Dear Cannabis; is a network of licensed companies collaborating on compassion projects to eliminate cannabis product costs for patients in need under California Senate Bill No. 34, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act (CA SB-34).
In less than a year, the Dear Cannabis; network has yielded 15,000 compassion products donated to patients across California through 50+ licensed, retail partners.
Led by co-founders CEO Melissa Burgstahler and CMO Kellie Carlton, this small but mighty and inspiring team is working to create a robust framework for California cannabis compassion projects to support communities in need of this powerful plant medicine, helping make compassion a priority in the cannabis industry again.
As co-founder and CEO Melissa Burgstahler explains: “Dear Cannabis; is my love letter to the industry and the people who it was built for, the patients. As a child I lost my mother to breast cancer and as an adult I realized the impact cannabis had in providing her comfort during her illness. Now, I get to give back to patients just like my mom in honor of her.”
Read on for a Q&A with Melissa and Kellie:
Tell us about Dear Cannabis; what was the inspiration behind starting this organization?
Our organization’s goal is to create free, clean, and quality cannabis products specifically for donation through industry collaboration. We believe that an individual's socio-economic status should not be a barrier to access for medicinal cannabis and our network is determined to change that.
As friends and colleagues in the commercial cannabis space, we bonded over our love and respect for the plant. Like most people, we spent 2020 caught in conversations reflecting on our personal values and what truly mattered to us. The more discussions we had, the clearer the picture became -- patients were being left behind in the cannabis industry and we wanted to make them a priority again.
Through these conversations we were introduced to CA SB-34 and the work of Senator Weiner’s office(District 4) to re-establish compassionate gifting of cannabis to qualified patients. This discovery became our call to action and an opportunity to put our professional network to good use. By June of 2020, Dear Cannabis; was founded and our first compassion project was off the ground.
Today, our network is unifying the cannabis supply chain to sustain retail compassion programs across the state. By utilizing in-kind and gift donations from our partnered license holders we coordinate each company’s unique supplies and skillset to co-produce compassion SKUs at no cost to qualified patients and their caregivers. Our process provides licensed companies an opportunity to step in and contribute their available resources to a project, rather than shouldering the entire production and cost which traditionally has been a major roadblock. Ultimately, this removes the burden of operations on an individual company by dividing the responsibilities amongst several license-holders while creating a platform for cannabis operators to step up and give back to patients in need.
In addition to being the inspiration behind our organization, Melissa's late mother's handwriting serves as our logo and placed on every Dear Cannabis; compassion product, continuing her legacy with each and every donation. We’re motivated to ensure that patients such as her can have easy access to clean and high-quality products now and in the future, without the additional stress of how to obtain them.
To learn more about Dear Cannabis; and our work and how you can help, please visit dearcannabis.org
Why it’s important to you to get free cannabis donated to patients in California?
As professionals in the cannabis space, we saw firsthand how Prop 64 created barriers of access to patients. Overnight, the new law prohibited license holders from legally donating cannabis despite building off the groundwork of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Prop 215.
Those who built their companies to serve patients during the 215-era were forced to come out of pocket or break the rules, risking their license to continue supporting their patient base. New, burdensome regulations and taxations across the supply chain furthered a shift in focus to day-to-day operations, compliance and bottom lines. Simultaneously, counties started mandating closures of medical dispensaries leaving cannabis deserts while imposing excise taxes on existing shops that priced out the majority of disabled or low income patient groups. Together, these factors unintentionally pushed the most vulnerable populations out of an industry that was created ultimately to serve them.
We watched the enacting of Prop 64 start to unravel the work done to establish safe access for at-risk populations through Prop 215. As a result, patients started turning to the traditional market, risking ingestion of adulterated products (molds, powdery mildew, heavy metals, etc) just to find relief.
This outcome is unacceptable. Cannabis prohibition ended to facilitate safe access for those in need, not put them at further risk. Dear Cannabis; is motivated to change this and we’re unifying our network to ensure sustainable access for people in need.
What do California operators need to know about SB-34?
As of March 1, 2020, Senate Bill 34 (The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act) grants licensed retailers the right to donate free cannabis and cannabis goods to qualified medical patients and their caregivers. SB-34 rectified Prop 64’s oversight on compassionate gifting by eliminating the tax liability on donated cannabis goods throughout the supply chain.
Under SB-34, items designated for donation may only be provided to a medicinal patient or primary caregiver through a licensed retailer, however, licensed cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may all designate cannabis or cannabis products that they hold in their inventory for donation. These donations must move through the licensed supply chain in the same way as cannabis products that are for sale do -- meeting all applicable requirements for cultivation, manufacturing distribution, laboratory testing, packaging and labeling, etc.
