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Crowdfunding Site Cancels Aid to California Wildfire Victims—Because Cannabis

October 17, 2017
(chabybucko/iStock)
With the most devastating wildfire in California history laying waste to its members’ homes and livelihoods, the California Growers Association responded in the way most crises are handled in 2017: crowdfunding.

As of Tuesday morning, 41 people have perished in the fires, which have burned more than 101,000 acres and destroyed 6,700 homes and businesses at an estimated cost of more than billion. Multiple fires are still burning in Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties—the very heart of California’s wine and cannabis region—and 88 people are still missing in Sonoma County alone, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported.

Allen began receiving messages from would-be donors. They'd had their donations canceled and their monies returned.

The California Growers Association, the main lobby representing cannabis growers in Sacramento, estimates that as many as 300 marijuana farms have been affected in some way by the deadly fires still burning near Santa Rosa, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. Some have seen entire crops tainted with toxic smoke and ash, while others have lost both their harvests and their homes to the flames.

The fires came at the worst imaginable time: at the height of the fall harvest, in a year when many growers had exhausted their savings or taken on investment to obtain costly county permits ahead of statewide legalization. And unlike other farmers in the region, cannabis growers generally don’t qualify for crop insurance.

Related

Devastating Photos Show Wildfire’s Toll on a California Cannabis Farm

Within days, Hezekiah Allen, CGA’s founder and executive director, had set up a campaign on the San Francisco-based crowdfunding website YouCaring to collect donations to help the farmers recover. By Monday, about 50 people had pitched in more than $10,000 to the “CalGrowers Wildlife Relief Fund,” 100 percent of which—after processing fees, at least—would be sent directly to “cannabis growers who lost farms in wildfires.”

But just as the campaign eclipsed the five-figure mark, Allen began receiving messages from would-be donors. They’d had their donations canceled and their monies returned. A message from YouCaring “via WePay,” the company that processes the crowdfunding platform’s payments, popped up in Allen’s inbox. “We apologize,” it read, but the campaign had violated WePay’s terms of service. Pending payments were canceled and all donations returned.

The reason? Marijuana.

“We forgot that we can’t use all the tools at society’s disposal, because we’re sort of second-class.”
Hezekiah Allen, CGA founder & executive director

“Current U.S. federal law prohibits the purchase and sale of cannabis and cannabis extracts,” said the email sent to Allen, which he shared with Leafly News. “Subsequently, WePay is unable to process payments connected to the production, sale, or consumption of cannabis, even in situations where such activities would be permitted under state law.”

Allen’s efforts to patiently explain that the fundraiser had nothing to do with buying or selling drugs went unheeded. “My reply was, ‘Hey, we are not doing any of these things,’” he said Monday, adding that he’d been unable to reach anyone at the company via phone to talk directly.

He’s since set up another crowdfunding campaign through the service Nationbuilder—and has begun explaining to the cannabis community why they’ll need to submit their donations all over again on a different site.

Related

Keep Tabs on California Wildfires with SF Chron’s Live Map

In an email to Leafly, a YouCaring spokesperson confirmed that the decision to reject payments and end the campaign was WePay’s:

While YouCaring support all forms of treatment and most fundraiser types, our payment providers (WePay & PayPal) do not allow fundraisers for anything marijuana-related, including for medical reasons. Current U.S. Federal Law prohibits the purchase and sale of marijuana. Subsequently, our payment provider is unable to process payments connected to the production or sale of cannabis (including CBD oil), even in situations where such payments would be permitted under State Law.

WePay did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via a direct Twitter message, a public tweet, and an email sent through the company’s website.

Founded in 2008 following the frustration of collecting cash to cover a bachelor party and currently led by a millennial CEO, WePay says it processes billions of dollars annually for crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and online business platforms including Constant Contact.

It’s not the first time the site has shut down a charitable fundraising effort over questionable “violations.” In 2014, WePay canceled a sex worker’s campaign to raise money to pay for emergency medical bills on the grounds that the sex worker’s campaign had a “connection to pornographic items.”

Related

How to Help Those Affected by California Wildfires

Rejection by third-party payment processors is a familiar story in the marijuana industry. Many recreational and medical-marijuana dispensaries cannot accept credit card payments because of restrictions applied by merchant services companies, who, fearful of the federal Justice Department, opt not to handle money for marijuana transactions.

But to abruptly end a crowdfunding effort in the midst of a dire emergency? Somehow that feels different.

