Free Weed for Those In Need: An Actual Washington Law?

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Compassion is one thing the cannabis industry was initially built upon, at least in the early days before recreational sales and profits took precedence over patients.  In Washington state, for example, did you know that dispensaries “may donate product to qualifying patients or designated providers who hold a valid recognition card” according to WAC 314-55-155?

Under the “Advertising requirements and promotional items—Coupons, giveaways, etc.” heading, although retail licensees may not advertise “free” or “donated” product, they are able to make donations to patients they deem to be in need.  

This apparently little-known law begs the following questions:  

  • How does a dispensary show compassion to their patients who are truly in need while maintaining a good business model?  
  • Do they have a duty to those lower income patients who are unable to afford medication on a regular basis?  
  • What about the veterans who return from service with PTSD or other conditions that respond to cannabis treatment?  
  • Should these types of customers, those truly “in need” be shown a little extra compassion through gifts of free cannabis?

We heard rumors of two dispensaries in the state of Washington who are currently participating in a compassionate program and giving free cannabis to select patients.

The first company we contacted was Have a Heart, where we reached out to Ed (Skip) Mitchell, the Chief Operations Officer of this cannabis company with locations in California, Oregon, Iowa, and Washington. They base their business model on the  “do good” paradigm.  

Started in 2017, the program involves their staff, front-line employees, and organizations they do business with making a point to “create a positive impact on the neighborhoods we inhabit and incorporate good values with our existing rapport.”

Ed gave us a general overview of what Have a Heart has accomplished over the past few years, noting this does not include what they did from 2011- 2016 (prior to when I-502 and 5052 were implemented and recreational cannabis was legalized in Washington) when they “gave hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product to patients.”

Ed speaks in this video about emotional responsibility and the concept of “Do Good” and confirmed that from 2017-2019, Have a Heart made 450 donations to 185 needy medical guests for a total of $105,876.63 worth of medicine.

The process is actually surprisingly simple in that it requires patients to be licensed with a valid Washington State Medical Marijuana Recognition Card or a Designated Provider Card (click here for details on how to obtain one).  

Donations are considered by Have a Heart based on a first-come, first-served basis as well as product availability. The patient arrives to meet with a Certified Medical Consultant who thoroughly explains the donation process (to the patient and/or their Designated Provider) and provides a complete consultation about the patient’s qualifying condition.  

The Medical Consultant then verifies the availability of donatable product (flower, extracts, oils, vapes, edibles). Then the donation is prepared and given to the patient or authorized Designated Provider.

All Washington retail cannabis producers have the option of including a harvest, “best-by” and manufactured date, and we all know how fast the cannabis retail market turns over product.  

Would it not make sense that if a product were set to “expire” or if the “best by” date had passed, companies could just give it to a patient instead of destroying it?  This simple act by one or two dispensaries could not only change the lives of those patients, but it could encourage others to do the same, thus creating a snowball effect of compassion.

When considering which type of patients would qualify for these types of programs, the first group to leap to mind is veterans, which prompted me to also reach out to Patrick Saint from 22toomany – Olympia.  Mr. Saint is a Marine veteran and former owner of Rainier Xpress (a medical collective safe access point which evolved into Twenty22Many five years ago with the passage of I-502). He stated he was motivated to begin focusing on cannabis for veterans after learning that 22 veterans commit suicide each day on average.  

Relating to these veterans through his own military experience and PTSD, Mr. Saint quickly started hosting meetings with veterans to get PTSD added to Washington’s list of qualifying conditions.

They pushed for a bill introduced by Senator Steve Hobbs which evolved into law with the passage of I-502. Mr. Saint has worked with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) for the past five years, traveling to Washington DC to lobby for veterans’ access to cannabis.

Twenty22Many has been the “first” in many aspects in Washington including:

  1. Free medication for veterans
  2. $22 Medical Authorizations
  3. Free yoga and kickboxing classes for veterans
  4. Free clones for veterans
  5. A special vape pen released for combating PTSD. The 22-RVC (Rescue Vape Cart) Vape Pen which was created with following a twoyear study involving combat Veterans and rape victims
  6. The country’s first Twenty22Many Veterans Support Depot Program in the retail cannabis market

When asked about specific rules for the Veterans Administration and medical cannabis, Mr. Saint stated, “Any state that has a recognized medical cannabis program veterans cannot, I repeat, cannot lose any benefits, medical or otherwise. This is, however, becoming a big problem even Washington.  In Oregon, we are seeing doctors threaten veterans about losing benefits if they continue to heal with cannabis”.

Mr. Saint’s goal ultimate goal is to see every cannabis retailer in Washington participate in some sort of free medical program. Have a Heart is the sole dispensary we were able to confirm is currently participating. With almost 600 retail cannabis stores in the state, the problem is obvious, and the solution is clear.  Get every shop to donate their outdated products to those in need, rather than paying to return it to the WSLCB.

To further his cause, Mr. Saint also organizes the Twenty22Many PTSD and Veteran Suicide Awareness March. The 5th annual march will take place on Saturday, July 27th in Olympia. The march, sponsored in part by Have a Heart, helps bring awareness to the epidemic of veteran suicides and provides support for those living with PTSD (click this link for further event and sponsorship details).

We also spoke with Kevin Heiderich of Tacoma, Washington, co-owner and Director of Marketing at House of Cannabis  (a majority veteran-owned chain which also supports various veteran causes), who confirmed that by the end of the month of May, the House of Cannabis intended to make its first donation of product to a veteran and patient, Rick Francis, founder of the Black Dog Foundation, a 501c3 federally registered not-for profit organization that seeks to lessen the impact of PTSD and veterans issues on veteran family life.

Mr. Heiderich, himself a disabled Navy Veteran, was able to accomplish this by confirming rules and regulations with his contact at the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), Kraig Seltzer.  Mr. Heiderich noted that “it turns out the process is not daunting in any way, and we will be able to occasionally donate cannabis to medical patients who happen to be veterans”.

With such a positive response from the House of Cannabis, we reached out to other Tacoma-area dispensaries inquiring if they plan to participate in a compassionate “free weed” program. However, none responded.  

It is wonderful to see actual compassion in action.  Dispensaries such as Have a Heart and the House of Cannabis are setting an example and are not at risk of losing anything by donating expired or rotated stock to those truly in need.  If anything, acts like these will serve to bring in more business and make the community more aware of which dispensaries treat their medical patients with real empathy.

The next time you visit your neighborhood dispensary, ask them if they participate in a compassionate act program and if not, why?  With enough requests, perhaps more shops will institute donation policies and keep cannabis compassionate, the way it was meant to be.

For previous Ladybud articles about Washington, click here.