As long as all MAUCRSA and state cannabis regulations are met throughout the supply chain, the donated goods can be provided to patients at no cost and are exempt from taxation - cultivation, excise, sales and use tax. All donated materials (raw or finished final product) must be designated as a donation package in METRC (the state track-and-trace program) and additionally documented along the supply chain with a Cannabis Donation Certificate that is maintained by transferring parties.
It is important to note that there is a 5 year limitation on SB-34. What we’re able to collectively accomplish as an industry within this timeframe will be paramount in defining a need for legislators to extend this bill so operators can continue this service.
How many compassion products have you helped get donated to date? Which cannabis supply chain partners have helped make that possible?
To date, Dear Cannabis; has coordinated nine compassion projects, yielding and donating over 15,000 products including RSO, tinctures, and pre-rolls. Since June 2020, our network has grown by over 60 partners licensed in cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and testing facilities across California. In addition to our supply chain partners, we have more than 50 retail partners providing these donations to their local patient base, making sure they end up in the hands that need them the most.
Our work would not be possible without partnerships throughout the entire cannabis supply chain. Because we are held to MAUCRSA and State regulations, each Dear Cannabis; project combines the resources of 4-8 unique licensees in order to create one batch of compliant compassion-use products.
We’ve been extremely fortunate to receive biomass and flower donations from cultivators such as Eel River Organics, Sweet Sister Family Farms, Posibl Project, Correct Cannabis and more. With help from manufacturers and brands (Emerald Bay Extracts, SF Roots, Playland 33, Carter’s Aroma Therapy (C.A.D) and more) we transform the source material into a specific product such as FSO (Full Spectrum Oil). Our distribution partners (Padre Mu, Locals Equity Distro, Redwood Roots Distro, Emerald Bay, Pound Town and more) make sure that all of our compassion products are compliantly transported through the supply chain and our laboratory partners (Cal AG Labs, GreenLeaf Labs, 2 Rivers Labs, and CB Labs) perform all necessary regulatory testing to guarantee the quality of each donated batch.
In addition to the products created through our network, Dear Cannabis; assists license holders in certifying existing products in their inventory for donation and connects these products to active compassion retail programs throughout the state. Since June, we’ve helped coordinate over 1,500 units and we’re happy to be a resource for companies looking to donate pre-existing inventory.
Who has benefited from those donations? Any patient stories you can share?
Dear Cannabis; compassion donations are spread to licensed retailers and delivery services throughout California. We’re honored to partner closely with organizations like: Weed For Warriors Project, Sweetleaf Collective, BlkCannaJoy, Operation EVAC, Veterans Cannabis Coalition, Long Beach Collective Association, and more in connecting these donations to qualified patients across the state.
Below are a few stories on patients who actively receive Dear Cannabis; donations:
Kyle, a male in his 30s -- living with depression and anxiety is a MMIC patient and receives Dear Cannabis; compassion RSO.
“I currently live with a life-threatening mental disability due to anxiety and depression. I am legally\mentally unable to hold a job, and I tried to commit suicide at the end of 2018. Recently, I've started undergoing medical ketamine treatments as a hail-Mary for my depression. When ketamine originally made me sick, I started dosing cannabis. I dose almost all forms of the plant and constantly. Finally after 34 years and 12 years on disability, I feel like a normal person in society! I don't hate myself! I'm not constantly in the clutches of anxiety! I want to live! I'm happy and cannabis has been a vital piece of the puzzle to my mental health recovery.”
Bob and Sue, a couple in their late 70’s - living with chronic pain.
Bob, a retired combat veteran and his wife Sue live off of social security and unfortunately both suffer from daily chronic pain that limits their mobility. With their income restriction they’re unable to afford the cannabis products they daily utilize therapeutically.
Thankfully, Ryan Miller of Operation EVAC connected us with Bob and both him and Sue are now recipients of our Compassion Delivery Day program where they receive Dear Cannabis; donations directly to their door through our partnered delivery services.
How can the California supply chain get involved with compassion donations to patients?
If you’re a licensed company looking to donate cannabis inventory and don’t know where to begin, Dear Cannabis; is happy to be a resource to help connect your products to patients in need.
Under SB-34, licensed cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may all designate cannabis or cannabis products that they hold in their inventory for donation. However, those donations may only be distributed to patients by a licensed retailer. Therefore, we recommend partnering (if you’re not already licensed as one) with a retailer who understands the compliance and reporting requirements of SB-34 and/or to a advocate patient organizations including Weed For Warriors Project, Sweetleaf Collective, BlkCannaJoy, etc. to make sure the donations are ending up in the hands that need them the most.
