Business

Roundup: Brown vetoes multiple marijuana bills as deadline passes

Ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline to either approve or veto bills passed by the state legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown struck down a string of cannabis-related proposals, including multiple bills granting financial leeway to cultivators and another that would have taken a step toward allowing students to use medical marijuana at school.

Brown gave various reasons for the vetoes, often citing the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana act — or state Proposition 64 — which legalized recreational cannabis in California in the first place.

Here are a few of the bills he has vetoed in recent weeks:

Senate Bill 829 — Free medical marijuana for low-income individuals

Before legalization, “compassionate care” programs could provide free medicinal cannabis to financially disadvantaged individuals. That changed after Proposition 64 passed, making “free samples” strictly illegal in medicinal venues.

The bill would have changed course and sent the law back to a pre-legal era. It also necessarily prompted a question: If medicine is a human right, does medical marijuana fall under that umbrella?

For now, the state’s answer is no. Brown chalked up his decision to the notion that giving free cannabis to a person with “only a doctor’s recommendation” would undermine the language of Proposition 64, as well as the intent of the Californians who voted to pass it.

The Humboldt Patient Resource Center has for eight years offered a compassion program to the community. Excessive taxes and fees have recently shortened the program’s capacity and reach, said Bryan Willkomm, the center’s manager.

“Many patients are choosing to use cannabinoids as an alternative to opioid-based medicine, however they are unable to get their insurance providers to help with the costs,” Willkomm said in an emailed statement.

Funds that the center previously used for its compassionate care program are now funneled back to the state in excise taxes and fees, Willkomm said.

“It’s unconscionable to see the bill vetoed,” said Hezekiah Allen, outgoing executive director of the California Growers’ Association. If the bill is truly in conflict with the Proposition 64, he said, then California voters “have work to do” in 2020 — namely, the proposition must be amended with another ballot measure.

Limiting low-income individuals from accessing medical cannabis indeed imposes upon their human rights, Allen said.

“People move here because they need cannabis,” he said. “They can’t drive across the state to get it. They need it accessible and affordable.”

Senate Bill 1127 — Allowing schools to let students use medical marijuana on campus

If passed, SB 1127 would have allowed local schools to permit students to access medical marijuana on campus grounds.

Minors are increasingly using cannabis for medicinal purposes, but the bill is “overly broad,” Brown wrote, as it extends the potential rule changes to all students instead of just those who are prescribed cannabis to prevent or reduce seizures.

“Generally, I remain concerned about the exposure of marijuana on youth and am dubious of its use for youth for all ailments,” Brown said in his veto statement. “This bill goes too far — further than some research has — to allow use of medical marijuana for youth.”

Given public schools’ existing policies on students using medicine on campus, the proposal was ambitious, said Josh Meisel, a Humboldt State University sociology professor and co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research.

“When my kids were in school, if they needed to take a cough drop, they had to leave it with the nurse,” Meisel said. “If (medicinal cannabis) enables a child to function in a class and learn and maintain their health, that’s certainly a decision a doctor would be able to make.”

The “human right” element of medical marijuana extends to children, Allen said.

“We’re definitely disappointed,” he noted on the stance of the Growers Association. “There’s an understanding that administering any controlled substance to a child is a sensitive process. It needs to be regulated. The state needs to figure out a process for children who do need these medicines to obtain basic quality of life.”

Assembly Bill 1996 — Expands areas of cannabis research

The bill would have expanded the areas of state-sponsored marijuana research by allowing research centers to cultivate their own cannabis. Brown again cited conflict with Proposition 64 as he vetoed it.

Public universities answer to federal law. As both California State University and the University of California fall under federal law, no campuses from either system can cultivate its own cannabis.

As a result, marijuana research in California must use cannabis exclusively from the University of Mississippi, which remains the only site that the Drug Enforcement Administration has approved to cultivate the plant.

To change that “monopoly” would have been a “gutsy” move, Meisel said. Cannabis research at HSU has been inhibited by having to use Mississippi’s cannabis for clinical experiments, he said.

“Experimental research is not conducted with real-world cannabis,” he said. “It’s not the cannabis that a person could purchase.”

That’s mainly because the cannabis is low-quality, he said. Plants delivered from Ole Miss typically still contain leaves and seeds — the kind of material real cultivators would sort out of their product, he said. For clinical experiments, a major variance in the product used can distort the conclusions.

Assembly Bill 2980 — Allowing multiple license-holders to share break rooms and lobbies

High property rent prices have driven businesses across the country into incubators, or shared work spaces. AB 2980 would have allowed businesses to share common areas, especially those — like break rooms and lobbies — that are universal to workplaces.

“This one is interesting,” Allen said. “It was a really high priority to us — we’ve been working on shared spaces and incubators for years now.”

Brown attributed his decision to the existing maze of regulations, which licensing authorities are currently working to sort out.

“Instead of changing the definitions in statute, it would be more appropriate for the licensing entities to address this in their regulations,” he wrote in his veto statement.

The bill would have been most helpful to delivery services, Allen noted. Since dispensaries that exclusively deliver need only a small venue, incubators would shave the high cost of taking up space to do business.

Despite the flurry of vetoes from the governor’s desk, Allen is focused on the future.

“Gov. Brown’s tenure is coming to an end here,” he said. “We expect this bill to come back and on the governor’s desk again next year. The current governor is letting some of these non-critical issues rest for future administration.”

Either Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or businessman John H. Cox will be California’s next governor. Brown will end his 47-year political career as the longest-tenured governor in state history this November.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.