Corporate social responsibility is not a department in cannabis – it’s a fabric of the industry’s mission. This rings true especially in Canada, where the industry’s corporate citizenship has gone far beyond compliance in realms of environmental, economic, and social wellbeing. 

This is by no means a “get rich then give back” approach to cannabis CSR, either. Unlike the oil and gas industry, who reigned for decades before promoting CSR efforts, the cannabis industry prioritized social responsibility from its commencement. 

Perhaps this intuitive commitment to CSR is tied to the lore, history, and fight for cannabis legalization in Canada. Legalization arguments were often rooted in helping others.

The surge of jobs it would create, the disappearing of discriminatory prohibition practices, the alternative it would serve to more detrimental substance use – the cannabis industry is inherently a CSR industry.

Examples of Cannabis CSR Initiatives

Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company, provided $2.5 million to the University of British Columbia to research cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction. Amid the country’s opioid epidemic, academia and research serves as a powerful CSR avenue, also embraced by HEXO Corp, a major force in the Canadian cannabis industry.

Other mover-shakers in cannabis have a deep, unwavering commitment to environmentalism. Sustainability is embedded in the business model of Goodwood, a Canadian cannabis retail accessory brand. For every wooden product sold, the company plants a number of trees through Trees For The Future, a nonprofit which helps communities around the world through tree-planting and agroforestry. What’s more is the company’s goal to be carbon-neutral by the end of 2020. This challenge is unlikely to be willingly taken on outside of the cannabis industry.

Reducing carbon emissions is just one of many environmental CSR efforts being tackled in Canada’s new promising industry. Though recreational cannabis use was only legalized in October of 2018, the industry quickly took on conversations of ethical water use, energy consumption, and reforestation.

Goodwood Cannabis CSR

A Long Term Approach to CSR

One might ask, rightfully so, how authentic will these cannabis CSR efforts be over time? Indeed, just across the border, many U.S. companies have opted out of genuine social responsibility in exchange for quick “slap-a-logo on a cause” solutions. As once-small startups giantize into major corporate monopolies, unethical means of production and labor exploitation take place while companies run hollow “we’re here to help” advertisements.

But this is exactly the situation that is being avoided in the Canadian Cannabis industry, partially due to the nature of selling a once-illegal drug. There is immense pressure on the industry to be transparent and responsible in their operation and chain of custody. The country wouldn’t have made this leap forward without regulatory agreements taking place. Furthermore, many Canadian cannabis companies are voluntarily dedicating their work towards consumer and employee education on the ethical consumption and sale of cannabis.

Not to mention the fight for positive political impact is the backbone of Canada’s cannabis industry. Many companies, including some mentioned above, support the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians who were burdened by cannabis’s former illegal status. The organization has been successful in advocacy but ultimately fights for the expungement of cannabis-related criminal records.

Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty CSR

Helping Others Through Cannabis

There lies the difference. The Canadian cannabis CSR conversation has always centered around helping others, and ideally, always will. In this context, corporate social responsibility is just a proper term for the spirit of communal benefit that upholds Canada’s cannabis industry.

Ali Shana

Ali Shana

Ali Shana is a Palestinian-American freelance writer and graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. He tends to write about psychopharmacology, education, and healthcare. Ali sees cannabis and psychedelics as a catalyst to groundbreaking mental health solutions in Western society. https://twitter.com/AliReporting https://medium.com/@alishana