Senator Wiener Introduces Bill to Save Compassionate Care Programs that Provide Free Cannabis to People with Serious Illnesses

May 24, 2018

Sacramento –  Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced a new bill to exempt compassionate care programs from paying state cannabis taxes when they are providing free medical cannabis to financially disadvantaged people living with serious health conditions. Due to an oversight in how Prop 64 was drafted, these not-for-profit donation programs that have been serving medical cannabis patients for decades are now being forced to pay taxes meant for businesses, which are forcing these charity programs to shut down.

SB 829 is co-authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) and supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, Cal NORML, East Bay Canna Compassion, The Green Cross, and Weed for Warriors. The language, which will be introduced today, can be read here

Following the passage of Prop 215 in 1996, which legalized medical use of cannabis in California, not-for-profit compassionate care programs started providing free cannabis to financially-disadvantaged individuals with medical cannabis prescriptions for illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and other life-threatening conditions. Cultivators and retailers donate the cannabis to these programs, which then provide the cannabis for free to patients who are already struggling under significant medical expenses.

With the enactment of Prop 64, which legalized adult use of cannabis in California, taxes were put in place for both adult use and medical use of cannabis. These taxes were designed to be applied to all cannabis that enters the commercial market, which compassionate use cannabis does not enter because it is neither bought nor sold. However, due to an ambiguity in drafting of Prop 64, there is no way for cannabis designated for compassionate use to avoid being assessed the cultivation tax. That means that compassionate care programs are forced to pay high taxes on a product that is neither bought nor sold, effectively crippling the compassionate care programs and leading to mass closures of these donation-based programs.

“Compassionate care programs aid people who are seriously ill and suffering, and we should be helping them thrive, not squeezing them with business taxes that are forcing many of them to close,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “These programs are a way for cultivators and retailers to donate free cannabis through non-profit collectives to some of our most vulnerable residents – they are a way for Californians to take care of each other. Let’s correct this oversight in Prop 64, and help people living with serious conditions like HIV and cancer get the medical cannabis they need.” 

“Prior to Prop 64, many not-for-profit compassionate care programs were helping financially disadvantaged folks obtain medical cannabis free of charge for their life-threatening health conditions but Prop 64 threw a pretty big wrench into that system,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood “I’m proud to join Senator Wiener’s bill, as a co-author, so that these organizations can once again receive donations from cultivators and help patients treat their symptoms and maintain the best quality of life possible.”

SB 829 would exempt qualifying compassionate care programs from state cultivation and excise taxes, by creating a non-commercial license for them to operate under. Once a compassionate care program is certified by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, they will receive their non-commercial license, which will allow cultivators to donate their cannabis without having to pay the cultivation tax.

“We support allowing compassionate programs to provide free medical marijuana to patients in need without being burdened by taxes,” said Tamar Todd, Director of Legal Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill provides a straight forward, common sense solution to an urgent problem impacting many suffering patients in the state.”

“Since the beginning of this year, low income terminally ill patients, children, veterans, and seniors have been kept from receiving free medical cannabis,” said Joe Airone, founder of Sweetleaf, which has provided medical cannabis to people living with HIV/AIDS since 1996. “SB 829 will reopen the door of cannabis compassion to those who need it most. The time is now. Lives are on the line.”

“California NORML has heard from many veterans, seniors and disabled Californians, who are alarmed and often desperate by the effect that newly enacted laws have had on compassionate medical cannabis programs that benefit indigent patients,” said Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of California NORML. “We thank Senator Wiener for introducing language to protect indigent patients whose access to compassionate programs has been put in peril as a result of unintended consequences of newly passed laws.”

SB 829 Language:

SB 829 Fact Sheet: