Should medical marijuana be given away for free to individuals who can't afford it? The Northern California city of Berkeley thought it had settled that question in July when it passed an ordinance that gave a resounding answer of "yes!"
But an article earlier this week in The New York Times has reignited the debate over free pot for the poor, with critics saying that the city — long known for its counter-cultural leanings — is avoiding the problems of low-income residents by, in effect, sedating them.
"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,'" John Lovell, a political operative for the California Narcotics Officers Association told the Times.
California has the nation's longest-standing medical marijuana law, first making pot available legally to patients with a doctor's prescription in 1996. But not for free. In fact, medical marijuana can be an extremely pricey form of medication, and because marijuana remains an illegal drug in most states and on the federal level, insurance, including Medicare an Medicaid, will not cover it.
That leaves low-income people who need medical marijuana to manage pain and treat other ailments out in the cold, says Berkeley's mayor.
"There are some truly compassionate cases that need to have medical marijuana," Mayor Tom Bates said. "But it's expensive. You hear stories about people dying from cancer who don't have the money."Berkeley's new ordinance, which takes effect in August of 2015, requires that the city's licensed marijuana dispensaries reserve 2 percent of their marijuana inventories for distribution to low-income patients with a prescription, free of charge.
"It's ludicrous, over-the-top madness," said Bishop Ron Allen, himself a recovering drug addict who now runs an coalition of religious political groups, in a Fox News interview. "Why would Berkeley City Council want to keep their poverty-stricken under-served high, in poverty and lethargic?"Supporters of the free pot law respond that the purpose of medical marijuana is not to lobotomize the low-income population, but to alleviate the suffering caused by illnesses ranging from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV and Alzheimer's. As The Inqusitr reported in May of this year:
"Patients in a recent study reported a 30 to 50 percent decrease in pain after using medical marijuana, and anecdotally, some patients reported that their pain levels went down to zero thanks to medical marijuana. The Berkeley program simply seeks to allow the poor access to the same pain relief possibilities enjoyed by the well-off.'Many legal medical marijuana dispensaries already voluntarily dispense free pot to the poor, but their programs are limited and often available only one or two days per month. The Berkeley law makes medical marijuana free at any time for those who need but can't afford it.