Reached for comment on Monday evening, Allen sounded more exhausted than angry.

“We’re gonna be fine—we’ve got a solution,” he said, describing the replacement plan to collect cash via a nonprofit 501(c)3 fund, donations to which would be processed via Paypal, which has no such prohibitions. “We forgot that we can’t use all the tools at society’s disposal, because we’re sort of second-class.”

Chris Roberts's Bio Image

Chris Roberts

Based in New York City, Chris Roberts has been writing about cannabis since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009. His work has been published in SF Weekly, Cannabis Now, The Guardian, High Times, and San Francisco Magazine, among others.

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  • kelley davis

    and now a fire storm of a different kind is sparked. xDLOL let us tune in as YouCaring is burnt to the ground over this.

  • webweave

    What is the name of the person or persons who made this decision?

  • Jackson Shredder

    You know the longer this B.S. With the Federal Government continues the worse it is going to become. There’s NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION so I say to all the growers and sellers out there to STOP your tax payments to the I.R.S. because you would be involving the I.R.S. in Money Laundering since it’s on the Federal Schedule. I don’t care what kind of clause the I.R.S. has to legally accept your taxes. They can start receiving their tax money when it’s removed from the Federal Schedule PERIOD !!!

    • Mike Case

      Tell that to Wesley Snipes

    • Fun Please

      Good luck.

      • Jackson Shredder

        Yeah in that case its better to keep in the black market where you don’t have to pay taxes.

        • Fun Please

          Taxes go too high or weed priced too high legal market, that’s where I’m going back to, the black market.

          • Jackson Shredder

            I could not agree more Frak.

    • disqus_YuwjDSsDp0

      I have said that from the beginning. If the cannabis business is so ‘illegal’ by federal standards, then WHY are they demanding and accepting dirty money for federal tax payments? The cannabis business is on lockdown by the federal gov’t because it is so involved in the big money it gets from Big Pharma from the government-fueled opiod crisis. That industry is much easier to control. The cannabis business is not for a myriad of reasons.

      • Jayne Dhoe

        Because they are all huge mafias. MAFIAS. And what mafias do are kill and generally act like wild apes.

  • Fun Please

    Bitcoin doesn’t seem to care –

    • Ed Sargent

      Bitcoin wallet. Buy bitcoins using CoinBase, but you cannot buy anything related to cannabis with CoinBase, you have to transfer your wallet over to BlockChain then you can buy. Buy with CoinBase, spend with BlockChain.

  • sunsetair

    Still… the difference between today and ten years ago is huge. Yes ,there a setbacks, sad, upsetting stories like this, but things are going to the right direction. More and more states are opening doors and things will get better, even if slowly.

  • Jacintho Leite Aquino Rego

    fuck the feds

  • Truepatriot_56

    How sad, you can use paypal to buy weed seeds on the internet. A bit of hypocrisy here.

  • Laura P. Schulman

    LEAFLY, please keep us informed of where Hezekiah will be able to accept funds. We need to support our family of growers in NorCal!

    Secondly, we need to send a message to these crowdsource funding people that this is not paying for “marijuana,” it’s support for families whose homes have burned to the ground! Can we start a petition, maybe?

  • kerry woods

    Don’t like it when gov’t keeps something-in this case, marijuana-illegal? convince the gov’t to legalize it, and see how much worse legalization can make the overall situation. Having said that….myself, i’m damn curious how many of these wildfires were deliberately set, either by competing illegal OR legal growers, or by state/federal law enforcement charged with eradicating illegal marijuana grow operations. considering the rapid expansion of marijuana legalization across the country over just the past 5 years, and the corresponding rise in marijuana revenues both legal and illegal, it is not surprising that legalization might be the cause of extreme activities being carried out both in support of and antithetical to the marijuana industry. It should also be noted that the rapid expansion of state-by-state marijuana legalization reflects: a) that the legal situation is in flux and offers the possibility of more effective, fair and improved legislation in the future, and; b) that the federal gov’t, after having evaluated the various state legalization efforts, will craft federal laws consistent with the needs of marijuana growers, users and gov’t combined. I don’t, at this point, feel nearly as much sympathy for marijuana growers which have been burned out by the wildfires, as for the residents, homeowners and businesses NOT directly engaged in the marijuana industry which have been displaced by the fires. Try to remember, the marijuana growers first of all should know the federal laws regarding marijuana, and whether or not their activities are at risk of violating those laws, all the while attempting to profit from marijuana cultivation; some of those same growers have been pushing the legality envelope or, in the case of totally black-market grow operations, making further legalization problematic for those trying to keep within the existing laws.

