The Year in Legalization Nation

Plus, a New Year's decriminalization gift, and Oakland pot farms suffer setbacks.

Here’s a look back at the major developments in global cannabis culture in 2010:

January: Emboldened by a hands-off approach from the Obama administration, unregulated dispensaries proliferate in Los Angeles, sparking a citywide crackdown that lands in court for the rest of the year. Crass advertisers and high-profile armed robberies turn Los Angeles into the pariah of medical pot.

March: A ballot initiative to legalize marijuana qualifies for the California ballot. The West Coast’s largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center, begins treating opiate addicts with marijuana, citing case evidence of efficacy.

April: A California bill to reclassify pot possession down from a misdemeanor to an infraction clears committee, and ultimately goes on to be signed by the governor.

May: Two firebombings of medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana signal unease over the issue in the red state. Oaksterdam unionizes, part of a wave of unionization in the California industry. The California Board of Equalization discloses that dispensaries contribute $100 million in sales taxes each year. Riding the casual gaming wave, Facebook game Pot Farm approaches 500,000 growers, on its way to almost 1.5 million by year’s end.

June: South Africa’s World Cup brings Durban Poison back into vogue, and Paris Hilton gets popped with a joint at the festivities. High Times’ first San Francisco Medical Cannabis Cup goes to “God’s Pussy,” irking activists who want to clean up weed’s image.

July: An independent RAND study finds risk comprises 80 to 90 percent of bud’s street price. The Veterans Affairs Administration eases penalties for ill vets using the drug. Medical Marijuana Inc. rents the neglected Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan for an industry convention — signaling cannabis’ rise in the Midwest.

August: The powerful California Chamber of Commerce, allied with Christian fundamentalists Vision to America puts Proposition 19 on blast, promising stoned driving carnage and high surgeons.

September: California’s Board of Equalization discloses plans for a marijuana tax stamp, like stamps on cigarettes.

October: Harvest season in the Emerald Triangle brings record news of shootouts between paramilitary eradication squads and armed growers, sparking Congressional plans for a major offensive to “take back the forests” in 2011. The San Francisco Giants’ World Series home games expose visiting reporters to the city’s pungent pot culture. The federal drug czar denounces dope in Los Angeles and says Prop 19 won’t stop federal law enforcement.

November: Prop 19 loses 46 to 54, advocates blame the loss on low voter turnout among bud’s key demographics and a divisively written initiative that unites in opposition both cops and criminals. Arizona becomes the fifteenth medical marijuana state, creating a billion dollar industry. Oregon rejects storefront dispensaries. “Tangerine Dream” takes the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.

December: Teen cigarette use drops below teen pot use in the United States for the first time since the Eighties. Reformers note treating smoking as a health issue is more effective than criminalizing unhealthy behavior. Pot prices crash 50 percent to as low as $40 per quarter-ounce or $140 per ounce for patients at dispensaries in San Francisco, part of new pricing pressure driving down the cost of the plant nationwide — a result of changing laws, more supply, and integrated supply chains.

Seeds & Stems

California State Senator Mark Leno‘s bill to further decriminalize pot takes effect January 1, 2011. Misdemeanor possession of under an ounce of marijuana will be reclassified down to an infraction, meaning the pot ticket won’t appear in state or federal criminal databases and most background checks. Suspects lose the right to a jury trial over a pot infraction, saving the state tens of millions of dollars in court costs. While possessing less than an ounce of pot in a car is just a ticket, driving under the influence of marijuana — especially in the case of an injury collision — is still a serious crime, as well as possessing any marijuana on school grounds. California cops write about 60,000 pot tickets each year, as well as arrest more than 17,000 for sales or growing, which carries a prison sentence of up to four years. Libertarian think tank The Cato Institute estimates that the state spends $1 billion per year enforcing its widely flouted pot laws. … Oakland backpedaled from its fast-moving plan to permit and tax four large-scale medical marijuana farms, citing the potential illegality of independently taxed farms. The city council voted in closed session on December 21 to suspend their controversial “request for permit applications” process to grow indoors large amounts of medical marijuana.

The plans of more than 250 applicants have been thrown into limbo while they await changes to the RFPA. The council is expected to vote on changes no sooner than February 1, 2011.

For months, lawyers have said Oakland’s plan would take them into murky state law regarding the connection between patient and grower. Oakland’s city attorney has not backed the farm ordinance. Unnamed federal officials told California Watch that Oakland would be violating federal law and possibly state law. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley also cautiously implied that Oakland might be acting illegally and she might have to prosecute them.

Assistant to the City Administrator, Arturo Sanchez, said the city was looking at possibly bundling the new dispensary and farm permits into one permit, which could create a legal safe harbor. But that’s a contentious issue on the council.


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