4/20: An Important Day To Remember How Far We Still Have To Go – Courtney Mathis and Kelly Perez Founders of Cannabis Impact Fund

At Leafwire, we enjoy 4/20 as much as everyone else and view it as a day to celebrate the advances that have been made after decades of work by advocates world-wide. Cannabis is now more accessible to the general public for medicinal and recreational use than ever before.

But, we also realize we have a long way to go.

We’d like to use our ‘platform’ on 4/20 to recognize the powerful work being done by one of our favorite not-for-profit organizations, right here in our home-town of Denver, Colorado, The Cannabis Impact Fund. Cannabis Impact Fund’s mission is to promote racial justice, heal the planet and support communities in need by leveraging a conscious cannabis sector.

It was my pleasure to recently have the opportunity to learn more about the Cannabis Impact Fund directly from the visionary founders, Courtney Mathis and Kelly Perez.

Leafwire: What initially drove you to found the Cannabis Impact Fund?

Courtney & Kelly: Since our inception, CDG has been working to support communities and prioritize racial justice in our sector. After Mr. Floyd’s death we knew we needed a bigger, more impactful vehicle; a way to galvanize the industry towards supporting the movement for Black lives and make the right thing, the easy thing. 

Nearly every single Black person killed by police in the last few years, from Trayvon, to Sandra Bland, to Philandro Castille to Micheal Brown has a direct cannabis connection to justify (in the minds of law enforcement) these race-based murders. This is not the story we want to continue; the war on drugs was and continues to be about race. We had relationships with national efforts supporting the movement for Black Lives and we wanted to help cannabis to easily be a part of that. Nothing is easy in cannabis, not racial equity, not being a nonprofit, not doing good. In our many years crafting CSR for companies we knew the barriers and had some ideas about solutions. 

After deep conversations with Sensible Colorado and with rapid support from PufCreativ, we founded, the Cannabis Impact Fund in July 2020. We, as a cannabis community, have enormous power to shift our narrative from one of harm to one of repair and equity. We believe CIF and our 5 grantees are an easy, meaningful way to support the movement and make social change. 

LW: Why is it especially important to shine a light on your organization’s mission on a celebratory day like 420?

C&K: 4/20 was historically a moment for cannabis activists and consumers to gather and protest against prohibition and the injustice of cannabis policies. Today, it has largely become a day to celebrate and to party. We all love a party, especially now, but a party with a purpose–that is a real celebration.

Our collective cannabis story is rife with racial injustice. To party without an understanding of the weaponization of cannabis and how drug policy in general has been used to harm Black and brown communities is not a celebration, not unless we use our collective gatherings to continue highlighting the injustices still happening today.

There are folks getting arrested for drug crimes daily, whole communities’ capacities for self care historically have been destroyed, families destroyed, resources pulled or only used for policing even now. We want to celebrate progress, and to create real change in our dynamic space. We are change makers and disruptors who have used this medicine for ourselves to heal, to work, to create financial health and community health. CIF helps us to invite our whole community to activate in a way that matches our intent with our impact. So today on 4/20, while you gather, consider that while we can celebrate the end of prohibition (in some places), we must still bring awareness to the ongoing decimating effects of the drug war and the long road we have ahead to make repairs. 

CIF does this by driving cannabis dollars towards our 5 grantees, working on racial justice, nationally. We are not done advocating for what is right; cannabis is still a nascent industry. It’s our privilege to operate here; let’s use that to continue influencing the social change that can meaningfully save lives. Together, we can create a celebration that shifts from extractive policy towards models of business and policy that are truly liberating, and racially just. Our work isn’t done – so let’s be sure today and every other day – we party with a purpose.

Click here if you’d like to take action today to stand-up for Racial Justice on 4/20 and beyond, your support WILL make a difference today AND for future generations.

LW: Have we made much progress over the last 5 years?

C&K: Absolutely, Mr. Floyd’s death provided folks with the language and a deeper understanding of systemic racism. It’s not about how you and I relate to one another, but a self-perpetuated system of interconnected systems, (education, public health, criminal/legal etc.), that none of us chose to be born into. We live in a racialized capitalist society, but if we can get past the shame about that, the defensiveness, and be brave, we can dismantle it and build something that honors the plant—cannabis can be a leader for other industries to learn from. We can interrogate the ideas, institutions, banking/capital, education, public health and beyond and begin to craft and retrofit policy to include our whole community, centering on those who paid for our privilege with their lives.

This moment in time has never happened. We are a special group of people; it makes a lot of sense for us to understand being anti-racist as something that is good for business, and improves operations and function in the world and is humane and just. DEI efforts have cost traditional US sectors–about $8B without meaningful change. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are metrics to be measured, tracked and impacted to determine if we are becoming the anti-oppressive (anti-racist). If your DEI is not centered in anti-racism, it won’t be successful. They are not the end game. When BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and women are seen for the value that we bring, not as a check mark, that is when we belong. As the People’s Ecosystem likes to say, “are they making P/L decisions? That is when change happens. That is when the power of the Black dollar, the Latinx dollar, the power of female leadership, and the value of power-sharing come to life–and impact your revenue. Being anti-racist is good for your bottom line. We know it is hard for folks to do. Our for-profit sister, Cannabis Doing Good, supports companies with how to do this.

