Cherokee County saw a surge in medical marijuana dispensary openings after the voting public in 2018 made cannabis for patients legal.

With over 2,000 dispensaries in the state, not only are they giving back to Oklahoma through license costs and taxes, many are also helping their local communities year round, especially during the holiday season.

Lotus Gold/CBD Plus has stepped up to help others by hosting toy drives and Angel trees, and by raising money for families in need.

"We are literally doing things for the community, nonstop, as we have since opened. We've all struggled - everyone from the owner to the employees. We have fought our own battles. And if we can help someone fight that battle, then we are doing exactly what we are supposed to: helping others, giving back, and being supportive is what Christmas is about," said Kandis Correa, Lotus Gold/CBD Plus manager. "We have a great group of customers and friends who help us give back to our community. Santa isn't a man in red. He is a community of people helping to ensure that we are surviving and have everything we need to get through."

Along with Arlow Jumper and Team Too Strong, the Tahlequah and Muskogee Lotus Gold/CBD Plus stores' Angel Trees will benefit children through the Salvation Army. New, unwrapped toys will be accepted through Dec. 22.

"We just did the veterans benefit and raised $1,500 for the Marines of Tahlequah to provide Christmas to local kids. With the money raised, some are donating toys back to our toy drive," said Correa. "We are currently raising money for a woman who has stage 4 breast cancer, can't pay her bills, and can't buy her kids presents. But it's an award for us to be able to help her - to ease those burdens and allow her family and Christmas."

Patients helping patients is part of the season at Tenkiller Trees Dispensary. Through the Canna-Hope Tree, patients can help sponsor another cannabis patient who may need help getting medicine.

According to Tenkiller Trees manager Jessica Brittain, a friend in the industry came up with the idea and the crew at Tenkiller felt it was a good way to give back to the community.

Patients can nominate themselves if they are in need or another patient they know of, and the program will continue through the week before Christmas.

"We're trying to keep it to severely ill and cancer patients," said Brittain. "We currently have three angels on our tree waiting to be sponsored."

These types of medical marijuana patients can also seek help at Tenkiller Trees throughout the year.

"We also have an RSO [Rick Simpson Oil] program that has donated over 400 syringes to cancer patients for a penny over the past year. We do our best as a vertically integrated cannabis company to help as many patients as we can," said Kelsey Gibson, Tenkiller Trees Dispensary owner. "In my opinion, any cannabis businesses that can afford to help patients, should; they are the only reason we have the program."

The Tahlequah and Muskogee locations of Lifted Spirits Dispensary and Pinky's Smoke Shop and Apparel are owned by brothers. Eric Colbert said they looked into a lot of area nonprofits to support this season, and chose Fostering Hope of Muskogee.

"They had the criteria I was looking for. Things we purchase, they can use right away. Two nights after our first donation, things we donated were already being used," said Colbert.

Fostering Hope has a mission to "provide immediate material needs to foster children and aid foster parents as they offer their homes and hearts." The Fostering Hope House offers a safe and friendly place for children to await placement, and many of the donations raised by Colbert and his team will go into bags for children taken out of their homes or used at the Hope House to bring comfort.

"They offer a place with a shower, toys, clothes. The children are surrounded by things there that remind them of home. A lot of times, they don't leave home with anything," said Colbert. "The most important thing is to give back to people in Muskogee and Tahlequah. This is my hometown, and I want to make sure the kids are taken care of."

Medical patients at Lifted Spirits and customers 18 and over at Pinky's can donate $1 per ticket as many times as they like before Dec. 2, and be entered to win either a medical marijuana package or a Pinky's shopping spree.

This is the second year Abliss Buds is collecting blankets for community members. New blankets are preferred, but clean, gently used ones will be accepted. For more information, call 918-458-2678.

Big Country Greens, aka BCG Dispensary, will begin their toy drive and canned food drive this week.

Co-owner Linda Falling said they often give back to the community.

"We did a drive for school supplies this year, and we did a toy drive last year. We don't normally do the food drive, but a couple of our patients work at the food bank and told us how low they are. They are having to go and buy canned foods," said Falling.

Medical marijuana patients who donate a new, unwrapped toy or two or more canned goods will receive 10 percent off their total purchase.

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