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California Attempts To Revive Compassionate Cannabis Programs

The original intent of the Compassionate Use Act was to get cannabis to patients battling cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other illnesses.(GETTY STOCK IMAGES)

Due to a new law, cannabis growers and distributors no longer have a financial liability for giving their products away.

For years, Richard Manning knew what he needed to cope with his physical pain, rage and PTSD — much of which he traced to a career-ending knee injury he suffered while on a domestic security detail with the Marines.

Cannabis may not have been a cure-all, but it was the closest thing he’d ever had to one.

Manning, a resident of Elk Grove, Calif., didn’t have enough money to buy the daily amount of cannabis he needed, but he was able to get it through a network of charitable donors spawned by the Compassionate Use Act, a 1996 California law that allowed marijuana to be used for medical purposes.

In the wake of that law’s enactment, growers and distributors began donating part of their cannabis crop to often-tiny nonprofit collectives — and later to dispensaries —which passed it along free to low-income patients.

Using cannabis regularly helped Manning kick prescription opioids and alcohol and get back on his feet, he said.

But the donations he relied on virtually dried up after the 2016 passage of Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in California and began taxing it at every stage of production and distribution — no matter its ultimate destination.

It treated any cannabis leaving a shop as a sale.

That meant cannabis was taxed the same — at rates that sometimes exceeded 38% — whether it was donated or sold for profit.

When the taxes and the heavy regulations that accompanied them took full effect in 2018, the impact on the compassionate care movement was immediate and profound. Manning and others in his situation saw their options dwindle.

Today, “the prices at dispensaries are out of reach if you need daily medicine, and the taxes are about to go up again,” said Manning, 44. “So the black market is where a lot of veterans and low-income people turn.”

The prospect of poor and sick patients being driven underground for cannabis, or losing access to it altogether, was a major impetus behind a new law, SB-34, that will remove the cultivation, retail and excise taxes on cannabis donated through compassionate care programs.

The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, eliminates much of the financial liability that cannabis growers and distributors face for giving their products away.

As a result, some compassionate care groups that curtailed or entirely halted their charitable ventures in the wake of Proposition 64 are now thinking about rekindling them. But even some of those who plan to participate say it’s unclear whether the full network can be revived.

“It’s a little bit hard to see right now,” said Lindsey Friedman, who runs the Shelter Project, a charitable cannabis operation belonging to Inglewood-based Jetty Extracts. “It’s a weird, gray area.”

The original intent of the Compassionate Use Act was to get cannabis to patients battling cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other illnesses. The high cost of using it regularly was — and still is — a critical factor.

“It’s expensive, and it’s not covered by insurance,” said Kimberly Cargile, CEO of A Therapeutic Alternative, a Sacramento dispensary.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Mark Kreidler on U.S. News

Published: December 20, 2019

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