Everybody must get stoned? In Berkeley, California, a city known for its progressive values, a law passed unanimously this summer by the Berkeley City Council hopes to make that a reality for its poor who need marijuana for medical purposes.
Under the law, starting next summer marijuana dispensaries must set aside 2 percent of their supply for low-income customers with a prescription for medical marijuana. In Berkeley, that means that those who earn less than $32,000 per year (or $46,000 per family) will be eligible for the free pot. The drug, which can cost $400 an ounce, is often out of reach for those with lower incomes.
Medical marijuana is legal now in 23 states, and is considered legal medicine in the state of California. It is frequently used to manage pain caused by diseases such as cancer, glaucoma or nerve problems. Medical marijuana is also used to manage some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, and poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illnesses such as HIV.
The Berkeley City Council’s decision has its detractors. “Why would Berkeley City Council want to keep their poverty-stricken underserved high, in poverty and lethargic?” Bishop Ron Allen, head of the International Faith-Based Coalition, said to the Huffington Post. “It’s ludicrous, over-the-top madness.” John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, told the New York Times, “Instead of taking steps to help the most economically vulnerable residents get out of that state, the city has said, ‘Let’s just get everybody high.’”
Those who support the law see it as providing an essential medical service that might be otherwise out of reach. Berkeley City Council member Darryl Moore told CBS San Francisco, “Basically, the city council wants to make sure that low-income, homeless, indigent folks have access to their medical marijuana, their medicine.” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates also supports the law. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “There are some truly compassionate cases that need to have medical marijuana. But it’s expensive. You hear stories about people dying from cancer who don’t have the money.”
Sean Luse, CEO of Berkeley Patients Group dispensary, is glad that the city is mandating these programs, adding that his dispensary already offers free pot. He’d prefer that the percentage be lowered to 1 percent, however, saying: “I do think there could be problems if we’re oversupplying demand and giving away more cannabis than is legitimately needed.”