A bill that would have allowed California marijuana merchants to give product away free of charge to low-income people was one of a slew of drug policy reform proposals rejected over the weekend by Gov. Jerry Brown, who is approaching the end of his 50-year career in public service on a prohibitionist, obstructionist note.
Despite California’s reputation as a progressive, forward-leaning state on issues like climate change—a pet issue of the governor—Brown, a Democrat, in recent days has rejected bills that would have provided for:
*safe-injection sites to alleviate the opiate overdose crisis;
*licensed commercial cannabis retailers to deduct business expenses;
*schools to allow children medical marijuana access on campus;
*multiple licensed marijuana businesses to share in common required resources like breakrooms and lobbies and
*an expansion of the California Marijuana Research Program.
Brown did sign bills over the weekend that allow for an expansion of hemp farming and for the removal or reduction of prior cannabis convictions.
One of the proposals the governor rejected, Senate Bill 829, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would have authorized licensed cannabis retailers to “offer free cannabis or cannabis goods” to medical marijuana patients. But Brown said no, on the basis that it violated California’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law, Prop. 64.
Under current state law, licensed medical-cannabis retailers are prohibited from giving away samples free-of-charge.
That’s a break from past practices pre-legalization, when medical marijuana dispensaries often provided free or steeply discounted cannabis to low-income patients, whose government-subsidized health insurance would pay for pharmaceutical drugs like opiates, but not cannabis.
“Providing free cannabis to a person with only a doctor’s recommendation undermines the intent of the voters,” Brown wrote in his Sept. 30 rejection message.
The governor’s excuse confused and infuriated cannabis advocates, who dismissed Brown’s reasoning as unsound or dishonest.
“With most of these bills, at least the administration gave us the rationale—maybe they can be fixed through the regulatory process, maybe they’re at least acceptable in their eyes,” Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.
But with SB 829, “I was left a little shell-shocked,” Drayton said. “There was no rationale behind it, other than it violates statute. That one really took me by surprise.”
Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML called Brown’s veto message “off-point and outrageous.”
“Nowhere does Prop. 64 say that it is intended to impede free donations of medicine to needy patients,” he wrote in an email on Monday.
“The purposes and intents section of the initiative is clear that it pertains only to adult-use marijuana, and does not override Prop 215 [California’s original medical marijuana law, passed in 1996],” he added. “This state could use a new Governor. Fortunately we’re in luck on that score.”
In a tweet on Monday, Wiener, SB 829’s sponsor, vowed to try again next year.
The Governor vetoed our bill to protect “compassionate care” #cannabis programs from state taxes. These programs give medical cannabis to low income ppl for free. They have no revenue & can’t pay taxes. #SB829 would exempt them from taxes so they don’t shut down. We’ll be back. pic.twitter.com/10FqeL2uuY
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) October 1, 2018
The frontrunner to replace the term-limited Brown is current Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was an early endorser of marijuana legalization and has accepted campaign donations from cannabis interests.
For marijuana industry insiders and advocates tired of the incumbent, Newsom is seen as vast improvement.
But it would be hard work for any politician to appear less marijuana-friendly than Jerry Brown, who has seen fit to dismiss cannabis or its consumers even when off-topic.
In a recent interview with The New York Times on the subject of climate change, for example, Brown suggested that marijuana legalization was somehow distracting from the task of reducing carbon emissions.
“We either do nothing and smoke marijuana because it’s legalized, or we put our shoulder to the plow and do everything we can,” the governor said, apropos of nothing (aside from whatever was on his mind at the moment, which was evidently marijuana).
The remark was just the latest in a string of gratuitous insults lobbed at the cannabis community by Brown over the years.
It’s not entirely clear what’s behind Brown’s obvious distaste for marijuana legalization and related reforms. He has not shared his reasoning, nor is there any particular incident from his decades in public service that is revelatory on the matter.