    • Elizabeth Alford

      It’s not legalization that’s the problem; it’s that marijuana is still only “sort of legal.” That “sort of” leaves all kinds of wiggle room for the government to meddle in any way they can out of a staunchly old-fashioned & uninformed guise of “morality.” Never mind that they have no problem teaming up with Big Pharma to push pills with all kinds of nasty long-term side effects that (guess what) only SORT OF work to treat anything, because they can make more money through trial and error. Meanwhile, marijuana is viable, legitimate, valuable medical resource with VERY few side effects that provides near-instant relief for millions of people suffering from a variety of physical and mental ailments. I, for one, am tired of swallowing Big Pharma’s poisonous shpiel.

      • kerry woods


        It’s not legalization that’s the problem; it’s that marijuana is still only “sort of legal.” I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways, especially when your words contradict themselves. It IS the questionable “legality” that makes it problematic for those involved who are trying to meet the legal requirements. In any case….all this is in a state of flux, has been for several years now, But, as ever, people fly off the handle prematurely even as the laws transition. Marijuana growers own the responsibility to be aware that state laws may conflict w/federal law, until such time as federal law changes. this is typical of a (no pun intended) grass roots, populist movement, the essence of the principle of a Republic, wherein the individual states take the lead until such time as federal law is formulated to accommodate the interests of all parties. Imo, what legal marijuana advocates are discovering(to their dismay) is that legalization is mostly a license to allow both gov’t and the private sector to exploit and abuse marijuana legalization. As ever, be careful what you wish for.

  • Grant Pierce

    They (Wepay) are now owned by JP Morgan so they should be classified as just another slimy fucking bank and they gladly accept 3% of the top of any other “donation”. Fucking crooks

  • Shoreline1

    Amazing.

  • Jayne Dhoe

    So there needs to be a CALexit and maybe the US government would stop spraying and decimating our best state. (I don’t live there and I still think it’s the best state.) USG is a MAFIA and the sooner people stop supporting this federal-global mafia the better. SECESSION is actually the only way to save the implosion of the US that is under way now and to save California. Actually Cannabis is a great secession issue — and there are MANY — namely we are all paying basically for a death industrial complex. Cannabis can buoy the people when they finally get rid of the mafia. Too much small thinking here. Sure we can boycott WePay but this will happen time and again as long as the feds use violent force to threaten people into compliance and to put good businesses out of business, not to mention out of homes at this point.

  • lovingc

    “We Pay” should close the doors, their bigoted attitude is abhorrent to Americans. These people are not a business to be supported. They make money on donations and that alone is a good reason to stop it.

  • Mike

    Why is it illegal? The federal government collects income tax, and payroll taxes from marijuana businesses, and they tax them at a much higher rate (40-70%), and they charge a 10% penalty, because marijuana businesses pay in cash, because they can’t get bank accounts to make the required electronic payments!!! Never trust the government or police!!!!

    • Jackson Shredder

      Well said!!

  • Chip Lyons

    I am very surprised there is not a larger push going on to Remove cannabis from the Schedule 1 designation set by the FED. I saw a video of Trey Gowdy interviewing the Director of that department and he was asking him why is it still a schedule 1. Trey explained, Since everyone in the world knows it has medicinal benefits, how can it still be classified as a schedule 1, since that classification signifies there are NO MEDICINAL BENEFITS? Being a schedule 1 is the SOLE reason for all of the red tape and regulation. Until it is removed NONE of these situations will change. Is there someone or an organization that is working to this end??? I wanna join and support it.

  • klw

    What a load of crap, and the Gov wonders why we all can’t stand them and think they are useless…….well??????? It’s past time the Feds pull their heads out and get with the damn program. Collecting tax revenue is no big deal so why the double standard????? Unfortunately I think this is one of several growing pains this new industry will have to go through.

  • Sandra Morales

    Well, if it’s not one thing it’s another! Deanz Greenz Dispensary n Portland Oregon accepts an app called CanPay! Perhaps this could b an alternative way to send donations? It’s ez to use from ur mobile phone. May need to work with them to handle remote payments as we have a scanner we use to process payments n our store.Just sayin

  • Jean Grey

    Dated, backward, puritanical bullshit. Shame.