A community business has a novel approach to fundraising that’s collected more than $25,000 towards PHS housing, harm reduction and healthcare in just a year and a half.

Evergreen Cannabis in Kitsilano donates the entire proceeds of their branded merchandise to PHS Community Services Society, raising both funds and awareness.

It’s one community supporting another: day-to-day contributions that are making a real difference in the lives of marginalized and traumatized people.

The store’s first donation was received November 2019 and as of May 2021, a total of $26,000 has been raised, one customer at a time.

Benefits of legalization

The city’s first legal retail cannabis retailer, Evergreen is marketing what was once an illegal drug in a welcoming environment where the emphasis is on knowledge and responsible use.

The store is co-owned by former radio broadcaster Mike Babins, whose resume includes music industry side hustles including tour manager for The Wailers and roadie for Motorhead. The other owner is his wife Maria.

Arriving in Vancouver from Montreal, Mike found himself amazed with the medical marijuana dispensary system here. But when Maria had a health scare in 2014, they quickly discovered these outlets didn’t exactly provide what they claimed to.

Disappointed by the lack of quality control and product knowledge, they formed Evergreen Cannabis Society – a medical dispensary committed to organic and lab-tested products. This put the couple ahead of the pack to be licensed when Cannabis was legalized federally in 2018.

Cannabis as harm reduction

“When we were operating as a medicinal cannabis store, we knew that many users were replacing opiates with cannabis,” said Mike.

“We worked closely with professors at UBC on studies surrounding cannabis and its benefits, and we had regular customers who were signed up with us for the explicit purpose of cessation from opiates and other drugs.”

The medical dispensary would frequently donate product to be shared locally, and staff would occasionally take to the streets with joints to be handed out to those in need.

“After we became a fully licensed retail cannabis store, we gained dramatically different legal parameters to work within,” continued Mike. “Post-legalization, we were classified as a retail store; we legally weren’t allowed to give weed away or say ‘just pay what you got.’

“But we still wanted to help out. The Downtown Eastside is still suffering. We still wanted to find a way to be able to give back.

“While we were looking for charities and other places we could contribute to, PHS was eager to work with us, and it aligned perfectly with our goals. Plus, they’re nice people.”

Educating and inspiring

He and Maria went about this in typically thoughtful style, based around educating and inspiring customers, with an emphasis on caring for the environment.

Their fundraising is via branded merchandise, including bamboo rolling trays and grinders, rechargeable electric lighters, pocket ashtrays made from recycled plastic and reusable tote bags. These are available in the store by donation, with 100 percent of proceeds going to PHS.

Mike said: “We go above and beyond to get high-quality environmentally-friendly products rather than shwag that breaks after a few uses.

“Now, we can turn $1,000 into $3,000 before donating it, and the people we serve can participate – which is also important, since they too benefit from this new landscape of legal cannabis use.

“When we suggest an item is available for a $5 donation and someone gives us $20, it makes us feel warm and tingly inside. It’s great to see how much our customers are happy to contribute, especially when they know every penny goes directly to PHS.

“We are now nearing $30,000 raised for PHS. It’s a distinct pleasure of our day-to-day business witnessing how generous our customers are, knowing that all of it goes directly to serving local communities – more effectively than we ever could have.”