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Marijuana for the Masses: Berkeley Approves Free Pot for the Poor

The City Council of Berkeley, California recently passed an ordinance that requires medical marijuana dispensaries to set aside 2 percent of their product for “low income” individuals and families. Recipients, who must be Berkeley residents and make under $32,000 a year ($46,000 for families of four,) will receive the marijuana completely free of charge.

Berekly just passed a law that gives a whole new dimension to the "hand out" for the homeless
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The bold move is the first of its kind in the world, and shows that a city government acknowledges that marijuana is a medicine so potent and important that access to it needs to be ensured. Numerous studies have shown marijuana to be effective in treating hundreds of serious conditions, from dozens of forms of cancer to chronic illnesses like Lyme Disease, and it is increasingly credited with causing miracle cures.

Medical marijuana is legal in the state of California, which passed proposition 215 in 1996 allowing for its use in treating various illnesses. But the price of pot in the state remains high. An ounce of high-quality marijuana goes for around $400, and a gram costs about $15, according to the site “Weed Maps”, which also shows the location of Berkeley’s legal marijuana dispensaries. For low income people with chronic illnesses who medicate with the herb, these prices can become barriers to access.

Potential beneficiaries of the new free pot ordinance need to possess a California medical marijuana card. Officially, the card is only given to those diagnosed with one of the 11 conditions approved by the California Department of Public Health. However, the list also allows potential eligibility for anyone who suffers from a medical issue that could be classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This has opened up legal cannabis treatment to a wide range of patients - in reality the medical marijuana card is quite easy to obtain.

The ordinance does not specifically state the amount of marijuana an individual will receive, so the fact that Berkeley only has three legal dispensaries means that the total amount of free pot will be limited. Recipients also have to provide a federal tax return or other proof of income before they are approved for the program.