Study Summary: Status of Cannabis Industry CSR

A 2022 study entitled "Content Analysis of the Corporate Social Responsibility Practices of Nine Major Cannabis Companies in Canada & the U.S." that was published in the journal JAMA Network Open explored the social responsibility practices of a small set of the largest publicly traded cannabis companies in North America.

The study's authors reported that the purpose of their investigation was to "analyze cannabis industry CSR [corporate social responsibility] behaviors, determine their characteristics, and compare their practices with those of the tobacco industry."


The study defined CSR as a company's "philanthropic, ethical, and economic activities beyond profit seeking, including mitigating environmental and societal impacts."

The scientists defined CSR as a company's "philanthropic, ethical, and economic activities beyond profit seeking, including mitigating environmental and societal impacts" and added that CSR "promotes brands and secures government goodwill that protects business interests."


The Study

The study considered CSR data from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2021 regarding the nine largest publicly traded cannabis companies in the United States and Canada. The study originally intended to analyze the top 10 publicly traded companies, but the 10th largest was excluded "because it engaged in cannabis-based pharmaceutical sales, but not CSR."


The nine companies considered were established between 2008 and 2016 and featured market capitalizations that ranged from U.S. $1.06 billion to $7.62 billion (in 2021).

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This resulted in the collection of 153 "news articles, press releases, and web pages." This data revealed that the companies reviewed developed "educational programs, sustainability initiatives, and voluntary marketing codes" similar to those of the tobacco industry "to recruit public interest organizations as allies."


Results

The nine major North American cannabis companies were found to engage in CSR activities that "encouraged increased consumption and targeted marginalized communities" and claimed that these activities would "mitigate the harms of cannabis prohibition, promote diversity, expand access to medical cannabis, and support charitable causes."


"Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs created business incubators and licensing assistance programs for members of racial and ethnic minority populations and communities harmed by cannabis prohibition."

"Green Thumb Industries and Cresco Labs created business incubators and licensing assistance programs for members of racial and ethnic minority populations and communities harmed by cannabis prohibition," reported the study. It also noted that Curaleaf Holdings and Green Thumb Industries "funded nonprofits helping people with cannabis-related records rejoin society."

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The study reported that Cresco Labs "established scholarship programs at two universities in Ohio for people or communities harmed by drug war policies." In addition, Green thumb Industries, Cresco Labs, and Trulieve "announced intentions to support efforts and organizations seeking to expunge criminal [cannabis] records."


"Although social equity programs developed by state governments allocate licenses to communities and individuals impacted by criminalization, they often impose regulatory and financial barriers," found the research. It noted that "proof currently exists that some cannabis companies assisted social equity license applicants in exchange for control of proposed businesses."


The research noted that "proof currently exists that some cannabis companies assisted social equity license applicants in exchange for control of proposed businesses."

The research reported that, cumulatively, the CSR activities of these particular cannabis companies and the marketplace overall may result in the "pharmaceuticalization" of the cannabis industry and that this could "normalize and promote cannabis as a health or medical treatment, akin to the tobacco industry's sale of nicotine replacement therapy." The study noted that this normalization could "possibly provide cannabis companies [with] additional markets to increase consumption [levels] and profits."


The study's authors reported that their findings "suggest that cannabis companies developed CSR strategies comparable to those used by the tobacco industry to influence regulation" and suggested that cannabis companies "should be included when addressing commercial determinants of health."


Conclusions

The researchers justified their investigation with the fact that "cannabis legalization is expanding, making understanding how cannabis companies legitimize themselves critical."

The study claimed that the cannabis industry's motivation to increase consumption "makes policies difficult to modify once established."


The study's authors noted that U.S. cannabis companies "have sought to open markets and influence regulations," while Canadian companies "have attempted to reduce taxes and regulation."

"Public health actors have been wary of industry CSR activities, given research demonstrating such programs are ineffectual by design and [serve to only] advance corporate interests," concluded the study. It said that cannabis companies "appear to use CSR activities that normalize and legitimize the industry."


"Public health actors have been wary of industry CSR activities, given research demonstrating such programs are ineffectual by design and [serve to only] advance corporate interests."

The study's authors noted that U.S. cannabis companies "have sought to open markets and influence regulations," while Canadian companies "have attempted to reduce taxes and regulation." They surmised that societal approval of legal cannabis companies "is critical."


View the original study.


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