In this Q&A, we interview Sweetleaf Joe, the founder and collective of Sweetleaf Collective, a donation-based charity organization providing free medical cannabis to HIV/AIDS and cancer patients in California.
Meadow commissioned this interview to hear Joe's story and the importance of compassionate cannabis in celebration of the day that SB-34, also known as the Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, was enacted in the state of California. This momentous occasion was the first time that a government acknowledged non-commercial cannabis and allowed the nonprofit sector to gift compassionate cannabis for no cost, without a tax liability.
Listen to the 10 minute interview or continue to read the transcript, below.
Sweetleaf Joe: My name is Sweetleaf Joe. I am the founder and director of the Sweetleaf Collective, a compassionate cannabis program that helps low-income veterans, terminally ill patients and people of color access free medical cannabis.
Meadow: That's a pretty incredible thing to be able to offer people. Can you tell me about how you got started in this industry, and the short story of how you got to where you are today?
Sweetleaf Joe: Well, the short story is, you know, I was a cannabis user in high school and it was helping me for some of my medical conditions. So when I became an adult, I was a young activist, and in 1996, proposition 215 passed and I decided to be an activist in cannabis and helped create the nonprofit sector of cannabis. And what I was looking for that time was how could I be the most impactful. And I identified that low-income, terminally ill patients were the ones who needed cannabis and needed access to medical cannabis the most, because if they didn't have access to it due to financial constraints, they could pass on.
Meadow: Yeah, that's a pretty time-sensitive thing and a crucial thing to be able to offer these people who really need it. And over these years of running this collective, what are some of the changes you've seen both in the industry and what you yourself have been able to offer your customers?
Sweetleaf Joe: It's been really great with the progression of cannabis and the normalization of cannabis. Also the lowering of prices. You know, when we started, we just had five patients and we were offering them about a half ounce of leaf every month. And as we saw the prices of cannabis come down, we saw cultivators donating a much higher quality of cannabis and a much larger amount of cannabis. And now we have a hundred patients in Sweetleaf and they are receiving two ounces of flower every month.
Meadow: That's quite the growth. And thinking holistically about this journey you've been on, what would you say are the values that have guided your company over the years?
"My personal main goal is to ease human suffering."
- Sweetleaf Joe, Founder and Director of the Sweetleaf Collective
Sweetleaf Joe: Well, my personal main goal is to ease human suffering. And I work on a bunch of different projects, not just in cannabis, but in other nonprofit fields as well. But in regards to cannabis, it's all about creating and expanding more access to free medical cannabis, to those who need it most.
Meadow: And I'm sure you need a lot of tools to help you do that and run your business. How has working with Meadow enabled you to do more and achieve more of these values that you just mentioned?
Sweetleaf Joe: The great thing with working with Meadow is it's brought us into the 21st century. For over 20 years, the way that we handled patient paperwork was it was all in a binder at the office, so that limited our access to the information. Now with Meadow, the patient paperwork is all online. It's available to the different people working at Sweetleaf, as well as the cannabis delivery service that we work with that actually does the deliveries to our patients. And so now the delivery service Padre Mu, they're able to just access the patient paperwork from their office and do independent verification as opposed to what we were doing previously, which is, you know, we would have to photocopy all of the patient paperwork and actually bring it down to a dispensary so that they would have all that paperwork. So what I find with Meadow is that it is an incredible time-saver for us. And what happens is when we are able to save time in the administrative work that we do, we're able to create more access for patients. We're able to focus more on our patients and focus on getting them the medicine that they need.
Meadow: Yeah. That's pretty incredible to really be able to direct your resources where they need to go to the most. And now looking ahead to the future a bit, especially now that you're able to handle some of these more administrative things a bit more easily, what are you excited about in the coming years for your company?
Sweetleaf Joe: I'm just so excited to expand compassion. We're hoping to potentially expand to other states this year.
We are also working with a number of international partners. And so people in Colombia and people in Argentina to help them with their whole compassionate cannabis movement and the cannabis nonprofit sector in their countries. Last year, we were able to help patients access $3 million worth of free medical cannabis, which is really incredible because at the beginning of the year, we set a goal of just $1 million dollars, so we tripled our goal.
And so for 2022, we are hoping to do $10 million worth of free medical cannabis. And so with that, we also need to triple our funds. And one of the things we're doing with that is we raise money by selling branded lighters and rolling papers at cannabis retailers. And for every lighter or package of rolling papers that's sold (they're just $3 each), and for each one that sells, a patient is able to access 3.5 grams of free medical cannabis.
Meadow: So now thinking about other people in the industry, what advice would you have for them following this sentiment about giving back in that way?
Sweetleaf Joe: Well, I would say include compassion into your business plan. Plan on giving, doing give backs like Meadow. Meadow lets us use their platform free of charge and they're helping support the nonprofit sector of cannabis.
One of the big things that has been a hurdle for us is creating more visibility for the nonprofit sector of cannabis. Most people do not realize that cannabis has a nonprofit sector and they don't realize that it's incredibly vibrant and that it's saving people's lives.
"Most people do not realize that cannabis has a nonprofit sector and they don't realize that it's incredibly vibrant and that it's saving people's lives."
- Sweetleaf Joe, Founder and Director of the Sweetleaf Collective
And that's one of my other taglines on my email is when I'm pulling in new donors: "Together, we can save lives."
And for people that I have been working with, I just switched that tagline up and it's, "Together, we ARE saving lives."
And that's what happens when brands are supporting compassion is that we're all saving lives together. I mean, Sweetleaf, now with the expansion with legalization, we're seeing a consolidation of the compassion supply chain, and so now we have a patient network of over a thousand patients.
We definitely always need help with funding. The cannabis nonprofit sector is super underfunded. And we would really love to incorporate more brands into helping. And so, incorporating compassion, having give backs, these are all super important things that help a brand.
I have a lot of hope for the future. I think 2022 is going to be an incredible year for compassion. And we are going to see a big expansion of access to patients, and that's veterans, low-income terminally ill patients, people of color; there's so many different demographics that are helped with compassionate cannabis.
We're not allowed to deliver to our patients anymore. We used to do bike delivery to our patients. And you know, I can't tell you how many times I showed up at a patient's house to do a delivery. And the patient was in tears. And through their tears, they communicated to me that if they had not had access to this free medical cannabis from Sweetleaf, that they would have already died.
And that's the real story here: lives are on the line and we are all able to help save these lives together.
If you are interested in supporting the Sweetleaf Collective through donations, give-backs, or selling their branded lighters and rolling papers at your retail business, please send an email to Sweetleafjoe@gmail.com or DONATE VIA PAYPAL.
Together we can save lives!