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Compassionate Care Programs Pushed Out of California’s New Regulations

Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Donating medical marijuana to the ill, or compassionate care, was what first opened up California’s legal medical cannabis system a generation ago. But to the disappointment of advocates, California’s newly released draft regulations overseeing cannabis businesses create no room for compassionate care.

This year, California is supposed to see the final enactment of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), approved by California voters in 2016’s Proposition 64. But authorities have thus far failed to address a glaring omission in the law: any provision for the regulation of “compassionate care” providers.

On New Year’s Day, the long-awaited Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulatory Safety Act (MAUCRSA) was implemented, but final regulations to oversee cannabis enterprises were put off, leaving the businesses operating under temporary licenses. Finally, new draft regulations were released July 13. After a 45-day public commentary period, they will assume the force of law. And they have left some bitterly disappointed.

Regulations Favor For-Profit Sector

One of those disappointed cannabis activists is Joe Airone, founder and director of the Bay Area-based not-for-profit Sweetleaf Collective, which he boasts is the oldest continuously running medical marijuana provider in the state. The Sweetleaf Collective started in 1996, the same year such operations were legalized in California by Proposition 215. It started doing bike deliveries around San Francisco and has recently expanded to the Los Angeles area.

But California’s new legal cannabis system has only paralyzed their compassionate care program.

“Before, all we needed was patient paperwork for each of our collective members. We could cultivate, transport and distribute. We could manufacture cannabis products and dispense them to patients,” Airone said. “This year, that would require four different licenses — for cultivation, distribution, manufacture and dispensary or delivery — to do what we were doing last year completely legally for 150 patients. And each of those permits costs tens of thousands of dollars.”

In short, Airone says, “Costs are now prohibitive for us. The whole industry is now geared for commercial activity. There’s no space now for non-commercial activity — providing cannabis for free to those who need it most.”

Sweetleaf is a not-for-profit mutual benefit corporation under the California tax code, which is what all cannabis businesses were required to be prior to Prop 64.

“Now cannabis businesses can be regular commercial corporations and make lots money,” Airone says. “That’s what regs and laws are geared toward now.”

Kicking Compassion Down the Road

The text of Prop 64 called for a “feasibility study” for licensing “non-profit entities” in the cannabis industry — to have been completed by January 2018. It was never carried out. A November 2017 rider bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown pushed the deadline for the study back by two years — to January 2020.

Airone was hoping the newly released regulations might nonetheless provide some legal space for his collective to operate in.

“We have been working directly with the Bureau of Cannabis Control,” he says. “We have been trying to craft a non-commercial license.”

In a Bureau of Cannabis Control Advisory Committee meeting in Los Angeles on March 15, the advisory board voted unanimously to create a non-commercial license category. The sub-committee on public health found that that gap in the law constituted a “public health emergency,” and needed to be addressed as soon as possible.

“We were going on that recommendation and thought that we would have a license type before the final regulations dropped,” Airone says. “Nothing has happened. We had high hopes, and I don’t really know how to explain what’s going on right now.”

Airone says he has patients, including patients suffering from AIDS, asking him when they will be able to receive medicine again.

“I have patients asking me, ‘When can I get my stuff? I’m losing weight, when am I going to be able to get my medicine?’ With AIDS wasting syndrome, you can lose from 30 to 50 pounds in a month, and cannabis is the only thing that can help some patients…. A lot of my people aren’t going to be here in 2020.”

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Bill Weinberg on Cannabis Now

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Published: July 23, 2018

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