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Cannabis Watch: Wana Brands CEO makes seven-figure donation to fund cannabis research

Wana Brands founder and CEO Nancy Whiteman is stepping up her charitable activities with $3 million for cannabis and psychedelic medicine research at Johns Hopkins University — the largest donation yet from the Wana Brands Foundation.

Whiteman said the Johns Hopkins donation aligns with the cannabis edibles maker’s emphasis on mental health, a cause that she called “close to my heart.” 

While Whiteman steers Wana Brands for more growth with new edibles such as its Optimals Stay Asleep product, she is also actively promoting a social agenda.

The Wana Brands Foundation logo is prominently featured on the company’s product packaging.

Wana Brands

The company’s key focuses include food security, housing, domestic violence, LGBTQIA+ rights and racial justice within the cannabis industry. Wana Brands has long supported the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit dedicated to releasing from prison and expunging the criminal records of people jailed for cannabis offenses.

The company has also funded a study on autism and donated to related causes, and it supports the Realm of Caring, a nonprofit that provides grants to fund cannabis research and to connect people with medical resources to treat a variety of illnesses.

The $3 million donation from the Wana Brands Foundation includes $2 million for the Johns Hopkins University Cannabis Science Laboratory and its team led by Ryan Gregory Vandrey, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as well as $1 million for the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. 

Vandrey confirmed the gift and said the cannabis science lab plans to use the money to conduct initial research on potential therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of autism. His team is collaborating with Jay Salpekar, a pediatric neuropsychiatrist and the medical director of the Neuropsychiatry in Epilepsy Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

“This is the first philanthropic gift to the JHU Cannabis Science Laboratory and we are incredibly grateful to the Wana Brands Foundation for its support of our work,” Vandrey said in an email to MarketWatch. “Such gifts allow us to conduct the science that we believe would be most impactful in areas of true innovation and scientific interest without being constrained by the priorities of other funding agencies.”

The Wana Brands Foundation, which Whiteman established with $50 million from the company’s $297.5 million payment from Canopy Growth Corp. CGC CA:WEED in 2021, made its first donations in the spring of 2022. The Johns Hopkins donation, however, marks its first major move in the philanthropic arena.

Also read: Canopy Growth speeds up entry to U.S. cannabis market instead of waiting for federal ban to be lifted

About her role on the board of directors of Canopy USA — the planned entity that will hold Canopy Growth’s U.S. assets, including Wana Brands, Jetty Extracts and Acreage Cannabis Inc


— Whiteman said it’s early days yet.

“I’m super thrilled,” she said. “The board over time will figure out how to structure the new organization to let synergies flow between the two companies and leverage what everybody is best at. We’re in the early stages, but all of the underlying companies will remain who they are.”

Canopy USA will resemble a holding company that will allow brands to continue working to gain market share and stand out in the cannabis industry. As a parent company, Canopy Growth would offer resources to the companies within Canopy USA, such as research and development facilities. 

“Canopy understands that building a brand is a lot of work,” Whiteman said.

Wana Brands

Looking ahead, Wana Brands plans to continue to expand its Wana Optimals product line with the Stay Asleep product. The company has also increased its staff to 120 from 100 in the past year.

The Wana Brands Foundation is looking for other opportunities to contribute to causes on both the local and national levels. It plans to provide resources to meet immediate needs as well as to fund longer-term initiatives that address the root causes of societal issues. 

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