Free pot for the poor: Berkeley council codifies what many cannabis dispensaries already doing

The Berkeley Patients' Group has distributed free medical cannabis for years to low-income patients. A new law passed by the  Berkeley City Council codifies this and requires dispensaries to give away 2% of its cannabis to the poor.

The Berkeley Patients Group has distributed free medical cannabis for years to low-income patients. A new law passed by the Berkeley City Council codifies this and requires dispensaries to give away 2% of its cannabis to the poor. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley’s medical marijuana dispensaries must provide 2% of their cannabis free of charge to very low-income residents under a law passed unanimously by the City Council earlier this month.

Individual patients who make under $32,000, or families that earn less than $46,000, qualify for the complimentary cannabis. The law further requires that the free marijuana “be the same quality on average as Medical Cannabis that is dispensed to other members.”

“We were happy with that,” said Charley Pappas, a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission. “It gets the council and the mayor focusing on patients. There should be access to the best medicine and the poorest people shouldn’t be excluded.”

Following the decision, national media proclaimed, “Berkeley out-Berkeleys Berkeley” and declared the arrival of “weed welfare.”  Many of the articles were long on hyperbole and short of the facts, since the new law may not force dispensaries to radically alter their business models. Many of them already give away free medical cannabis.

“It’s not an uncommon practice” to voluntarily provide free cannabis to needy patients, said Pappas, who used to own a dispensary in San Francisco.

Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) on San Pablo Avenue and Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley (CBCB) on Shattuck Avenue, two of the city’s three dispensaries, previously had programs that distributed free marijuana to low-income clients. Furthermore, the law only applies to Berkeley residents, who typically make up only 25% of a dispensary’s clientele.

“We do this on our own, so we certainly welcome the city mandating that all dispensaries create these sorts of programs,” said Sean Luse, chief operating officer of BPG.

Cannabis being inspected at Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Cannabis being inspected at Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Luse estimated that the dispensary, which has hosted a program for low-income patients since it opened in 1999, typically gives away 1% of its cannabis. He questioned whether the 2% requirement was appropriate.

“I do think there could be problems if we’re oversupplying demand and giving away more cannabis than is legitimately needed,” he said. “We’ll see how this plays out.”

The commission’s initial proposal asked dispensaries to give away 1% of their marijuana, but the council decided to double the amount, Pappas said.

The 2%, by weight, is determined by mandatory half-yearly calculations of the amount of marijuana distributed to all members.

In the same July 1 vote, the council approved a fourth dispensary for the city, three and a half years after residents voted on Measure T in support of the additional dispensary.

Pappas applauded the council’s approval of a fourth dispensary.

“They perpetuated the status quo for years when they put a moratorium on additional dispensaries,” he said. “It displays their attention, finally, to medical cannabis distribution in Berkeley. With another dispensary, [medical marijuana] will be cheaper, because there will be more competition.”

The Medical Cannabis Commission had recommended approval of up to six dispensaries in Berkeley, but the council decided to revisit the request next year.

At a previous council meeting on June 17, council members praised the commission’s work on recommending revisions to the cannabis ordinance.

“The work you’ve done here is thorough and honorable — but ongoing,” Councilman Max Anderson said.

Berkeley Council: Let’s add fourth dispensary (06.08.14)
Berkeley will again consider a 4th cannabis dispensary  (06.03.14)
Berkeley delays decision on fourth dispensary (09.20.13)
Berkeley to consider 4th medical cannabis dispensary (09.17.13)
Berkeley delays fourth medical cannabis dispensary (06.13.13)

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  • tennesseetuxedo59

    even the vagrants are our brothers and deserve respect and medicine if need be

  • Realist

    Well would you want to be treated with “dawn of civilization expertise”…..? A frontier dentist perhaps ? Things have developed a bit. Pot is NOT an effective pain medication. It is an effective pallative for chemo patients, glaucoma sufferers, etc. Anyone who tells you “It’s for my back pain” could also probably sell you the Eiffel Tower…..

