Big Tobacco’s Weak Argument: “If We Can’t Do It, You Can’t Do It”


While Big Tobacco is banned from giving back, cannabis companies are banding together, organizing philanthropies and outreach programs to help local communities.

May 11, 2016

World renowned practitioners and public health officials met recently at Georgetown Law School to discuss and recommend the best ways for states to deal with the legalized marijuana market. Everything from concerns about age restrictions to problems detecting when someone has used cannabis was discussed at the meeting.

Flaw in the system

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Many health professionals are looking to drugs that have already been legalized, like alcohol and tobacco, believing cannabis’ regulations should fall within those same limitations. Since most marijuana users inhale the flowers, omitting a smoke that can have repercussions for second-hand inhalers, many officials are looking to the rules surrounding cigarette smoke and the tobacco industry for a comparison.

The only problem? The emerging cannabis industry is entirely different than big tobacco companies, and many advocates are set to prove just that.

During the meeting, officials discussed the idea of whether or not cannabis businesses should be allowed to aid their local towns and cities, by participating in sponsored events or organizing philanthropies to help better the community. An overwhelming majority said absolutely not, unless businesses participated anonymously, ensuring no media or attention was drawn to their marijuana company.

Representatives from Big Tobacco understand this dilemma all too well. For years, tobacco businesses suffered a backlash for promoting to inappropriate audiences through similar channels, until rules and regulations were put in place to stop the madness. Unfortunately, those rules also prohibit tobacco companies from seeking public exposure through community outreach.

Amanda Reiman, cannabis advocate and Drug Policy Alliance member,  pointed out the obvious fact that the cannabis market is completely different from tobacco, especially considering many children actually benefit from herb products. Subsequently, she suffered her own tongue-lashing from Big Tobacco reps, who began to question the integrity of the entire cannabis industry, turning the whole discussion into a battle of, “If we can’t do it, you can’t do it.”

From insanity spring great ideas

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At the Georgetown meeting, Reiman was dumbfounded by the idea that, in many places, it seems cannabis companies are not welcomed to participate in philanthropic events. Despite efforts to fulfill their social responsibilities, by remaining upstanding citizens and giving back to their local community, marijuana businesses are shunned, like their money and good deeds have no value.

In an effort to prove the cannabis industry is nothing like the Big Tobacco, with their shady deals and backward way of thinking, Reiman plans to organize three distinct focus groups, containing members of the local cannabis market, in hopes of discovering exactly what philanthropies they are already involved in.

Cannabis philanthropy

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The first meeting was held in Oakland, CA, part of the Bay Area famously known for being the birthplace of the medical marijuana revolution in the early 1990’s. Participants were selected based on their ability to represent the marijuana market as a whole, rather than just the local area, in an effort to develop a well-rounded view of the philanthropic efforts amongst the cannabis community.

Members of the focus group included dispensaries like Berkeley Patient’s Group, CBCB, Harborside Health Center, Magnolia Wellness, Phytologie, and SPARC, as well as cultivators from Dark Heart Nursery and manufacturers from Bloom Farms. Also in attendance was Bryan Rosenthal, founder of the Cann I Dream Foundation, which helps non-profits that serve children and the less fortunate, and is fully funded by the cannabis industry.

Many of the attending members formed Team Cannabis, an outreach program that aims to support community events. Team Cannabis was even the second highest fundraiser during the San Francisco AIDS walking, beating out Google. In addition to raising money, this dispensary-formed group also provides free meals, support groups and even HIV testing.

After conducting the first focus group, Reiman asked participants what motivates them to continue giving back, when it seems so many people are trying to force cannabis out of philanthropy, just as tobacco has been. The overwhelming answer was the devotion to ending the stigmas surrounding cannabis, its users and the negative connotation it has unjustly received.

With two more focus groups lined up, it will be interesting to see how other cannabis companies are helping their communities.

Do you think the marijuana industry should be allowed to participate in community events and organize philanthropies? Let us know on social media or in the comments below.

May 11, 2016