Faith Groups at Odds Over Marijuana Dispensaries Trading 'Pot for Food' in Effort to Feed the Hungry

In an effort to feed the hungry while also cleaning up the sometimes negative image of people who use marijuana, a medical marijuana dispensary in California is trading pot for food and donating all proceeds to local food banks.

Granny Purps, a medical marijuana dispensary in Soquel, Calif., that specializes in baked goods, has been organizing the food drive for two years. The way it works is simple: for every six cans of food people bring in, they will get in exchanging one marijuana cigarette (called a “pre-roll”). There is no limit to the number of pre-rolls participants can receive, and all the canned food goes directly to a local food bank.

"We're in a really controversial industry, and we wanted to show that we're here for good," Nancy Black, sales manager at Granny Purps, told ABC News.

In addition to feeding the hungry, the food drive helps get medical marijuana users a discount on their medicine. Instead of the usual $10 per pre-roll, they can just donate six cans of food.

"It helps feed tons of people and it helps people who sometimes can't get their medication on their own," Black says. "People have to pay out of pocket for all of their medicine."

Medical marijuana users can also get as much as they want since there is no limit to how many pre-rolls they can get in exchange for cans. The effort has worked well, as Granny Purps was able to donate 12,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest, a Santa Cruz-based food bank, last year.

However, once Second Harvest found out about the pot for food program, they asked Granny Purps not to donate again.

"They asked that we not participate with them again next year," Black said. "We all were quite hurt by it."

“We had no idea they were doing it,” Willy Elliot-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvet, told The Christian Post. Second Harvest is not solely faith-based, but does work with many churches and religious groups in the area.

“We're a children's charity and we didn't feel that it was in the spirit of our mission and what we do here,” he said.

Elliot-McCrea said that many people on his staff are sympathetic to the issue of medical marijuana, but because the issue is so divisive in the public sphere, accepting donations that were part of a controversial program could eventually prove to be detrimental to his organizations main goal: feeding the hungry.

“We try not to get into polarizing issues and focus on the common ground; the things that unite us so we can focus solely on hunger,” Elliot-McCrea said.

A similar event took place in Denver, when Urban Cannabis, a medical marijuana dispensary, partnered with local food bank Metro CareRing to donate food using a program similar to Granny Purps, exchanging a pre-roll for every four cans of food people brought in.

However, after a newspaper article about the program was published, faith groups called into Metro CareRing, demanding that the program be stopped, according to Urban Cannabis sales director Amy DiIullo.

“[Metro CareRing] apparently had received copious amounts of calls from faith groups and other conservative groups that donate to their organization voicing strong complaints that they were listed in the paper with a dispensary,” DiIullo told the Denver Westword in March.

Although complaints from faith groups are alleged to be the reason Metro CareRing ended its partnership with Urban Cannabis, not all Christian groups had the same objections.

“Someone from a Christian, faith-based organization came in and gave us 100 pounds of potatoes and fifty pounds of oranges,” DiIullo said, adding that the donor was also a medical marijuana patient who, in addition to the potatoes and oranges, brought four cans of food for his free pre-roll.

To show their gratitude, DiIullo gave the man “as much as we could give him without going over the compliance-standard limits set up by the state,” calling the man's donation “Christian charity at its finest.”

The food was eventually donated to another food bank that did not disapprove of the joints-for-food program.

As for Granny Purps, the dispensary has since found a willing taker for its food: Valley Churches United Missions (VCUM), a coalition of community and church volunteers in the area that feeds the hungry who believe that in tough times, feeding people is more important than worrying about the stigma associated with accepting donations from a medical marijuana dispensary.

“The issue can be a hot potato," says Linda Lovelace, operations director for VCUM. However, “The demand is so high that the food is coming in one door and going out the other as fast as it's coming in,” she told ABC News. “We're just feeding people.”

Since early November, Granny Purps has collected nearly 5,000 pounds of food.

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