A California Senate bill aimed at restoring California dispensaries’ ability to give away cannabis for free was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last Friday. Gov. Brown cited conflicts between the “Compassionate Access” medical marijuana bill and Proposition 64, the state’s adult-use legislation. But supporters of SB 829, including the group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), say that was the point of the bill in the first place: to eliminate a restriction within Prop. 64 that prevented compassionate care donations to medical cannabis patients in need. Now, critics of Gov. Brown’s veto of SB 829 are demanding lawmakers find other solutions to provide safe and affordable access to medical cannabis. The bill is back in the Senate for consideration of the governor’s veto.
In states with legal adult-use cannabis, “gifting” weed is totally permissible—at least for individuals. Indeed, in places like Vermont, gifting serves as a stop-gap measure for states with legal possession and use but no legal, regulated retail system. With selling cannabis illegal, but possession and use legal, gifting lets people exchange cannabis in a legal way. But when California passed the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), or Prop. 64, gifting became complicated.
When the law took effect in January of this year, it established new rules that prevent cannabis dispensaries from gifting or giving away cannabis for free. As a result, the law eliminated something that had been a commonplace in California—which became first state to legalize cannabis for compassionate use back in 1999: donations to medical patients in need.
SB 829 would have amended that rule to allow cannabis dispensaries to give away cannabis for free. Specifically, the bill would have changed the Business and Professions Code to allow retail shop donations under certain qualifying conditions. Under the current rules, cannabis dispensaries with AUMA licenses cannot legally provide free cannabis goods to any person. They can’t even let unaffiliated customers gift products on the premises. Some medical retailers and other micro-businesses can obtain special licenses to donate cannabis, however. And essentially, SB 829 would have extended those privileges to retail dispensaries, with a few exceptions.
Despite California’s adult-use retail market and well-established medical industry, not all Californians can afford the cost of cannabis on those markets. Low-income patients and patients with limited access to dispensary options are particularly affected by the high costs of cannabis in California. SB 829 was a bill promoting cannabis equity. It would have benefitted low-income patients by allowing dispensaries to provide them with free cannabis products. It’s similar to the way medical supply companies make donations to hospitals. Only in this case, dispensaries could have made donations directly to patients in need.
The ASA says Gov. Brown’s veto of the Compassionate Access bill effectively forces low-income patients to pursue donations on the black market. As a result, they say the fight for safe and affordable access to medical cannabis in California isn’t over. The veto also impacts California’s retail cannabis businesses. Under the vetoed bill, donations would have been tax deductible and exempt from cultivation and excise taxes.
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