Under New Pot Rules, Patients Feel the Pain

California medical marijuana patients that cannot afford cannabis have long benefited from “compassionate care programs” in which nonprofits donate medical cannabis to those in serious need. But new state rules are making the continuance of these programs nearly impossible, placing the quality of life of HIV and cancer patients at risk.

Under new state laws, cannabis enterprises must pay taxes on all of their products, including the samples and donations they’re handing out for free. That has put a serious damper on the model of compassionate care.

"People are going to die because of this" said Joe Airone, founder of donation-based Sweetleaf, which has had to cease operations. As it stands, they would owe $50,000 for 100 lbs of cannabis that they make no profit on. Airone estimates that 150 patients, many of them suffering from terminal illness, have been affected by his business’s hiatus alone.

In the future, and specifically by 2020, cannabis nonprofits may be able to apply for their own unique set of licenses and resume compassionate care as usual. But for many patients, it will come too late.

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