After a multiyear effort by advocates, Governor Gavin Newsom announced over the weekend he had signed SB-34, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, in support of medical marijuana compassion care programs. 

The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, named for San Francisco’s beloved pioneering medical marijuana activists, would exempt compassionate care programs from state cannabis taxes. For twenty years these programs have provided for low-income patients across the state their medicine for little to no money. 

In recent years the programs were devastated by the cost of doing business in California’s developing legal cannabis market. When adult-use sales began almost two years ago on New Year’s Day 2018, there was no mechanism to exempt these programs from the wild tax rates that have helped the illicit market in California grow to three times the legal one. Hence many programs disappeared or withered to a shell of their former selves. 

Even worse, many of those patients once participating in the programs lived on fixed incomes. They were likely forced back to the illicit market due to the regulatory overheard consumers are forced to cover in pricing schemes for California’s legal cannabis businesses.  

Advocates almost tasted success a year ago. But then-Governor Jerry Brown ended up vetoing the bill only 10 months after Dennis Peron passed away. At the time Brown feared the bill would somehow undermine the will of the voters. 

It’s not very difficult to argue that 2018 was the worst year for medical marijuana in California since Denis Peron, Brownie Mary, and their comrades passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

California to Continue a Legacy of Compassion With The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act

But all those roadblocks are now a thing of the past and advocates and producers can now establish a plan to get these programs back to their once-robust levels. 

The bill’s chief sponsor State Senator Scott Wiener released a statement on the signing. 

“For decades, compassion programs have played a critical role in helping low income people with serious medical conditions access their medicine,” Wiener said, “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. Many people will be healthier as a result of today’s action by the Governor.”

We reached out to the California Cannabis Industry Association to get their take on what the bill will mean for the industry

“The roots of our state’s thriving cannabis industry began in compassionate care,” CCIA’s 

Communication and Outreach Director Josh Drayton told High Times in an email. “Since 1996, compassionate care programs have been able to donate medicinal cannabis to low-income Californians with a valid medical recommendation, including veterans with PTSD, cancer patients, and individuals suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Like many, Drayton pointed to the ramifications Proposition 64 ended up having on compassion programs as unexpected. “Sadly, while Prop 64 did not intend to cut off medicinal cannabis access 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,” he said. 

Drayton hopes The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act signing will help the industry remember its roots. 

“As the passage of this bill provides a pathway for California’s most vulnerable cannabis patients to receive the care they need regardless of income, it reminds us all (business owners, consumers, and advocates alike) why we are here and why we continue this fight,” Drayton said. 

California NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp told High Times the broad and dedicated coalition that worked to pass SB34 included compassion providers, veterans groups, and others. Komp was especially excited to see the bill’s namesakes be a part of something that would have been so important to them, “since compassion is what they were all about, and what first brought medical marijuana to all of us in California and the nation,” she said. 

While advocates have crossed off one of the major boxes in their plans for cannabis in California with the signing of SB-34, the road is still a long one.

“The struggle is never over when a law passes: implementation is key. Cal NORML will be watching and gathering input from those who require compassionate cannabis in the months to come,” Komp said, “Berkeley is the only jurisdiction I know of that requires compassion programs; I never heard any providers complaining about them when it was in place.” 

Introduce Yourself: Name, Company, Goals