While capitalists in Colorado are taking advantage of the new revenue opportunities the legalization of recreational pot has created, Berkeley's city council has pushed for the socialization of what's still considered a drug for medicinal use only within California.
Berkeley, known for its University of California campus as well as its historically liberal politics, currently has three medical marijuana dispensaries within its city limits. This July, the city council voted unanimously to allow low-income patients to receive free medical marijuana.
Low-income, in this case, represents any individual that makes less than $32,000 each year or any family of four making less than $46,000 each year. A total of two percent of the city’s total marijuana product will be given away for free when the law goes into effect next August.
At the simplest level, the law almost seems ridiculous. Berkeley stores will be forced to give away a substance that’s increasingly regarded in the same vein as recreational substances such as beer or wine. The process of obtaining a medical marijuana card is notoriously lax, particularly throughout the state of California, which has been issuing prescriptions for the past 20 years.
The city’s decision, however, emphasizes its commitment to marijuana as a medicinal substance. It also represents Berkeley’s continued commitment to its poorest residents.
The logic for passing the law stems from marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the terms of the federal Controlled Substances Act, in which it was deemed to have “no currently accepted medicinal use.” Because the substance is illegal on the federal level, it is not covered by insurance companies. Many residents — both in Berkeley and elsewhere — can not afford to buy the drug, even if they truly need it.
The mandate has raised concerns about individuals that may take advantage of the law, either reselling the free product on the street or using it for recreational purposes.
According to Berkeleyside, however, two of the city’s three dispensaries already have policies in place to distribute free marijuana to low-income customers. One dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group, claims to give away 1% of its product already, as it has been doing since 1999.
The Berkeley City Council, then, is simply catching up with the times, making sure all residents are able to receive the medicine that they need. The stigma regarding recreational marijuana use is changing, but the medicinal benefits of cannabis have had years to be proven by state legislators. The fact that there are now 23 states with marijuana approved for medicinal use demonstrates that those benefits aren’t under any serious questioning. No matter the nation’s opinion on the drug’s recreational use, medicine (in cases in which it is seriously needed) should be affordable and accessible to all. Berkeley will be a testing ground for whether citizens approach this law in the appropriate manner.