Last month, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced Senate Bill 1186, stating that it will “restore access to medical cannabis across the state.”
If you’re not in the weeds of California cannabis politics (so to speak), you might be thinking, “Wait, whaa? I thought the Golden State pioneered medical cannabis decades ago?”
Yeah, we did. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana way back in 1996. Twenty years later, we passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (also known as Proposition 64), legalizing the recreational use of cannabis by adults.
Unfortunately, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Five years after the passage of Prop 64, there are fewer cannabis retailers in the state than there were in 2015. Medical cannabis is more expensive and harder to find than a decade ago.
So, what happened?
The root of the problem can be found in Prop 64’s dual licensing structure. Cannabis businesses must be licensed by both the state and local jurisdiction; local jurisdictions can choose to opt out of the regulated cannabis economy. And most did just that. Before Prop 64, there was a mom-and-pop dispensary or delivery service in every California jurisdiction. After its passage, adult-use and medical cannabis businesses were banned in nearly two-thirds of California cities.
Prop 64 thus inadvertently triggered the closure of thousands of medical cannabis dispensaries and the creation of new “dry” zones across the state where criminals have a monopoly on cannabis commerce.
This isn’t a theoretical or political issue. It’s a human one. Cannabis is extremely good at making people who are seriously ill feel better:
- The prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has reported that there is “conclusive” evidence that oral cannabinoids are “effective in preventing and treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in adults.
- The same National Academies of Science and Engineering report found “substantial” evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for adult chronic pain.
- A UC Berkeley study found that 81% of patients reported that cannabis alone was actually more effective at relieving their pain than using opioids – and a whole lot safer. ● A study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, several local VA Health Care Systems, and other institutions collaborated on a year-long study of PTSD which found that PTSD sufferers who used cannabis were 2.57 times more likely to recover during the study than those who weren’t using cannabis.
Cancer patients looking for help tolerating treatment, the veterans looking for a non-pharmaceutical alternative for PTSD-related sleep issues and stress; the chronic pain patients looking for a safe, long-term alternative to opioids. . . These are the people for whom California wrote the Compassionate Care Act, and the people to whom we owe a duty of loyalty today.
With SB 1186, Senator Weiner hopes to right this wrong and prioritize patient health. The bill does not seek to overturn local control or prevent local jurisdictions from “just saying no” to non-medicinal cannabis businesses. It simply prevents jurisdictions from barring patients from accessing the medicine they need.
In other words, it honors Californian voters’ long-standing commitment to ensure that Californian patients have safe and effective medicinal cannabis and cannabis products.
The cannabis industry is as diverse and heterogeneous as the plant itself. There’s much we disagree on. But I think we can all agree with Senator Wiener when he says: “We must ensure that anyone who needs medical cannabis can access this very important and even life-saving medicine.”
Guest contributor Tiffany Devitt is chief of regulatory affairs at CannaCraft and a board member of the California Cannabis Industry Association. Her views do not necessarily reflect the views of WeedWeek or its editors. WeedWeek welcomes contributions from industry experts. Ideas can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.