Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Berkeley Is Mandating That Poor People Can Get Free Medical Marijuana.
S.F. Is Not on Board.

Before there was medical marijuana, before there was legalization
talk, there was free weed.

It began here, and it began with AIDS.

There are a few happy stories to come out of the dark days of AIDS in
the 1980s. One is the woman who roamed the ward at San Francisco
General Hospital, where the gay men were dying in droves, giving out
cannabis-laced brownies.

The treats baked by Mary Jane Rathbun (yes, her real name) gave real,
tangible, and visible relief to people modern medicine had failed.
"Brownie Mary" and people like her helped turn public opinion in time
to convince voters to make medical marijuana legal in 1996.

There are days when San Franciscan Mike Hinkle could use a Brownie
Mary. Scoliosis keeps the Tennessee native, 52, in his wheelchair most
days. Mobility isn't his biggest problem, though - it's money. The pot
that Hinkle says makes life tolerable is expensive, and since he lives
off a Social Security check, he has to rely on unreliable charity to
get ahold of marijuana. "If I had to spend money on cannabis," he
says, "I'd spend more than my whole check."

Most San Francisco dispensaries, especially when they're trying to get
a city license, offer something called a "compassion program." You
hear the word "compassion" a lot in the medical weed movement - it's
code for "free weed" supposed to be reserved for the poor, elderly,
disabled, and military veterans whose government benefits don't extend
to pot.

Sometimes, "compassion" nets Hinkle a free eighth a week. Other times,
he scores a few joints or a brownie, or a scraggly gram. There's
really no guarantee, he says, and "sometimes, it's not even worth
going down there to pick up."

If he lived in Berkeley, things would be different. The three pot
clubs there are now required to give away weed.

The equivalent of 2 percent of what is sold over the counter is
reserved, free of charge, to those of modest means under new rules
approved by the Berkeley City Council this month. And it cannot be
schwag charity: The free weed must be of "the same quality on average"
as the OG Kush sold for $50 an eighth.

Free marijuana: It's the law.

This doesn't do Hinkle much good, as Berkeley residents and the pot
clubs' current members have first dibs. In San Francisco, where pot
shop operators are doing so well that some are filing paperwork to
open second locations, activists have been pushing for a similar
measure for years. Results have been mixed, limited, and don't appear
to be improving anytime soon.

In 2007, then-Supervisor and now-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi authored a
resolution - nonbinding, of course - urging dispensaries to set up
compassion programs.

Most did, and most claim a robust program to this day. "If you don't
have one," one Mission Street dispensary manager says, "you'll get run
out of town."

However, some very generous compassion programs ended when the hosting
dispensaries shut down during the federal Justice Department crackdown
in 2011. Now, with the industry roaring again and feds seemingly
backing off, "You should probably be able to get, oh, an eighth a
week," says David Goldman, a retired mathematics teacher and Castro
resident who's spending his golden years on weed activism.

Income and medical verification should be involved, he says, but a $50
sack for poor folk is the least most pot clubs can do.

That's not good enough for Shona Gochenaur. The city's best-known weed
rabble-rouser - whose crew, Axis of Love, is notorious for jamming
city meetings with lengthy public comment and the scent of California
medical-grade - tried to push for a free weed component to Healthy San
Francisco. Mirkarimi nibbled, briefly looking into whether the city's
Department of Public Health could grow pot, but the idea was soon
dropped at City Hall.

And now, no one in office will touch it.

Gochenaur has contacted three supervisors, all well-known progressives
with eyes on higher office. An aide to one of the supervisors
contacted says that his boss might think about it. "But there's a lot
going on," he says, with evictions, tech, and transit all higher priority.

Another supervisor's aide, in whose district most San Francisco pot
clubs can be found, told Gochenaur on Thursday that free weed wasn't
something the office was interested in touching, she says.

So it's a no-go. Walk, wheel, or limp your way down to the nearest
dispensary and hope for the best is the only real option poor folk

"San Francisco should have taken the lead" on free weed, Gochenaur
says. "This is such bullshit."

Not that it's over. Gochenaur pledged to make her case - and make a
scene if necessary. "If we have to stage a die-in at a supervisors
meeting," she vows, "we'll do it."
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MAP posted-by: Matt