The Tragedy of SB 829: California’s Lowest-Income Pot Patients Hit Hardest
An effort to save California’s medical cannabis compassion programs was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown over the weekend, but longtime providers plan to find a solution for the patients devastated by the action.
On Sept. 30, the last day that the governor could sign or veto bills from the 2018 legislative session, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 829, a bill that would have provided tax exemptions to compassionate care programs that provide free medical cannabis to financially disadvantaged people living with serious health conditions.
Brown claimed in his statement on the SB 829 veto decision that providing free cannabis to a person with only a doctor’s recommendation undermines what California voters intended when they voted in favor of Proposition 64 in November 2016.
However, compassionate care programs have a long history in California. Proposition 215, which originally put medical marijuana laws on the books in California back in 1996, was titled the Compassionate Use Act. It was the start of the marijuana policy reform snowball across the country.
Brown’s veto will force many of the neediest members of the community back to the local gridlock, as compassionate care providers face steep operating costs with no tax respite.
Seniors and the disabled across the state will be required to navigate their county healthcare system in hopes of acquiring a state-legal medical identification card and the accompanying number that attached to their purchases proves compliance for operators. For those living on a fixed income, the medical identification cards can cost up to at least a couple hundred dollars, when medical and county fees are all said and done.
Hezekiah Allen, the outgoing California Growers Association executive director, ripped into Brown for the move.
“The veto of SB 829 is unconscionable,” Allen said. “With the commercial market on the verge of failure, the needs of patients are not being met. There is a basic principle that guides the work I do: access to medicinal cannabis is a human right.”
Allen went on to note further action might be needed at the ballot box to remedy the situation.
“I appreciate and respect Scott Wiener [the representative who authored SB 829] and the other lawmakers who voted this out of both houses,” he said. “If this is — as Governor Brown has indicated — in conflict with the provisions of [Proposition 64], then let me say clearly, to every Californian: we must change this in 2020. All stakeholders of conscience must do all they can to ensure medicinal cannabis accessible and affordable in every corner of our state.”
California NORML Deputy Director and Cannabis Now contributor Ellen Komp confirmed that, of the eight cannabis-related bills Brown vetoed over the weekend, SB 829 seems to be hitting the community hardest.
“I’ve seen the most reaction to that one, particularly because his veto message was so callous and in conflict with Props. 215 and 64, both of which state as their intent to provide access for those in medical need,” Komp said. “People are also upset that he vetoed SB 1127, to allow parents to bring cannabis medicines to their children at school. In both cases, he indicated he might have approved a narrower bill.”
In California cities like San Francisco and Berkeley, compassion programs providing to the less fortunate have been a backbone of the local cannabis scene for nearly 20 years.
Etienne Fontan, the vice-president of the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary, said that the cannabis storefront will not stop giving away free cannabis to low-income medical marijuana patients, despite the cost.
“We will continue to serve the low-income patients and those most in need of medical cannabis,” Fontan told Cannabis Now. “We’ll continue to work on it diligently again in Sacramento and won’t stop until we get compassionate giving legal again. BPG started compassionate giving when we opened nearly 19 years ago and we’re not going to stop now. We have more work to do to arrive at the place we need to be.”
Fontan said BPG is terribly disappointed, but they’re not giving up.
“Compassion has been the foundation and the cornerstone of California’s cannabis industry,” he said. “We do not believe it was the intent of the voters to remove safe access to patients who can’t afford their medicine or have the means to jump through all the red tape currently required.”
SB 829 is expected to be reintroduced under a new governor next year.
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