Sen. Wiener’s bill providing free cannabis to seriously ill passes 1st assembly committee


Sacramento – Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) bill to exempt compassionate care programs, in partnership with licensed retailers, from paying state commercial cannabis taxes when they are providing free medical cannabis to financially disadvantaged people living with serious health conditions passed the Assembly Business and Professions Committee with a 16-0 vote. It will now head to the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation for a hearing in the coming weeks. This bill is modeled off of Senator Wiener’s SB 829, which was vetoed by Governor Brown last year. 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.

“Compassionate care programs save lives by ensuring that low income people with serious illnesses have access to the medicine they need,” said Senator Wiener. “It’s absurd to insist that these programs pay taxes, since they have no revenue. So many people living with HIV, cancer, PTSD, and other serious conditions rely on compassionate care programs for their medicine. We need to ensure that access continues.”

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. These programs partner with retailers and encourage them to donate cannabis to patients who are already struggling under significant medical expenses.

“No-cost medical cannabis, pioneered by Bay Area dispensaries, has played a critical role in patient care,” said Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). “SB34 continues this tradition and ensures that low-income Californians have access to medical cannabis to treat their health conditions.”

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 apply to all cannabis that enters the commercial market. Compassionate use cannabis does not enter the market 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 donations to avoid the cultivation, use, and any local tax. That means that retailers and compassionate care programs are forced to pay high taxes on a product that is donated, effectively crippling the compassionate care programs and leading to mass closures of these donation-based programs.

This bill exempts all donations of cannabis and cannabis products to patients holding a valid physician’s recommendation or a medical identification card from the use and cultivation taxes enacted by Proposition 64. It will also allow compassionate care programs to facilitate donations from a licensed retailer, thereby allowing them to restart this service without facing the prohibitive costs.

SB 34 is co-authored by Senators Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Jeff Stone (R-La Quinta), and Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), Ken Cooley (R-Rancho Cordova), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), and Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa). It is sponsored by the California Cannabis Industry Association and supported by Drug Policy Alliance, APLA Health, Equality California, the Southern California Veterans Coalition, and many more.