Provider Resources and Support

A note from ASA Board Member 

Donrevised.jpgI celebrated the adoption of Proposition 215 in 1996 with friends and loved ones in Oakland. Like many of them, I had doubts along the long path to that vote. Only a few months earlier it seemed impossible that California voters would legalize medical cannabis, but that night we watched it happen. We cheered, hugged each other, and assumed the best. I thought that the battle for medical cannabis ended on that Tuesday night in 1996. I was wrong.

Proposition 215, now known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (CUA), was actually the beginning of a new struggle for patients, caregivers, and advocates. The CUA removed criminal penalties for patients and their primary caregivers, but gave no additional direction on important issues. Where would patients get medicine if they cannot or will not grow it? What if you do not have a primary caregiver? Who will pay for the cost of producing medicine? Were the dispensaries that already served patients in California legal now? Did legal patients have any real protection from discrimination in employment, housing, parental rights, or access to health care? How long would it be before the state and local governments heeded the voters call “to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana,” and what would that look like if they did?

I spent the next few years working in other social justice causes. While I spent a lot of time working on environmental and peace issues, I always stayed close to medical cannabis. Many people I love are sick. Some benefit from medical cannabis, while others must get by without it. I was as horrified as other medical cannabis advocates when the federal government started using injunctions and paramilitary-style raids to close the early access programs in the San Francisco Bay Area and West Hollywood. My friends and I decided we had to push back on federal oppression somehow.

I started opening medical cannabis dispensaries in 1999, with the goal of balancing the scales in light of federal attacks. I also supported patient-operators in opening facilities statewide. Despite persistent pressure from local and federal law enforcement, the number patients’ cooperatives and collectives has grown steadily. Hundreds of thousands of Californians now legally use medical cannabis (maybe more), and a large number rely of legal patients’ cooperatives and collectives to get their medicine.

But we are not finished. We created the first dispensaries from the ground up and community-based experiments in safe access. Sometimes we succeeded, and at other times, we had to reinvent the model to match changing needs, legal context, and community standards.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis since 1996. State laws vary in their scope and efficacy. Some provide only a defense at trial, others offer differing levels of protection for civil rights, and some have established robust regulatory mechanisms. The states continue to act as laboratories for medical cannabis programs. One thing is clear from our research and experience; sensible regulations preserve safe and dignified access for legal patients, while reducing crime and addressing community concerns.

Providers are a key element in any state or local medical cannabis program. You have a big responsibility on your shoulders if you choose this role. Individuals may join the ranks of providers with a variety of motives – compassion, a desire to change things for the better, personal need for safe access, or to make a living. All of these motives can lead to positive outcomes if you are committed to being a legal, complaint, and ethical player in the medical cannabis movement and industry.  This means operating a business or organization that represents medical cannabis well in your community. It also means follow state and local laws when possible, and working to make them better when necessary. Most importantly, it means supporting the grassroots movement that made and preserves the safe legal space in which our businesses and organizations operate and is fighting to end the federal conflict. I hope you join me in supporting Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization.


Don Duncan

ASA and ASAF Board member


In This Section

Making the decision to be a provider

Medical cannabis patients and their providers are vulnerable to law enforcement raids, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. They suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, public accommodation, education and medical care. Laws protecting patients and their providers vary from state to state, and in some cases may vary from city to city or county to county. Sometimes individuals choose to break outdated laws in states that do not account for medical use or safe access. And no matter what state you are living in, medical cannabis patients and their providers are always violating federal law.

Understanding State and Local Laws

Authorized medical cannabis distribution may be regulated by state laws, local ordinances, or other regulations. You will have to determine what jurisdiction governs the place where you want to provide medicine, and then figure out what laws apply to you.

Quality of Care

This section discusses medical emergencies in the provider's workplace, how to work effectively with patients, and the Patients' Bill of Rights.

Raid Preparedness

The Raid Response Campaign only works if a community is prepared in advance; this means providers and the community alike. We developed this campaign to provide support to victims of law enforcement raids and frame the media coverage. We have orchestrated over 200 emergency Raid Response efforts, which have supported countless victims and helped frame this issue as a patients' rights issue in the media.

Basic Legal Info for Providers

Despite the passage of over 23 state laws, patients, caregivers, and providers are vulnerable to federal and state raids, arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration. They also suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, public accommodation, education and medical care because of misinformation about the medical efficacy of cannabis and a lack of statutory legal protections.