Berkeley, California, has long been seen as a liberal paradise. The city first stood out as a mecca of progressive ideals in the ’60s with student-organized rallies and protests for everything from civil rights to free speech. The citizens of Berkeley aren’t just well known for tackling hot-button issues. With the Vietnam War in full swing, a group of young disabled persons organized an effort to get wheelchair- accessible paths built into the city. They succeeded.
Locals pin the liberal atmosphere on the Bay Area and on UC Berkeley itself. The school seems to attract a certain crowd, and the effect becomes a bit stronger each successive year. In 2014, Berkeley was deemed the “most liberal” city in the United States. As if to seal the deal, the city is now giving away free pot.
In a unanimous decision, the city council of Berkeley is requiring all medical marijuana dispensaries within its borders to give at least 2 percent of its stock to the needy. The new law takes effect in August of 2015. Spurring the change, according to city officials, is the fact that medical Marijuana can sell as high as $400 an ounce in California, a price that is well-beyond what many of the state’s residents can pay.
In California, a trip to the doctor can net almost anyone with a prescription for medical pot if they claim they’re suffering from insomnia, but because the drug is illegal on the federal level, insurance companies do not cover its use. This leaves users with a dilemma: the strains most effective at managing pain are extremely expensive, but run of the mill marijuana can be had on the street for a much more reasonable price. All Star Sonoma Coma may hit like Ali, but lots of common strains channel George Foreman.
Vegan restaurants in Berkeley are well-known hangouts of hipster dealers, and a sufficiently motivated individual can find even cheaper pot on Telegraph Avenue. This is, perhaps, the motivation behind the new law. Why should people pay for designer buds when they can get a decent replacement for a fraction of the price?
The city can curtail the illicit drug trade simply by making medical marijuana available free to qualifying citizens. Furthermore, in some areas of San Francisco, it’s possible to find medical buds for below market value. Known as the “compassion trade,” it is none-the-less a black market.
Unsurprisingly, the change has met with derision from some. John Lovell, a California Narcotic Officers’ Association lobbyist, had this to say: “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.” Other residents of the state have said that the new law is nothing more than the latest in a long string of liberal experiments.
Berkeley mayor Tom Bates stresses that marijuana used in the context allowed by the law is medicine, and that the city is merely trying to ensure equal access. Bates points out that cannabis has proven to be an effective pain reliever, and that it can rival much more addictive drugs.