Just a few months into Canada’s legalization of recreational cannabis, and the bud business is booming. But while there’s much money to be made, one cannabis company is looking at giving some of it back to the community. Located in London, Ontario, licensed producer Indiva has launched an ongoing charitable initiative called For Twenty, where 20 cents from every gram of pot purchased will go to support mental and physical health organizations.
“When we were looking at how do we distinguish ourselves from other cannabis companies, and there’s quite a few of us out there already, we looked at what's different about us--and one of those things was the respect for, and transition from, the old to the new,” Indiva chief operating officer Koby Smutylo tells Samaritanmag. “So the For Twenty program was a way to continue doing something positive in the community but in the new world of legalized cannabis.”
Smutylo explains that Indiva’s roots as a medical cannabis producer go back to the 1980s, when the company’s pioneering co-founder, and current “master grower,” Pete Young started the London Compassion Society, whose mission is "to provide natural therapeutic alternatives to those in need and to encourage an holistic approach to healing and living."
“It was very friendly, and wasn't about making as much money as possible. It was more along the lines of getting by and providing a product that was needed,” Smutylo says. It was compassionate care activists like Young who helped push Health Canada toward legalizing medical cannabis, a process that began back in 2001.
Once it expanded in 2014 to allow private companies to cultivate and sell cannabis flower and oil for people with prescriptions, Smutylo and Indiva’s other co-founders asked Young to join them because of his past work helping patients in need.
“There's a dichotomy between the older legacy activists and the entrepreneurs and business interests coming in and trying to capitalize on their hard work of lobbying and constitutional challenges. So we didn't want to be disingenuous or disrespectful to the legacy cannabis industry,” says Smutylo, describing Young as the “institutional conscience of the company.”
“We chose physical and mental wellness because it's consistent with medical aspect of the history of how we got to here with cannabis,” he adds. “We think it's consistent with our philosophy on how cannabis should be treated.”
Indiva began the For Twenty process by asking employees to suggest organizations that they find meaningful. The initial plan, which may evolve over time, is to support one organization per month.
So far, they’ve donated the twenty cents per gram of flower and oil sales to Epilepsy Southwestern Ontario and the Parkinson Society Southwestern Ontario. They have also committed $5000 (50-50 donated and raised) to the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection's Red Scarf Project to help eliminate stigma. They’re still “actively researching” other organizations to partner with in 2019, but will be looking at supporting mental-health programs for first responders and veterans, chronic illness support organizations, and other community initiatives.
After long selling just medical-use, in the new year Indiva began selling recreational cannabis, which should dramatically increase the amount they sell, and therefore the amount they give.
True to form, they’ve also teamed up with London’s Streetlight E-Recycle program to handle the removal of waste from the expansion that they’re doing to prepare for the recreational cannabis market. Streetlight employs and supports local at-risk youth, so Smutylo says the partnership, which will continue until renovations to triple production capacity are complete in early 2019, “allows us to demonstrate Indiva's commitment to the both the environment and the people who live and work in our city."
While some may see corporations engaging in these sorts of charitable programs as a marketing gimmick, Smutylo emphasizes that, at least for Indiva, it’s about much more than that.
“It's really the continuation of how we, both as a company and as an industry, got to where we're at. So it's consistent and respectful and pays homage to that. But also there will be real dollars attached to it. For Twenty is a program lets us continue to do good and be a sensitive member to the community.”
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