The Compassionate Use Act May Come Back to California
One of the key reasons activists, medical professionals, lawmakers, and others came together to have medical marijuana laws enacted, was a desire to see improvements in both the medical industry and criminal reform. Patients once suffering from conditions that cannabis could alleviate, now have better and healthier alternatives. These campaigns began years ago with the first big success being the passage of Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 in California.
This stage-setting piece of legislation covered several important aspects of medical marijuana use. First, it gave patients, under a valid doctor’s recommendation, the right to purchase and use marijuana for the treatment of multiple illnesses. These conditions include:
- Chronic pain
A provision was made for any other illnesses that could gain relief from marijuana use.
Secondly, Proposition 215 provided protection to patients and primary caregivers who cultivate and possess marijuana for personal medical use without fear of criminal prosecution or sanction. However, qualified patients and caregivers were limited to 8 ounces of dried marijuana and up to 6 mature plants or 12 immature plants. This was later expanded to allow for the growing of cannabis in collectives or cooperative systems. The law also protected physicians who prescribed cannabis for medical treatment. The threat of having federal prescription licenses revoked deterred many doctors from prescribing marijuana in the first place.
Despite the challenges that came with the legalization of medical marijuana, one benefit was the institution of processes needed to get the medical relief to those who needed it most. The proposition was authored by Dennis Peron, John Entwistle, Anna Boyce, Dale Gieringer, Valerie Corral, William Panzer, law attorney Leo Paoli, Scott Tracy Imler of the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center and psychiatrist Tod H. Mikuriya. Thanks to voter turnout, all these propositions have been made possible.
Dennis Peron created Proposition 215 on behalf of the loving memory of his partner Jonathan West. Mr. West consumed cannabis to treat the symptom of AIDS. Dennis, however, ran into surmounting obstacles along his path with Governor Pete Wilson’s Veto. Nonetheless, Dennis continued to pursue his cannabis legalization goals and worked along-side Dr. Tod Mikuriya to organize Prop 215. Dr. Mikuriya is an advocate and pro-active proponent of cannabis decriminalization and removal from the Schedule 1 controlled substance classification. Prop 215 allowed low-income earners to receive free cannabis assistance at no cost to them. Donated by the local for-profit cannabis dispensaries and cultivators in the state.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this campaign are the Veterans. Veterans have become a growing segment of the population with many medical needs that can be alleviated by marijuana use. From chronic pain to PTSD, many of these soldiers would automatically qualify for prescription approved by Proposition 215.
As the VA is a Federal Institution, without Prop 215, this would make it illegal for them to supply veterans’ access to marijuana. With insurance companies neglecting to cover the costs, vets have had to dig into their own pockets and the black market for this relief. During Proposition 215, for those unable to afford this, compassionate care centers that facilitate free distribution of donated marijuana were a godsend.
This arrangement worked well until the passing of Proposition 64, of The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016. On the upside, this proposition legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but on the downside, it led to the full taxation of all cannabis products, whether for profit or non-profit distribution and sale. This lack of distinction meant that the growers and distributors became unable to afford their charitable contributions as they were facing as much as 38% in sales and excise taxes on a product that was meant to be a free donation.
Some of the good-willed cannabis growers and distributors found that their donations would cost as much as ten times more to continue providing and as such, they decided to discontinue this charitable endeavor. With stringent track and trace systems put in place thanks to Proposition 64, and the heavy taxes, the compassionate care movement was hit hard with many low-income medical marijuana users left abandoned and forced to seek reprieve from the black market.
Thankfully, the Senate Bill no. 34, also known as the Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron Act, is set to make things right by easing the financial constraints that made free donations by marijuana growers and distributors so expensive. Signed into law by California governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019, this law will eliminate cultivation, retail, and excise taxes on marijuana that is donated via compassionate care programs.
Now, several nonprofits including the Shelter Project, Weed for Warriors, and A Therapeutic Alternative are resuming their donations. It is hoped that more small, medium, and large-scale growers will also join in.
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