  • Realist

    There are medications for pain that are more effective than pot……Current medicine does NOT recognize pot as a PAIN RELIEVER ! It is great for chemo patients, glaucoma sufferers, etc……..but a pain med…it is not……

  • DisGuested

    They definitely aren’t going to let you see the garbage they give away to fulfill their mission. I have seen good quality stuff like you reference given away, but not by the club on Telegraph. And what they gave away was genuinely offensive in its horribleness.

  • B C

    Berkeleygrl: You are spot-on. I can no longer live in a city that has so little disregard for its citizens and the tax payers that keep the city going. We pay an extraordinary amount of local taxes on property to support this city. We are preparing to put our house on the market and move to a sane community.

  • B C

    You’re right – the vagrants deserve medicine….it is called Obamacare.

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    In order for marijuana to be “helpful” to glaucoma sufferers they need to smoke it all day everyday. The marijuana glaucoma link is an urban legend perpetuated by the mj legalizers.

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    Yes, call BPG they are legal experts. They drafted Measure JJ which used Federal Statute to circumvent Federal Law. They are keen legal minds at BPG.

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    By that logic, we should legalize a host of other crimes too. Jaywalking is fairly popular, let’s legalize that. Or Murder. We can’t seem to bring homicide rates down. Let’s legalize murder to solve our murder problem…

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    You haven’t spent much time in Federal Court have you?

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    Fear of Medical Marijuana Legalization is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever.

    So please, all prohibitionists, we beg you, give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Medical Marijuana a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

    Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny, crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of Medical Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

    The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol and definitely so much less dangerous than handfuls of deadly, toxic, man-made, highly addictive, narcotic pain pills and other pharmaceuticals .

    If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

    Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

    Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    When a loved one is in pain, wasting away unable to eat, and needs this marvelous herb in order to increase their appetite, reduce the overwhelming pain, and live as as healthy and happily as they can with the time they have left, let’s have the compassion to allow them to have it.

    Stop treating Medical Marijuana Patients like second rate citizens and common criminals by forcing them to the dangerous black market for their medicine.

    Risking incarceration to obtain the medicine you need is no way to be forced to live.

    Support Medical Marijuana Now!

    “[A] federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane.” — Dr. Jerome Kassirer, “Federal Foolishness and Marijuana,” editorial, New England Journal of Medicine, January 30, 1997

    “[The AAFP accepts the use of medical marijuana] under medical supervision and control for specific medical indications.” — American Academy of Family Physicians, 1989, reaffirmed in 2001

    “[We] recommend … allow[ing] [marijuana] prescription where medically appropriate.” — National Association for Public Health Policy, November 15, 1998

    “Therefore be it resolved that the American Nurses Association will: — Support the right of patients to have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis under appropriate prescriber supervision.” — American Nurses Association, resolution, 2003

    “The National Nurses Society on Addictions urges the federal government to remove marijuana from the Schedule I category immediately, and make it available for physicians to prescribe. NNSA urges the American Nurses’ Association and other health care professional organizations to support patient access to this medicine.” — National Nurses Society on Addictions, May 1, 1995

    “[M]arijuana has an extremely wide acute margin of safety for use under medical supervision and cannot cause lethal reactions … [G]reater harm is caused by the legal consequences of its prohibition than possible risks of medicinal use.” — American Public Health Association, Resolution #9513, “Access to Therapeutic Marijuana/Cannabis,” 1995

    “When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients … We support state and federal legislation not only to remove criminal penalties associated with medical marijuana, but further to exclude marijuana/cannabis from classification as a Schedule I drug.” — American Academy of HIV Medicine, letter to New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, November 11, 2003

  • guest

    Yeah, you are really helping the vagrants by giving them marijuana. It is great medicine for them, and it would undoubtedly give them the motivation that they need to get their lives in order.

    They deserve respect, but all except a very few would be better off without marijuana or alcohol.

