The Sideshow

Pot luck: Berkeley dispensaries now required to give free marijuana to the poor

If you love smoking pot, live in Berkeley and don’t make a lot of money, the City Council has some good news for you: Your pot might now be free.

An ordinance approved by the Berkeley City Council says that at least 2 percent of all pot carried by medical marijuana dispensaries must be provided “at no cost” to “very low-income” individuals and families.

The council defines the “very low income” as individuals making $32,000 or less a year or families of four collectively earning $46,000.

And unlike the cliched image of “government cheese,” the ordinance also requires that the free marijuana “shall be the same quality on average as Medical Cannabis that is dispensed to other members.”

“It’s sort of a cruel thing that when you are really ill and you do have a serious illness ... it can be hard to work, it can be hard to maintain a job. And when that happens, your finances suffer and then you can’t buy the medicine you need,” said Sean Luce, who works at local collective Berkeley Patients Group, in an interview with NBC News.

The GPS-enabled weedmaps site provides a detailed list of all Berkeley-area dispensaries and delivery services. According to the site, one gram of medical marijuana sells for an average of $15, while an ounce of high-grade pot can cost upward of $400. Strains of medical pot with lower concentrations of the psychoactive element tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, are sold for less.

It's well-established that getting a medical marijuana card in California is not difficult. Technically, the California Department of Public Health lists only 11 approved conditions, including AIDS, cachexia (wasting syndrome) and cancer. But the list creates a near infinite loophole for those wanting a pot access card by also including the qualifying stipulation of "any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health."

Now, before you quit your job and move to Berkeley, keep in mind that the city has only three approved dispensaries and there’s nothing in the ordinance specifying exactly how much pot they must provide to an individual.

For example, several medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of West Hollywood, California, offer free “house joints” to collective members who cannot pay the upscale prices charged by most outlets. However, the dispensaries do not advertise this voluntary policy and typically donate only a single joint per visit, per individual.

Also, the vast majority of “pot doctors” still charge a fee for both an examination and a medical marijuana card, even to low-income patients. Those evaluations typically cost around $40, with additional costs for the card itself, which is good for a few months to a year.

Berkeley residents who want to qualify for the free pot must also submit a federal income tax return “or other reliable method approved by the City Manager” in order to prove that they meet the minimal income requirements.

But for those who can meet the requirements, Berkeley might just need to adjust its nickname to the People's Republic of Pot.

Follow Eric Pfeiffer on Twitter (@ericpfeiffer).

View Comments (4110)