Dear Cannabis; is always developing new compassion programs to create products specifically for patients in need. If your licensed company would like to contribute services or resources to a future compassion project, sign up for the Dear Cannabis; Network today.
What kind of support are you looking for from the cannabis community?
Today, we’re actively working to expand our network to strengthen the donation pipeline and sustain our partner retail programs. Due to MAUCRSA and State regulations, all donations must pass through the supply chain in the same manner as cannabis products that are for sale. Therefore, Dear Cannabis; is working on cultivating strong partnerships throughout the supply chain to expedite these compassion projects and increase their impact. Below is a list of ways each license type can get involved in our next project and support patients in need:
Licensed Cultivators can donate extra cannabis flower, trim, or biomass -- Dear Cannabis; will help you certify the donation and work with our network to get it packaged or processed into a compassion product for patients in need.
Licensed Manufacturers can donate bulk oil or their specialized services (processing and or packaging) to create a specific compassion product like FSO, tinctures, pre-rolls and more. Dear Cannabis; can connect you with source material, compassion products to package, or other network manufacturers to co-produce a specialized product with your donation of oil.
To remain compliant, all cannabis donations must be transported through the licensed supply chain in the same way as cannabis products that are for sale do. Licensed Distributors can contribute by providing transportation services on any project throughout the state.
Every batch of compassion products produced must pass CA regulatory compliance testing to be authorized for donation. Licensed Testing Facilities can partner with us today by providing required testing on our next project.
Additionally, all cannabis donations must meet CA regulatory packaging and labeling standards, therefore, our projects are always looking for sponsors to cover those costs. Since there is no license required to purchase packaging/labeling supplies, we are able to partner with unlicensed and licensed businesses to fulfill this need.
Companies that want to contribute to a future compassion project can sign up for the Dear Cannabis; Network today.
What’s next for Dear Cannabis;?
Dear Cannabis; is rapidly growing our network to expand our reach and impact. Our goal is to yield and donate over 50,000 compassion products by the end of 2021. We know this is an ambitious goal but we believe the California cannabis community can reach it! In order to make this happen, we’re focused on building partnerships to strengthen our compassion pipeline to sustain the needs of retail programs across the state.
Additionally, with the five-year limitation of SB-34, our organization is pushing to make a measurable impact that clearly defines and demonstrates the need for a long-term legislative solution to establishing and maintaining cannabis compassion programs not only for California, but across the nation.
Dear Cannabis; is a female owned and operated organization. As best friends and business partners, Melissa Burgstahler and Kellie Carlton oversee all aspects of the company as a passion project. Currently, our organization is self-funded and we’re seeking funding opportunities to help expand our programs.
If you would like to support our mission, please consider donating or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
Anything else you want to share?
In addition to building and maintaining a compliant compassion product pipeline, we're focused on expanding our Plug of the People Program to guarantee access for patients throughout California. Our program compiled all legislative/bulletin requirements and regulations from all three regulatory oversight bodies (BCC, CDPH, CDA) to create a comprehensive operations protocol/guide on how to establish a compliant donation program. Our Plug of the People Retail Compassion Toolkit provides a free road map for licensed retailers to set up a compliant, MMJ gifting program under CA SB-34.
Beyond providing the tool-kit our organization provides retailers free training and consultations on how to intake donations through METRC, document retention and verification processes, protocol for donating to qualified patients in their network, and more.
Additionally, we recently launched our Plug of the People -- Compassion Delivery Day Program where we partner with licensed cannabis delivery services to bring our compassion donations directly to the doorstep of patients in need. With the travel limitations on most at-risk communities we found that direct-to-patient deliveries are a necessary component to creating access for the most vulnerable populations.
Like our retail program, we educate and train the delivery service’s personnel on regulations and proper protocol so they have the foundation to carry out the program on their own. We then co-coordinate a compassion delivery day, once a month, with each of our licensed delivery partners and supply the donations through our Dear Cannabis; network projects.
Each delivery day coordinates at least ten drops of compassion donation bags directly to patients who have travel limitations due to illness or income. We work closely with groups like Weed for Warriors, Sweetleaf Collective, Operation EVAC and more to connect to patients in the participating areas.
Our goal of these programs is to eliminate the obstacles that burden retailers and delivery services from establishing medicinal compassion programs while connecting them to people that need those resources the most. To date we have assisted nearly a dozen licensed retailers (both delivery and storefront) set up their compassion programs and are pushing to enter into more retail partnerships to limit accessibility issues related to proximity for patients in need.