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Ayr Wellness 12 Days of Giving Initiative Reflects Year-Round Advocacy Ethos

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

December 18, 2022

Shutterstock

‘Tis the season for giving, and Ayr Wellness holds this festive sentiment close, not just in December but year-round. The vertically-integrated multistate cannabis operator just wrapped up its second annual

, which donated $1.12 per transaction to Ayr’s two partner organizations throughout 12 days in December.

The company’s 2022 goal was $100,000 in donations, which will support the families of cannabis prisoners during the holidays, help to fund ongoing advocacy support and fund the

of non-violent cannabis offenses. 

And Ayr Wellness isn’t simply looking to connect to the cannabis community — they want to set the precedent for other cannabis leaders in the biz, rebuilding the world with small and purposeful actions as a foundational part of the company ethos.

Looking at cannabis companies far and wide, which are generally doing well financially, it prompts the question: What is their responsibility? 

Ayr Wellness Head of Corporate Responsibility Khari Edwards – Courtesy of Ayr Wellness

“I would like to say we are the leader in it,” said

, head of corporate social responsibility at Ayr Wellness. “We’re not as big as some other companies, but I will always talk about embarrassing others to do right.

“And we’re gonna make sure we embarrass people to really put this effort into these communities,” he laughed.

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Creating a Wide-Reaching, Intentional Holiday Initiative

In reference to the initial inspirations and aims surrounding the 12 Days of Giving initiative, Edwards points to communities that continue to be affected by the War on Drugs and how these impacts can be felt during the holiday season. A spouse in jail for

can leave their partner at home stretched to the limit, unable to provide a festive holiday to their kids, let alone a Christmas tree or presents.

With operations in Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Massachusetts, Ayr’s network is wide-reaching and only set to continue growing. While Edwards entered his role just over a year ago, his background in community service was essential in building Ayr’s community ethos.

“It was really just to start looking at, how do we now impact our employees who really do love the communities that they work in — some of the best people I’ve ever met, in person and via Zoom — who really care about community? So this gave them a real avenue to open up their hearts and their minds to doing for others,” he said.

The initial building block was the $1.12 donation from each transaction, but Ayr wanted to push things further. Edwards recalled discussing how to best support families immediately, in time for the holidays, and was subsequently connected to

, an all-volunteer nonprofit helping cannabis prisoners to regain freedom.

After Ayr Wellness approached the nonprofit last year, asking if they would help to immediately distribute funds to families in need, Freedom Grow was on board.

The Impact of Ayr Wellness’s Altruism

Recalling the origins of the initiative last year, Edwards referenced this time last year, mid-December 2021, meeting a family of eight children in North Carolina. Their father was serving an eight-year prison sentence due to less than an ounce of cannabis in his car. 

Courtesy of Minorities for Medical Marijuana

“The mom’s working two jobs at the Campbell Soup factory to literally support her kids. We went there — it was nothing. They didn’t have a tree; they didn’t have anything. It tears me up sometimes to think about it,” Edwards said.

They paid the family a visit and provided them with a $1,000 check, gave each child a $100 gift card and took them on a shopping spree. During the shopping spree, Edwards realized the family didn’t even have a computer to use. As a spiritual person, he said something came over him, and he proceeded to buy them a laptop.

“That’s really what 12 Days of Giving meant,” he said.

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Growing 12 Days of Giving and Ayr’s Force For Good Mission

How have things shifted in a year? Edwards said this time around, Ayr Wellness has doubled down. Last year, the company gave Freedom Grow $25,000, and this year, it has tripled that number, aiming to give $75,000 to the nonprofit. Looking ahead to 2023, Edwards said Ayr expects to “at least triple” that number again. 

In all, Edwards said Ayr Wellness expects to touch more than 210 families this year on the Freedom Grow side

Additionally, Ayr Wellness is also supporting the Minorities for Medical Marijuana’s

initiative this year, which affords families an opportunity to see their loved ones in prison for non-violent cannabis crimes.

It all connects back to the greater

mission of Ayr Wellness, “a cannabis company that believes in people,” in Edwards’ words. 

Although Ayr’s long-standing goal is to become the largest cultivator of high-quality cannabis in the U.S., “this mission is underpinned by the recognition that, in order to operate at scale, we must be mindful of the impact that we have on the communities in which we operate, the environment, the people we serve and the members of our team,” per the Ayr Wellness website.

Edwards himself admits he’s “not a cannabis guy;” he’s a people person. Though he’s no stranger to cannabis culture and said that, given the communal nature of cannabis and its ability to inspire peace and love — he also admitted he’s “a little bit in the ‘flower child’ side” of the conversation — Edwards said, “The reality of it is that it’s the right thing to do.”

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Giving Back to the Community All Year

The responsibility of a cannabis company like Ayr Wellness, Edwards said, isn’t just about putting money in the team’s pockets, but it involves a responsibility to the community they serve. Ayr Wellness is currently looking to make its way to the

, but Edwards noted the importance of building out the infrastructure to support the people in New York first.

Freedom Grow and Ayr Wellness staff hold up an oversized donation check for 12 Days of Giving
Courtesy of Freedom Grow

“This is the last, in my opinion, opportunity for communities who have had lack of investment to really find a niche to build real, sustainable wealth,” Edwards said. “Whether you’re a business owner, whether you work or whether you’re an ancillary vendor, this is the way that we start to build out, and I think that’s part of, again, the goal of Ayr. I joke all the time, ‘How can you breathe without Ayr?’ Right? So, it’s the reality for us.”

It’s also important to take a tailored and detail-oriented approach, Edwards said, as different communities need different assistance. The company focuses on housing in Massachusetts and food insecurity in Pennsylvania, for example, keeping a finger on the pulse of the communities it serves, “making sure that these 12 days and this holiday initiative really lasts 12 months,” in Edwards’ words.

To make it easier for employees and community members to stay up-to-date on Ayr’s work in different regions, the company also launched its own Ayr Social Impact Instagram page,

.

And even though the

is fleeting, with January just around the corner, the work doesn’t stop at Ayr. Come February, Edwards said the company is planning another cycle for its Changing Legacies flagship program, which centers expungement events and restorative initiatives to give back to and empower communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Last year, Edwards and the Ayr team

. “Anybody would be like, ‘This is an impossible task,” he said, but they did it. More than 1,000 people showed up, and more than 400 people received immediate expungements. Ayr also provided wraparound services, like helping folks affected by cannabis criminalization to secure housing or healthcare. 

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A Promising Future for a Young Industry

Moving forward, Ayr aims to do two major events per region. The bulk will be handled in February, covering five of the eight total regions, with other events to follow throughout the year, Edwards said. Each event will focus on the specific needs of those communities.

“I spent 25 years in government, right, and a lot of times, we will throw a big, wide net and say, ‘Hey, this is happening,’ and then it sometimes doesn’t happen, right? And I’ve actually seen this a little bit in our industry as well.”

The cannabis industry as a whole is still very young, and Edwards admitted that Ayr Wellness is in the beginning stages of shaping its community-focused goals. While Ayr might be newer and smaller than other cannabis companies, it’s not stopping the team from doing the good, necessary work.

“I’m proud to work for a company that’s doing the right thing,” Edwards said. “We know we’re not perfect, but our mission is ‘force for good first.’ Like, what are we going to do first? And then we’ll figure out the rest later.”

Keegan Williams

About The Author

Keegan Williams

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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