Young medical cannabis patients lose access

Connor Caporicci can’t buy a lighter or pipe to smoke his medical-grade cannabis. Caporicci, a 19-year-old business management major, is a medical cannabis user with a legal prescription for the drug.

This is the dilemma some 18 to 20-year-old legal card holders are facing now that California has begun enforcing its new Tobacco 21 Law. Passed in May, SBX2-7 has made it illegal for anyone to provide or sell tobacco products to someone under the age of 21. The law makes an exemption for military personnel, but leaves the state’s younger medical cannabis patients struggling to getbongs the resources they need.

Retailers of pipes, bongs, vaporizers, rolling papers and other products traditionally used to smoke tobacco and marijuana have stayed under the legal radar by selling such items as tobacco products only, unless they operate as medical cannabis dispensaries. But not all dispensaries carry paraphernalia and some patients may not be close enough to one when they accidentally shatter their glass. Even smoking out of an apple requires fire.

“The hardest part [of the law] is just the inconvenience of not being able to get papers or lighters,” said Caporicci, who has been denied sale at numerous gas stations and smoke shops since the introduction of the law. “It’s just a pain in the ass.”

Although Caporicci doesn’t smoke cigarettes, he finds it “annoying” that the right has been taken away from 18-year-old adults.

Under the California Compassionate Use Act, adults 18 years and older can obtain prescriptions for medical cannabis to treat a myriad of health issues, including ailments like old injuries, anxiety and relief from cancer symptoms. Caporicci often relies on friends over the age of 21 to buy him a lighter when needed, but those friends could face penalties under SBX2-7 as well. Patients like Connor find themselves legally able to get their medicine but having to break laws to obtain a means to consume the medication.

According to the law, people under 21 can’t be cited for using or simple possession of tobacco products, but both retailers and the general public can be penalized for selling or giving anything deemed a tobacco product to anyone underage. The law is enforced by the California Department of Public Health, which works with investigators and local authorities and is given license in the bill’s language to conduct sting operations.

Ron Owens of CDPH confirmed the department’s involvement in enforcement of the law, but also stated that the CDPH “Medical Marijuana program tracks the number of Medical Marijuana Identification Cards (MMIC) issued and maintains a registry to check for MMIC card validity.”

That information suggests that retailers may not be in violation if selling specific tobacco products to underage customers with valid cards being tracked by their registry, although confirmation had not yet been received by the time this article was published.

The tobacco age law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, which doesn’t require voter approval. But Californians will likely have an opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization for recreational use under Proposition 64 during the November election. However, that measure is aimed to legalize recreational usage for adults over 21. For now, it seems as though an amendment to SBX2-7 is the only solution for underage cannabis patients, but no such initiatives have been publicly discussed.

The California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency does not have a clear solution to the problem presented to younger cannabis patients.  “There is some confusion,” said Russ Heimerich, deputy secretary of communications for BCSH under Governor Brown. “A lot of the stuff that can be used for marijuana can also be used for tobacco.”

The author of the bill, Senator Ed Hernandez, was unavailable for comment at the time this article was written, although his webpage explaining the bill states that “medical marijuana is regulated separately from tobacco, so it does not fall under this law.” However, SBX2-7 doesn’t explicitly mention the words medical, medicinal, marijuana or cannabis.

An employee at Sunshine Coast, a popular tobacco/smoke shop on Haight Street, confirmed that they will not allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter the store, even if they present a valid medical cannabis card.

“It’s just a grey area that hasn’t been defined,” said the employee, who preferred not to provide their name.

“It’s a conflict.”

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