  • End the farce

    Dude, put the bong down long enough to grasp what others are saying. There are no/few prohibitionists here. But we’d appreciate it if you could drop the medical farce. Sure, some people use MJ medicinally. But most of the people sparking up around town are just looking to get high. Just come clean already.

  • TT

    And Obamacare is available wherever they came from and should go back to.

  • Ravening Lamprey

    In studies of income inequality, there’s a distinction between national and local inequality. National inequality can be addressed with progressive, redistributive taxation. Local inequality much less so, because affluent people can vote with their feet and move to another community where they aren’t treated like ATM machines. Opting for private schools is a variant on this. In both cases inequality is reduced, but not in a good way – driving away people with money leaves you with only the more equally poor.

  • R

    Actually all of the glaucoma research organizations reject MJ as a medical treatment. “a poor choice in the treatment of glaucoma”

  • Bongstar420

    Why don’t you hire these people? I surely would never because there is no amount of effort on their part that would make them acceptable. They are better fit to be put into some housing program and given lifetime birth control.

  • Bongstar420

    So you are saying that herbal medicine, and all the pharmaceuticals that were synthesized copies of chemicals in herbs are all BS?

    The last time I looked, Ginger root is statistically as effective against nausea as any current synthetic compound available from the pharmaceutical industry.

    If you disagree about the medical efficacy of Cannabis, maybe you should stop giving people reasons to lie about it- prohibition

  • Bongstar420

    I’m addicted to life since every day I choose to consume more of it

  • Bongstar420

    I never understood why it mattered less the irrational traditionalism that people seem to display

  • Bongstar420

    I will give away more but rich people will pay more. If they don’t like it, then they can help all this non-meritious income inequality to disappear.

  • Bongstar420

    Yes they can. People need to stop being greedy douchebags. It takes the whole of 30 minutes to capture some photographs and up load them onto a computer.

    The same is true for analysis. We are talking about 8% of the price wholesale to establish Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Pesticides.

  • Bongstar420
  • Bongstar420

    They are all word ploys.

  • John Freeman

    Do you think a poor person will buy “B C”‘s house?

    driving away people with money leaves you with only the more equally poor.

  • Guest

    Stop treating Medical Marijuana Patients like second rate citizens and
    common criminals by forcing them to the dangerous black market for their

    Is this some kind of joke? There are multiple legal pot clubs in Berkeley and getting a pot prescription is as easy as paying a doctor $40 and complaining about some kind of non-specific “pain.”



  • guest

    free weed is not for everyone only those with cancer and ALS etc

    Incorrect. This free weed would be for anyone who has a medical marijuana prescription, and those are easy enough to get around here that literally anyone can get one.

  • guest

    If it were true it would be an interesting tidbit but not much more. As Biker 94703 points out Washington also had wooden false teeth and I don’t see a lot of people suggesting that we all start using those since Washington did.

  • guest

    How’d the Obama administration’s defense of DOMA/DADT go again?

  • guest

    The cure’s worse than the disease.

  • guest

    And would this person want their epileptic child firing up a joint on the way to kindergarten?

  • Actual realist

    So is it better to get these kids addicted to “acceptable” prescription meds?
    This is an HERBAL remedy.

  • tennesseetuxedo59

    we heard different lol to anyone with a m.n. prescription ?guess again . do research before you correct someones whos right

  • tennesseetuxedo59

    you are just not tolerant of the less fortunate

  • earl hickey

    How about free Heroin too?

  • Realist

    No…it’s their choice to abuse a limited prescription….over the counter non addictive pain meds work for 90 + % of common conditions. Pot ?…is FAR MORE ABUSED less as a temporary “safety net” than an open ended long term “hammock”…..

  • Alfred-King of Wessex

    How about free casino chips on trips to Vegas? or…..a boat. Isn’t everyone entitled to a boat?

  • Aanaya

    ROFLMFAO!!! Every baggie of pot comes with a pre-filled democrat voter registration card, you just have to sign your name. Next up, sex addicts who can not afford one, get free prostitutes.