Gov. Newsom Signs Medical Marijuana Compassionate Care Bill Into Law

Gov. Newsom Signs Medical Marijuana Compassionate Care Bill Into Law

The bill would exempt compassionate care programs from state cannabis taxes.

After years of support from compassionate care providers, veterans groups and medical marijuana advocates, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-34—the Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act—into law on October 12, 2019.

High Times reported that the bill—named after San Francisco medical marijuana activists, Dennis Peron and Mary Jane Rathbun—would exempt compassionate care programs from state cannabis taxes.

High Tax Rates Have Hindered Compassionate Care Programs

The programs, which provide medicinal marijuana to low-income patients for minor fees or free of charge, have either been shuttered or incapacitated by the Golden State’s high marijuana tax rate, which as of January 2019 stood at 15%. The passage of the bill will allow such programs to continue to provide assistance to patients who may have turned to the state’s black market industry for cannabis.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), issued a statement that said, in part, “Access to medical cannabis has allowed so many people living with HIV, cancer, PTSD, and other health conditions to survive and thrive. Taxing programs that give away free medical cannabis, and thus have no revenue, makes no sense and has caused far too many of these programs to close. SB-34 will allow compassionate care programs to survive and serve those in need.”

The Bill Was Vetoed Back In 2018 

The bill nearly passed in 2018, but then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the legislation, citing that exempting compassionate care programs from the same tax rate as retail cannabis businesses might run contrary to the decision of voters who passed Proposition 64, the state’s marijuana legalization initiative.

But as Josh Drayton, Communication and Outreach Director for the California Cannabis Industry Association, told High Times, “While Prop 64 did not intend to cut off medical cannabis to compassionate use patients, by imposing all state taxes on donated cannabis products, licensed operators have been inhibited from donating product, and as a result, patients have been forced to the unregulated, illicit market to get their much needed medicine.”

The Bill Pays Homage To Noted Marijuana Activists Dennis Peron & “Brownie Mary”

California NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp was pleased to see that the bill paid homage to Peron and Rathbun, who earned the nickname “Brownie Mary” for baking cannabis brownies for, among others, AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s. Both were key figures in the passage of Prop 215, which in 1996 made California the first state to exempt caregivers and patients from criminal charges for medical marijuana possession or cultivation.

“Compassion is what they were all about,” she said. “And [that’s] what first brought medical marijuana to all of us in California and the nation,” Komp told High Times.

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