Free Marijuana To The Poor Passes Berkeley City Council

Free marijuana for medical purposes is now a reality in Berkeley, California, if you fall below a certain income threshold.

The town’s city council voted unanimously for an ordinance to “provide free medical marijuana to patients with low incomes,” reports the New York Times.

Should the ordinance pass its second reading in August — and we have no reason to think it won’t — then marijuana dispensaries will have to set aside two percent of product (equivalent to the quality they’re selling at market prices) and give it to any city residents with incomes under $32,000 (or $46,000 per year for a family of four, per NBC Bay Area).

More from the Times’ Josh Barro:

The government provides free or cheap medical products to people with low incomes all the time, with a goal of ensuring that people do not go without needed medical care. The government requires hospitals to provide emergency care to patients in need regardless of ability to pay. It provides free health insurance to the poor through Medicaid, and subsidizes insurance for people with low and moderate incomes through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

For these reasons, Barro says, “It makes a lot more sense than it sounds like at first,” adding that none of the channels listed above will work for medical marijuana.

That’s because even in a state like California that has embraced the drug, it’s illegal under federal law, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it.

“As a result, Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, doesn’t cover it,” Barro said. “If any private health insurance plans cover it, I couldn’t find them; Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, told me they’re not aware of any plans that cover marijuana, either.”

There are two problems, however, with the free marijuana plan: first of all, Berkeley’s move for two percent of product will likely not come close to meeting the needs of the low income population.

Secondly, the measure will need to be subsidized by higher prices to those who are above the $32,000 per year threshold.

“If marijuana is legalized, federally regulated and integrated into the regular medical system,” Barro claims, “a local set-aside system like Berkeley’s won’t be necessary. Until then, the city’s wacky-sounding free marijuana plan will serve as a useful workaround.”

Do you think the plan from Berkeley’s City Council to offer free marijuana for medicinal purposes will be a hit or an unfair hit on paying customers?

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