Berkely Seeking Free Pot for Poor

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Think you can’t afford pot on Haight and Ashbury? Think again: if the Berkeley City Council gets its way, local dispensaries will be required to give 2 percent of their marijuana sales to low-income patients.

“It’s an equity issue,” Berkeley City Council member Darryl Moore told Reuters. “We want to ensure that those who are in need have access to the medication necessary to treat their condition.”

The City Council unanimously agreed with Moore in a vote this week; if the ordinance passes again in August, dispensaries will start giving away marijuana of the same quality that paying customers get to medical marijuana patients who make up to half the local median annual income ($32,000 for an individual or $46,000 for a family of four).

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“Our mantra is, ‘The best medicine for the lowest possible cost for people in need,’” Charles Pappas, a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission, told Reuters.

It may not be as crazy as it sounds, Josh Barro wrote in the New York Times. After all, the government is supposed to provide free or low-cost medical products to people who can’t afford them. But since federal law doesn’t recognize marijuana as medicine, those usual routes don’t work.

“Berkeley is addressing a real coverage gap,” Barro wrote.

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That may not stop the Berkeley-as-liberal-outpost jokes, but the city isn’t alone in worrying about how the poor will access pot: Massachusetts dispensaries can offer discounts to patients based on income, ThinkProgress points out, and New Jersey reduces registration fees for Medicaid beneficiaries. Washington, D.C., has proposed passing an ordinance identical to Berkeley’s new law. And in many states, you can grow your own marijuana for medical purposes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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