In the last 13 months, CIF has deployed nearly $50k to our 5 grantees. We have activated businesses previously unsure of how to participate in the racial equity movement. We have created our Anti-Racism Guide for cannabis businesses, a landmark collaboration that provides accessible tips and tools for deploying racial equity throughout your business. We have trained hundreds of people with our premier Anti-Racism training and are training companies who seek to have antiracist Human Resource efforts–it’s much beyond DEI efforts. We have a lot of work to do – but are actively curating a committed cannabis community to do it with. Let’s see what the next 13 months bring. 

LW: How did you select the grantees that you chose to support through CIF’s efforts?

C&K: CIF contributes to the efforts we contribute to because they are part of the larger movement for Black lives, and we see the application of a racial equity lens to cannabis as one of our time’s most compelling opportunities. 

Michael Brown’s murder was partly justified by the police because they smelled marijuana—Alicia Garza and others created the Black Lives Matter movement from their base in Ferguson protesting Mr. Brown’s murder. What erupted in Ferguson (St.Louis, MO) brought much attention to many criminal legal irregularities that were examples of systemic racism—like the rates of Black people arrested, detained, and held because they were unable to make bail. A federal investigation unveiled systemically racist practices by the criminal/legal system in MO. The Bail Project came out of that deep need to get people out of that (found to be illegal) system that drastically impacted Black folks in St.Louis by racial profiling and holding folks in jail. Black Futures Lab is the policy/think tank arm of the Movement for Black Lives, Alicia Garza founded it to develop solutions to what was happening in Ferguson and beyond engaging the community in policy solutions. The Color of Change was the organization President Biden called when the Capitol was being stormed as one of our nation’s most trusted contributors to moving people through digital campaigns to engage in racial justice in the way that miliennials and Gen Zers engage. We support Hood Incubator and Minorities for Medical Marijuana because from within our sector these two national nonprofit efforts have since the industry’s inception focused on racial equity. They have never moved from being actively engaged advocates seeking policy and business approaches that support racial justice (economic, social equity, etc.,) 

LW: What do you think the biggest preconception people have about social equity programs in the industry?

People think that social equity programs will be enough to create a racially equitable industry, or enough to repair the harm done. Policy is necessary, but not sufficient to make change. Folks think the goal of social equity is a social equity program. Nope. The goal is BIPOC folks benefiting from the sector we built and repairing whole communities harmed. Let’s take the unique-ness of this moment, the cultural sea change available for us to help to lead. What would a racially just sector look like? 

We meet white folks daily in our work, who when we make the connections between their business outcomes and being actively anti-racist, they immediately see the connection. It’s the HOW that has been so elusive. Not being racist isn’t enough. We need system disruptors to inform investors, banking, real estate, etc. We can honor our legacy by helping to create actively anti-racist HR practices–working with our sister company,  Cannabis Doing Good. We have a racial equity self assessment that is very high level to help folks objectively measure how they could become more racially just. If 90+% of the industry is white-owned, we need to call those folks in, show them these racialized systems (none of us built) and undo them. It’s good for business. It’s good for humanity. It’s good for business. Let’s start by calling people in, not just calling them out. None of us were well educated in what anti-racism looks like. No other industry has done it. Being shame resilient and understanding perfection isn’t required, but progress is. Let’s match our intent with measurable impact. We can save lives, grow businesses, infuse communities with regenerative wealth, and build a sector that prioritizes people.  

Social equity alone won’t do this. But an activated business sector that curates purpose-driven consumers? Now we’re talking about new economic models that demand purpose, demand equity, demand better. It will take policy, private sector and consumers to hold equity accountable. Looking for partners? Check out Cannabis Doing Good and Cannabis Impact Fund.

C&K: How can the average person who works for a cannabis business, whether its plant-touching or ancillary, do something to make a difference?

Lift up the work of folks doing it. Commit to being actively anti-racist. Accept you will likely need to rinse and repeat. Educate yourself and make different choices based on what you are learning. It’s not the glamorous work, but it is the community work we are privileged to do. Know our cannabis history if you are in this space and join in the movement of continuing to free the plant and the people (as Hood Incubator likes to say). Do not stop making change because you have access to cannabis. Think about folks across the country, and the world, and use your power for good. Each of us can’t do everything, but each of us can do something. Contribute to CIF. When we understand all the ways that it has been orchestrated for us to be separate and imperfectly use our power for good…well that changes the cannabis world and beyond. Activate. Engage. Rest. Renew and do it again; in community.

Check out the recently created our Anti-racism guide for Cannabis Businesses (with the help of 9th Block and PufCreativ, which lives on our website, link here

Cannabis Impact Fund’s 5 Grantees:


Combats mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system- one person at a time. Paid bail for over 20,000 people to date.


Designs campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward. 7 Million members strong.


Centers cannabis justice in the fight for racial equity focusing on economic justice, power building, and policy advocacy.


Serves community by providing information, referrals, advocacy, coordination and education regarding cannabis legislation, events, activities, initiatives and discussions. Over 27 Chapters across the globe.


Transforms Black communities into constituencies that change the way power operates—locally, statewide and nationally.

Click here if you’d like to take action today to stand-up for Racial Justice on 4/20 and beyond.

Article sponsored by Cannabis Technology Partners
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