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Few Nonprofits Know How To Accept Pot Industry Giving

Spare change and loose bills are scattered next to a Hindu Buddha statue on a small table in the lobby of Infinite Wellness, a Fort Collins medicinal and recreational marijuana shop.

At the end of the month, the funds will be donated to a local charity. Owner Cristine Romarine wishes she could publicly say which one, but many nonprofits aren’t willing to go public with her philanthropic contributions just yet and she doesn’t want to hurt causes she cares about.

Local breweries, such as New Belgium and Odell, have gifted in the millions to local organizations and have long been hailed for their charitable actions in the community.

But Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 has brought a new player to the philanthropic table in the marijuana industry, and many area nonprofits are unsure as to how to handle the industry’s desire to give back.

Seven percent of Fort Collins nonprofits that responded to a Colorado Nonprofit Association Survey said they received a donation from the marijuana industry in 2015. The percentage was consistent with nonprofits across the state. Nearly 70 percent told the association they would accept such a donation.

The marijuana industry is booming in Colorado, contributing $66 million state taxes last tax season. The industry was successful enough that voters last fall had to choose whether or not to allow the state to keep the taxes, which exceeded initial projection and kicked in TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) law.

The state kept the taxes but gave marijuana users a tax-free day last fall.

The tax value of a day of marijuana sales in Colorado? $3.8 million.

Many of these businesses want to leverage their success by giving back to the community.

Most nonprofits contacted by the Coloradoan met our request to learn more about their policies regarding donations from marijuana retailers generally with the same answer: “We’re still working on it.”

They noted the sensitive nature in the form of public perception surrounding pot philanthropy and a need to fine tune policies before they’re made public.

“That’s where I would love to see things change,” Romarine said. “I’m a human being and a business, too. … I don’t think it should matter where it comes from.”

It’s not just societal taboo that plays a role in nonprofit reluctance to accept donations from marijuana retailers. Many agencies accept federal funding and marijuana retailers aren’t legal businesses according to federal law. There’s also a lingering possibility that donations from the industry could be seized if the federal government decided to overrule state legalization.

Team Fort Collins, an organization focusing on drug and alcohol abuse prevention, is one of the few willing to have a public association.

Infinite Wellness and another Fort Collins shop, Organic Alternatives, are donating to and working with Team Fort Collins. Romarine and Maka Kalai, Organic Alternatives director of sales and marketing, said the partnership represents a huge turning point in the relationship between marijuana retailers and the nonprofit world.

In the not-so-distant past, Team Fort Collins was leading the charge to push marijuana businesses out of Fort Collins. But with recreational pot’s legalization came a desire to work together.

“It shows how far we’ve come as a community,” Kalai said.

Team Fort Collins Executive Director Gordon Coombes said the nonprofit began working on its marijuana donation policies about year ago and actively accepts donations from the marijuana industry. But Coombes is extremely careful about how the organization handles those funds.

Hard costs

This year, the organization will accept at least $1,400 in membership dues from marijuana retailers enrolled in Team Fort Collins’ Responsible Association of Retailers. The program uses secret shoppers to hold tobacco, marijuana and alcohol retailers accountable for checking identification to keep drugs and alcohol out of the hands of youth.

Four marijuana retailers are currently enrolled in the program. In addition to their membership dues, which are $350 a year, three retailers have committed to $2,500 sponsorships of Team Fort Collins’ annual fundraiser, Simply Red.

That’s nearly $9,000 in donations that Coombes and his team will handle. It will keep marijuana-related donations separate from all other Team Fort Collins revenue in its bank account. The money is only used for “hard costs,” such as materials on responsible storage and safe usage that marijuana retailers distribute to customers or decorations for the fundraiser.

Any materials purchased with marijuana funds are marked with a special sticker.

Why? Because although marijuana is legal in Colorado, it’s still illegal federally, which Coombes said could cause issues if the federal government stops turning a blind eye to state legalization.

If donations from marijuana retailers were mixed in with Team Fort Collins’ overall budget, Coombes said all funds — whether they came from the marijuana industry or not — could be seized.

His advice to other nonprofits considering donations from the industry? Just be careful.

“We don’t know what the feds are going to do related to that funding or how they deal with marijuana,” Coombes said. “Just be wise and try to be forward thinking in how you handle those funds.”

This article was originally posted by Sarah Jane Kyle of the Coloradoan: http://www.coloradoan.com/story/money/2016/02/05/nonprofits-marijuana-industry-philanthropy/79481426/

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