SACRAMENTO, Calif. – New regulations set to take effect on January 1 in California could help expand access for cannabis patients struggling to keep up with rising prices.
Although profit potential is routinely highlighted in the cannabis industry, the reform movement was born out of a desire to help patients in need. Unfortunately, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), which regulates all aspects of legal cannabis sales in California, has compromised access for some patients.
MAUCRSA has essentially banned dispensaries from giving away free cannabis products and also has attached rigid taxes at every stage of cultivation, driving prices way up for patients without deep pockets. The steep prices have forced some in need of relief to turn toward the black market. Many patients, who are most in need of reliable lab-tested cannabis are now only able to afford illicit products that could be unsafe.
Richard Manning, a resident of Sacramento County, who injured himself while working domestic security for the U.S. Marines, used to rely on a network of donors who helped him access cannabis. This was common for patients after the 1996 Compassionate Use Act was approved by voters. Cultivators were allowed to donate product to dispensaries that could be provided to those living on a tight budget.
Manning, who has experienced symptoms linked to PTSD and intense physical chronic pain due to a knee injury he received while serving, claims he was able to shed his reliance on opioids and alcohol with cannabis use. Unfortunately, after MAUCRSA replaced previous regulations, Manning could no longer rely on donated cannabis. Hefty taxes on all transactions became the law of the land, even if products were intended to help those in both medical and financial need.
Now “prices at dispensaries are out of reach if you need daily medicine, and the taxes are about to go up again,” Manning told SF Chronicle. “So the black market is where a lot of veterans and low-income people turn.”
Thankfully, SB 34, signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) in October, was drafted to help rectify the situation for Manning and many others.
“[This bill] would help veterans and low-income people who are very sick access medicine by allowing compassionate care programs to partner with existing retailers to facilitate the donation of medical cannabis or cannabis products on their licensed [premises],” Scott Wiener, a member of the California State Assembly and author of SB 34, said according to ABC News 10. “It also codifies existing Bureau of Cannabis [Control] regulations that permit retailers to donate cannabis and cannabis products to medical patients. SB 34 would also exempt all donations of cannabis to valid medical patients from the use and cultivation taxes as we don’t tax any other medicine in California.”
SB 34 is being referred to as “The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Compassionate Care Act,” two individuals who fought through pain and illness for medicinal legalization. Hopefully, passage of the act will help usher in the return of charitable programs in California, but ultimately, only time will tell if the new economics of cannabis will leave room for those most in need.