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Compassion Never Left California Cannabis, In Fact it is Stronger Than Ever

compassion sweetleaf collective

Many people mark the moment that the sun set on Prop215/SB420 here in California as the end of the era of “medical marijuana” and the nail in the coffin for compassion. When you talk to cannabis consumers about the state’s regulated cannabis market, most rightfully complain about egregious prices and taxes, and they point to those burdens as some sort of proof that there is no room for compassion in the licensed industry.

Part of the problem is that the term “compassion” came to be used very loosely by some in Cali’s waning days of “MMJ”. While too many used the word as nothing more than a marketing ploy, too few were actually putting their finances and their freedom on the line to ensure that the members of their communities who could benefit from cannabis but could not afford it, would still get it.

Among those intrepid few leading the charge for the forgotten cannabis consumers was, and is, a man named Joe Airone, founder of Sweetleaf Collective in San Francisco. Established in 1996, Sweetleaf is the second oldest medical marijuana group in the state and Joe’s activism on behalf of the plant, and his roots in the Bay Area, date back decades.

For those in the know, Sweetleaf has become synonymous with cannabis compassion fueled by Joe’s empathy for those in need. Focusing his compassion efforts on providing for terminally ill HIV, AIDS, and cancer patients, for many years Sweetleaf was providing substantial amounts of safe, potent cannabis to 100 or more recipients each month.

Of course, Sweetleaf was not alone in those efforts here in California, but it certainly blazed the trail for other compassionate folks to follow.


A common misconception is that once Prop 64 passed, that groups like Sweetleaf, or Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, or others had completely ended their compassion programs. Afterall, who could afford to keep such an effort alive in a market hamstrung by regulations and excessive taxes?

The fact of the matter is that Joe and Sweetleaf have been giving away free cannabis to those in need this entire time while also fighting to pass SB 34 which finally took effect on March 1st of this year.

In order to cover the tax obligation to the state and remain compliant, Joe has come up with ancillary fundraisers that was able to significantly reduce the financial burden during the darker days of Prop64.

Sweetleaf released a custom lighter, sold at participating retail dispensaries up and down the state for $3 each. Pricey for a lighter, right? Not once the tuned-in employees in those shops explained the mission behind them and convinced the consumer that every time they sparked that $3 lighter, they could enjoy the good karma of knowing they gave to a good cause.

As of March 1st, cannabis flagged in the METRC Track & Trace system as compassionate use will no longer be subject to these taxes but the lighter fundraiser will continue with that money now being used to expand the program to help even more people, rather than just keep it afloat.

Get this – For every $3 Sweetleaf lighter sold, Joe and his team can put 3.5g of cannabis into the hands of a compassion patient.

Here in Los Angeles, one of the city’s original dispensaries – Cornerstone Research Collective, founded in 2007 – is still alive and well, and has sold through more than 1,000 Sweetleaf lighters which by the math above equates to nearly 10 POUNDS of free weed for compassionate distribution. Because of their role in the fundraiser, Cornerstone will be the recipient of that ten-pack and countless compassion patients in Los Angeles will benefit greatly. SPARC in San Fran has put up big numbers in the fundraiser as well.

In fact, that is Joe’s plan for how to expand the amazing work that Sweetleaf does in the Bay Area to other regions in the state. He is creating a compassion distribution chain that will allow any brand or retail outlet that wants to include an effective compassion campaign into their recipe for success to do so with minimal brain-pain on their end. He has the template and the network in place to make it as easy as possible for others to do the right thing.

Every angle you look at it from, everybody wins. That’s rare.

“Compassion is a movement, it’s a lot of people coming together, it’s not just one group,” says Joe. “The way I like to term it is Team Compassion because it takes a whole team to make this work.”

Getting compassionate cannabis into the hands of those in need has always come down to finding likeminded donation partners who had excess cannabis goods and were willing to kick in to the cause.

In today’s regulated market here in Cali, digital track and trace requirements, struggling startups, and an out of touch bureaucracy in the state capitol have been just a few of the impediments to gifting weed to those in need, but there are still people in a position to give and Sweetleaf Joe has the expertise to seek them out and put their donations into the right hands.

As you read this, he is facilitating the preparation of an estimated $2,000,000 worth of cannabis goods for a compliant, compassionate giveaway at the retail level to those who need it most. One donation alone consists of 150,000 1g pre-rolls. That amounts to over 330 pounds of weed just right there. For perspective, at its peak, Sweetleaf was giving away about 150 pounds PER YEAR through its Bay Area compassion program. The expansion of their capacity to help others excites Joe, but he is the first to admit that even sums like that only scratch the surface of what is truly needed.

So the work continues.

Joe notes that he is highly motivated by the fact that these massive donations originated before compassion became a buzzword again on March 1st. This proved to him that there is a dedicated army of advocates out there just like him, ready to improve the lives of others.


