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Community Engagement and Giving Back

Canadians are spending a lot of money on cannabis—$1.2 billion in the first half of 2020, according to Statistics Canada—but how much are cannabis retailers giving back to Canadians?

When the Coronavirus pandemic took hold, cannabis producers donated hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, but retailers were having problems of their own while governments decided if their services were essential. Now that sales are higher than ever, should retailers be giving back? Is it even their responsibility?

Over the holidays, Canadians bought gifts for their cannabis-consuming loved ones. If retailers get into the spirit of giving as well, their efforts would not only benefit those in need, but themselves, and the industry as a whole.

Breaking the Stigma

In the grand scheme of things, cannabis has a long way to go to reverse more than a century of bad public relations. While some headway has been made in the last two years, there is still a huge stigma associated with using cannabis, and it’s in retailers’ best interests to work at removing it.

At The Stash & Co., this philosophy is a huge part of their business. Aside from their various fundraising efforts, the staff at the Ottawa store often takes a few hours every week to go out and clean up litter in their neighbourhood. According to Joe Glynn, Head of Operations for The Stash & Co., they were seeing cannabis containers discarded on the street and they recognized that part of being a good neighbour, and in turn, breaking the stigma around cannabis, was keeping the streets clean. As a part of their shift at the store, employees also help out at the local food bank.

“By us going out and being leaders in the community, it helps people be more inquisitive and curious and willing to come into our shop,” says Glynn. “We want people to know that when we move in it’s not going to be a bad thing.”

Even as parts of the classic bohemian lifestyle associated with cannabis users fade with the stigma, cannabis will always be great at bringing people together.

Glynn agrees, “What I love about the cannabis industry is that there is no set kind of customer. We have a homeless person and someone in a three-piece suit, and they’re talking—about cannabis!”

Cannabis and the people who love it naturally form a community, and the more it’s exposed as a welcoming, giving place, the larger it will become—to the benefit of new-to-cannabis consumers and retailers.

Supporting the Community

For Axes Smoke Cannabis & Art Collective in Toronto, access is how they break down walls in their community. That doesn’t only mean access to cannabis, but access to art for customers, and access to an audience for artists.

“Axes is short for accessible,” explains Jessica Zepeda, Manager at Axes Smoke. “We have so many artists working here, so we thought why not stick with that inspiration and give free wall space to local artists because we are local, too.”

Axes Smoke Cannabis & Art CollectiveBy having no criteria for artists besides getting in touch, and prioritizing black, Indigenous, and queer artists in the area, Axes Smoke can facilitate the relationship between artists and their community, and entrench the store as a force of good in the neighbourhood.

Axes Smoke doesn’t stop there. Every month, the management team pools their tips together and donates them to a cause of their choice through the store’s Keep the Change program. The recipient can be a charity, an organization, or even a community member that needs support.

As artists who have had struggles of their own, the team at Axes feels that the most important thing a business can do is give back. “Art gives back and creates culture,” says Zepeda. “We believe that’s part of entrepreneurship: don’t forget where you come from, and give back.”

According to Glynn, philanthropy is at the heart of The Stash & Co. as well. When COVID-19 began to sweep across the country, the company recognized that there would be a large need for resources for domestic abuse victims, so they partnered with Cornerstone Housing for Women, a local women’s shelter, and raised $10,000 by offering tote bags instead of paper bags for a $2 donation. On top of that, over the weekend of December 12 to 13, all sales, expected to total at least $20,000, were donated to the Ottawa Food Bank.

This support extends to employees, too. Every Friday, the bosses at The Stash & Co. buy lunch for their staff as a way to show their appreciation, as well as support local restaurants during COVID. Staff was also given a $3 raise during the first month of the pandemic and then wages at time-and-a-half for a few weeks following as a way to build themselves a nest egg of cash to help them get through the tough times ahead.

The employees also raised $1600 to support those with Stage 4 cancer after one of the managers’ wives was diagnosed.

As markets get more saturated and brands become conglomerates, customers and employees may start to feel disconnected. By fostering a family-like environment in the neighbourhood, staff and customers alike feel supported, cared for, and happy to walk through the door.

Giving Back

Why is it important to give back to the community?

“Because, in all honesty, cannabis is creating a lot of money in our marketplace,” says Glynn. “There is profit there, and I think all businesses should be heavily involved in the community and give back and support the community that we live in.”

He goes on to say that while The Stash & Co. is a business that wants to be successful, they also see the value of their community and participating in it.

Axes Smoke agrees, saying that their program and involvement in the community “keeps the vibe good, and keeps people coming back.” Zepeda says it has helped them stand out not only in Queens Street West in Toronto, where their store is located, but within the cannabis community as well.

It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference. Whether it’s donating thousands of dollars, or picking up garbage once a week, these brands have shown that it’s not hard to lend a hand and give back to the community that has given so much.

Tags: Axes Smoke Cannabis & Art Collective (1), Cannabis Retail Store (47), community engagement (1), Jessica Zepeda (1), Joe Glynn (1), The Stash & Co (1)