman. “It has been sending a signal to the community at large that cannabis Is medicine.”

Los Angeles NORML is a non-profit organization that focuses on veterans and elderly. At present, they have over 100+ active participating brands, 600+ unique patients served, 10+ active retail & non-profit partners, and 12 donation sites that have resulted in over $4 Million of retail medical cannabis donated back into the community over the last 2 years.

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“It is a very emotionally moving experience to attend one of these donation events,” said Ian Rassman of Los Angeles NORML. “Every single time I hear moving stories of individuals that have been able to reduce or eliminate opioids from their daily medications by substituting cannabis. The overwhelming majority of these patients relate how they once sat on the couch and watched their lives pass by, but now they are able to live again and feel connected with family and friends. Those are powerful statements that will really pull at your heartstrings.” 

Ian continued by highlighting how these individuals are often in tears while sharing their stories of how cannabis has helped them reclaim their life.

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Veterans Cannabis Coalition CEO and Founder, Eric Goepel, said that “we have played a largely behind-the-scenes role in socializing the concept of compassionate donations to the California cannabis industry while providing the connective tissue to sustain it. This includes administrative and technical support, donation procurement, connection to patients and consumers, and education.”

Goepel elaborated, saying, “to that end, I’ve been developing donation and education programs with chapters of the three largest national veteran service organizations: the American Legion, VFW, and Disabled American Veterans. Additionally, I’m developing a pipeline for donations to an organization that aids in harm reduction. The group had been working on Skid Row with homeless people and had long-termly given cannabis to them. They’ve seen firsthand the vastly reduced risk and potential benefits.”

“Rather than trying to duplicate what already exists and further fragment support and attention, we bring donations and education as a valuable service to the cannabis-friendly organizations out there,” Eric said.

Goepel clarified that SB-34 serves a purpose. It’s meant to show how cannabis can improve both one’s individual quality of life, as well as overall public health (by promoting substitution and sparing effects). Los Angeles NORML and the Veterans Cannabis Coalition believe that working with an expanding network of nonprofit partners and funneling viable products that would’ve otherwise wound up discarded to patients is the first step. 

Secure governmental support is the next crucial step. You can get this support at either the state or city level. This would allow you to set up a pilot program which will both reimburse and donate medical marijuana purchases, and also track your health data for one year.

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Goepel emphasized that “we’re at the stage of normalization and legalization where we theoretically demonstrate the power of cannabis in a way that will leave politicians little room to hedge or dodge.” He went on to say that “the skyrocketing suicide and overdose rate plus a new #3 cause of death (COVID) that is disabling millions of Americans reflects severe, structural failures in many of our institutions.” 

Goepel hit the nail on the head when he voiced that “cannabis isn’t the cure-all. But, it is the most promising single tool we have to develop more effective and less harmful medicines at a time when they are desperately needed.”

Active SB-34 donation partners for Los Angeles NORML include the Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Kannabis Works, HERBL, Nabis, Pineapple Express, Amuse, Rove, Pacific Stone, Claybourne, Papa & Barkley, Raw Garden, CRU, CanEx, Coastal Sun, Bird Valley Organics, Emerald Bay Extracts, and more.

SB-34 donation can be provided only by licensed operators. Brands interested in joining the program should also know this. Los Angeles NORML has the ability to assist with this program. It provides a legal way for people to give products away and holds regular outreach events. All license types can tag donated products at “SB34” in METRC. You can eliminate remediation and retesting expenses by donating products that have a very short shelf-life.

For retailers, you’re able to combine forces with Los Angeles NORML to engage your supply chain partners on a mission of compassion and create content for promotional purposes. To increase product awareness in new markets, you can educate them.

“California is unique in the world in that it is the only state or country with legislation passed allowing for compassionate donations. The success of this legislation in California, in many ways, can serve as a proof of concept for other states and nations to follow,” Ian said. “As this program expands, it continues to act as glaring evidence that cannabis has the potential to heal. We have purposely built this program to be replicated in other markets.” 

Access to medical marijuana is available for a vast number of people. It’s important to empower individual retailers and brands to develop their own unique programs to further the compassionate donations that SB-34 allows. Los Angeles NORML, Veterans Cannabis Coalition and others are focusing their efforts on raising awareness of this program as it has the potential to make a real difference. 

California has many other organizations that thrive and provide medicine for those who are in greatest need. Some of them include Sean Kiernan from The Weed For Warriors Project and Melissa Burgstahler at Dear Cannabis. Sweetleaf Joe Airone, Sweetleaf Collective, San Francisco, where compassion is the mantra since 1996.

Ian concluded, saying, “we essentially want the whole world to follow these examples, use the resources already developed, run with it, grow it, and put more medicine into the hands of the people that need it. It is our goal to further expand this program across the US and the wider world as a destigmatizing example for emerging cannabis markets to follow.”

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