California’s two-decade experiment with a self-regulating medical marijuana market changed the way the world saw weed. Age-old stereotypes about lazy, useless stoners went up in smoke as the medicinal efficacy of the plant (and the lucrative opportunities surrounding it) immediately began to turn the tide of public support for cannabis reform.

Compassion played a major role in the Prop 215 era in California, so it was an affront to the grassroots cannabis community when it was gutted by Prop 64. The fact that the law was written that way to begin with serves as a perfect example of how out of touch the lawmakers and regulators were and are with their core consumer demographic.

With the passage of SB 34 the state begins to make right what it got so wrong, and in doing so should set the precedent nationwide and worldwide that without Compassion as a foundational plank, any cannabis reform movement is dreadfully incomplete.

Even states that beat Cali to the punch on recreational cannabis legalization need to revisit their own framework to determine if it is conducive to the creation of a healthy non-profit sector in their respective cannabis industries.


Most recently, Sweetleaf has partnered with Padre Mu, one of the state’s most prolific cannabis delivery companies, to put Joe’s blueprint to work utilizing all the tools afforded to them through Prop 64 and SB 34.

Joe lights up, saying, “The most incredible part about compassion is the look in the patient’s eye when you are handing them a giant bag of cannabis for free.”

That honor will go to one of the owners of Padre Mu, Aren Ash, who will be personally making the first five deliveries to pre-qualified compassion recipients.

Compassion-focused brands like Martyjuana Farms, Mendocino Generations, Fully Melted, Silver Dragon Cannabis, Clarified Confections, and more have donated a jaw-dropping amount of top-shelf cannabis products to this latest facet of Joe’s overall mission. Each of the first five recipients (all Sweetleaf patients for now) will also be receiving a multi-gram donation of Beard Bros. Pharms Full Spectrum Cannabis Oil. Keeping it real, fam, there is not much of anything “extra” around here these days, but you know we weren’t going to be left out!

We reached out to Aren over at Padre Mu and asked him about what compassion means to him and why it matters to the cannabis culture, here is what he had to say:

“While it is great to give away free weed, these companies who are so generous also have to keep their lights on and pay their employees in order to continue the compassion.  From my experience running Padre Mu, a delivery and distribution company in Oakland, it seems that cannabis consumers are fleeing corporate dispensaries not only because of price, but because they are turned off by the sterile environment, impersonal budtenders, and unauthentic products. More so than most other products, I believe cannabis consumers, for the most part, want to know that their cannabis is coming from a good source and they want to feel a sense of community, which is why we see corporate cannabis brands being rejected by those who consume the most.  When corporations try to come in and commodify such a unique plant in the name of profit by attempting to sanitize a culture that is rooted in openness and acceptance, they are missing the whole point of why we love this plant.

We have been risking our freedom for the plant since before legalization, so for us, this is not some get-rich-quick scheme, it is a way of life.

We are committed to helping create an ecosystem of legacy producers, equity businesses, enlightened consumers and local sourcing. With the regulated cannabis industry in its infancy and the deep roots of the cannabis culture ever-present, we have the opportunity to create a model of compassionate business practices that questions the status quo of America’s predatory capitalism. I believe that as a cannabis community if we practice collaboration and cooperation rather than competition, we can sustain small businesses, continue to grow compassion, and build a stronger community overall.”

We also hit up Jess Cosca at Filigreen Distribution, one of the licensed partners that helped spearhead the Sweetleaf Lighter Fundraiser to put over $100,000 worth of free weed into the right hands over the past year.

We asked her for the Filigreen perspective on compassion and she nailed it too, telling us, “Compassion has always been at the roots of cannabis reform here in California. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the hard work of so many activists and caregivers, most notably Dennis Peron and Mary Jane Rathbun. We believe it’s our duty to continue their good work and keep compassion in our minds as we strive in this newly regulated market. We intend to continue growing this relationship and working with our partners throughout the supply chain to get products in the hands of patients. After all, as Dennis Peron said, ‘every cannabis user is a medical patient whether they know it or not’.”

Joe wanted to specifically shout out GetHeally and Meadow, two companies who have donated their digital platforms to the cause, further reducing the burden on compassion patients. He also mentioned that Anresco Labs performed free compliance testing on all of the donated cannabis flower that required updated COAs. That’s huge! He encourages ALL companies interested in compassion to get involved, whether they are “plant-touching” or otherwise – the team needs you.

“We are so lucky to have other people who care about compassion in this industry, and they back it up” says Joe.

Here at Beard Bros. Pharms, we are extremely proud to be one nail in the house of cannabis compassion.

Let’s keep building, together!

If you are interested in donating to Sweetleaf please contact sweetleafjoe@gmail.com

Patients interested in applying to receive free cannabis please contact


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