Brown Vetoes Compassionate Care

A flurry of bills approved during California’s 2018 legislative session met their fate over the weekend.

There was no rest for Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday. Facing a Sept. 30 deadline to sign or veto bills from the recently concluded legislative year, he weighed in on no fewer than 20 potential laws connected to cannabis.

One of the most substantial victories was AB 1793, which will automatically expunge or re-sentence prior cannabis convictions, expanding on efforts already underway in San Francisco and Alameda counties.

In a statement, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri praised AB 1793 as “an important and necessary move to ensure justice for individuals previously criminalized for marijuana offenses in California.” The law requires the California Department of Justice to review conviction records for eligible individuals before July 1, 2019. NORML estimates that approximately 500,000 Californians stand to benefit from this new law, be it through the dismissal of past convictions, having their records sealed, or winning a substantial reduction of their current sentences.

Another bill that received Gov. Brown’s signature is AB 2020. Authored by Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), the new law will allow for cities to approve temporary cannabis events. Currently, cities can only permit cannabis sales at special events if they took place at county fairgrounds.

Speaking with SF Weekly, Quirk emphasized how his bill will benefit small growers who can now potentially sell their crops at local events and better compete with large-scale producers.

“Much like we have great wineries in Napa and Sonoma,” he said, “we have great cannabis grown locally in Mendocino and in other counties in the northern part of the state. Now they can get their product out there and explain why it’s a better product. I think that this is a way for us to preserve the small grower.”

While hesitant to draw any conclusions about how AB 2020 might be seen as a stepping-stone to cannabis sales at mainstream festivals like San Francisco’s Outside Lands or Napa’s BottleRock, Quirk emphasized that bipartisan support was a huge factor in getting his bill to Brown’s desk.

“There are Democrats that don’t care for cannabis, and there are Republicans who think it’s important to legalize,” he said. “I got support from both parties and opposition from both parties. While I would certainly say, as a party, that the Democrats are more supportive, this bill would not have happened without support from Republicans.”

In total, Gov. Brown approved 17 cannabis-related bills, including AB 2215 (which permits veterinarians to discuss cannabis with pet owners), SB 1295 (which will create a statewide equity program similar to ones already in place in several Bay Area cities), and AB 2914 (which bans cannabis licensees from serving alcohol and alcoholic-beverage licensees from serving cannabis at their respective, permitted establishments).

Eight other cannabis-related bills died by Brown’s pen.

SB 829 — authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) — focused on Proposition 64’s failure to omit compassionate-care programs from being taxed at the same rate as retail cannabis businesses. In vetoing the bill, Gov. Brown noted that providing free cannabis “undermines” the intent of those who voted for Prop. 64. Given that California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 — a ballot measure created in large part to aid low-income patients who otherwise would not have access to cannabis — Brown’s reasoning is sure to anger many figures in the industry.

SB 829 would also have allowed cannabis businesses to bring back free samples. Currently, companies like CannaCraft and Legion of Bloom are only able to provide non-medicated samples, which many people view as a major impediment in efforts to lure new customers and promote their products.

Equally discouraging was Gov. Brown’s decision to veto SB 1127 — a bill designed to allow parents to administer medical cannabis to their children at school. The recent publicity surrounding 5-year-old Santa Rosa girl Brooke Adams (who is prone to frequent seizures) and her mother, Jana, shone a light on the growing need for legislation aimed at protecting children who rely on medical cannabis. While Brooke won her court case last month and now attends Village Elementary School, Gov. Brown opined that SB 1127 was “overly broad” in that it wasn’t specifically tailored to children who suffer from seizures.

As research continues to uncover a myriad of medicinal uses for cannabis, it seems clear that a law aimed at protecting only a select subset of minors with a specific condition would be a temporary fix at best.

It’s also important to emphasize that none of these vetoed bills represents the final say on the matter. Should current Lieutenant Governor — and noted cannabis industry supporter — Gavin Newsom win his bid for governor later this fall, it’s likely that revised versions of SB 829 and SB 1127 will shortly find their way to his desk.

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

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