Top 25 marijuana stories in Colorado in 2010: The year in weed

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It's been a momentous year for marijuana in Colorado: landmark legislation, turf wars, huge profits, shocking arrests, enormous celebrations and more.

Below, we've compiled links to and excerpts from 25 of the biggest weed stories to take place in the state during 2010. Page through and breathe in the year that was.

"Senator Chris Romer to medical marijuana community: 'There's nothing so keen to focus the mind as a bullet fired near your head.'"

"It's a new industry, and I'm not blaming them for being a little naive about the legislative process," he says. "But as a famous general said, 'There's nothing so keen to focus the mind as a bullet fired near your head.'

"Maybe this sheriff's bill will finally wake up the medical marijuana community, and let them know they need to act like an adult and compromise on things like patients under the age of 21," he continues. "Because if they don't, law enforcement will be able to turn the clock back to where it was a year ago." (January 11)

"Medical marijuana dispensary owner sleeps in car and pays $5,000 for the privilege."

[Wesley Fazio] wasn't about to be caught napping when the city started accepting dispensary license applications. He arrived at the Wellington E. Webb Building at 7 p.m. on February 6, parked his car outside and slept there. "I have on long johns," he said, "But it was not a good time."

Still, his efforts paid off when he was first up in the application process at 7:30 a.m. yesterday morning. The paperwork was complete in just twenty minutes, after which he had to pay $5,033 for the application and a first-year fee -- for a dispensary that isn't even open yet -- and then have his fingerprints taken for the background check that's part of the application. (February 9)

"Tom Massey on his medical marijuana bill: 'We know we're on the right track if nobody's happy.'"

"Let's face it: By the time we finish this session and something can be enacted, we could have as many as 60,000-plus medical marijuana registry cards out there, and I don't see it as feasible that we could craft a supply chain based on people's basements across the state, or self-grows. And that would actually force us to go elsewhere for product -- out of state or I don't even want to speculate where.

"The horse is out of the barn, and we need to address the problems with today's facts." (February 9)

"Medical marijuana arrest: Chris Bartkowicz bust DEA's declaration that drug war not over."

Medical marijuana advocates have denounced these arrests, arguing that they violate the spirit of an October memorandum from Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden stating that the Justice Department should defer to states that have legalized medical marijuana -- a policy decried by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, among others.

Now, however, it's clear that Representative Tom Massey's medical marijuana bill, which was once thought to slavishly mimic law enforcement's desires on this issue, would actually liberalize policy well beyond the comfort point for the DEA.

When viewed in this light, the Bartkowicz arrest seems to be considerably more than just the smacking down of a guy who may have gotten prematurely comfortable with his business situation. It's also the DEA's de facto declaration of war against the pro-marijuana forces. (February 15)

"Medical marijuana raid fallout: 'We are not declaring war on dispensaries,' says DEA head Jeff Sweetin."

"If we were declaring war on dispensaries, they would not be hard to find. You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting thirty of them."

As for people like [attorney Rob] Corry who are accusing his agency of launching a marijuana crusade, Sweetin says, "I think the people who claim to represent marijuana growers in this state are trying to create this fear, and I think that's sad."

Sweetin makes note of the fact that the DEA hasn't ever shut down a Colorado dispensary, and the agency doesn't plan on doing so unless there are aggravating factors involved -- like violence, ties to drug cartels or distribution to children. Yes, the DEA has conducted raids on several grow facilities, but that's because Sweetin says they were so blatantly violating even state medical-marijuana laws they couldn't be ignored. (February 16)

"Medical marijuana raids by DEA, 'arrest everybody' comments by agent Jeff Sweetin prompt Jared Polis letter to U.S. Attorney General."

"Congressman Polis believes these raids are in contradiction to the will of the voters of Colorado and are an unwarranted federal intervention in the doctor patient relationship," [Polis spokeswoman Lara] Cottingham notes via e-mail. "President Obama has clearly stated his position on respecting states that have voted to allow medical marijuana, and the recent raids are contrary to that policy. Congressman Polis feels these actions strike fear into the hearts of many medical marijuana patients who are already dealing with chronic pain and suffering and must be stopped." (February 25)

"Be kind to charity: $8,000 bag of weed found in Boulder donation bin."

[Boulder Police Department] spokeswoman Sarah Huntley has the story:

"One of our local charities has a collection bin outside the Barnes and Noble, at 2915 Pearl Street. From time to time, they go through the inventory -- sort through what's been donated to see what's going to be resold. And about 12:15 p.m. yesterday, they notified the police that they'd found a bag filled with a green, leafy substance.

"When we investigated further, we found that it was marijuana. It was a little less than two pounds, and our officers estimate that it has a street value of about $8,000."

Yes, Huntley confirms, "We will be destroying it. That's our policy." (March 12)

"Medical marijuana fight: Health department lobbies against MMJ use in treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder."

At today's judiciary committee hearing about HB 1284, a bill that aims to regulate the medical marijuana industry, Representative Sal Pace will offer an amendment to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of ailments that can be treated by MMJ.

Actively lobbying against his proposal? The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has been providing legislators with a fact sheet... Among the document's arguments: "There is no evidence of efficacy of marijuana for treatment of PTSD in the medical literature. In fact, the published literature suggests that such use leads to addiction and abuse of other substances." (March 22)

"4/20 in Boulder preview: 'An orgasm of cannabis consumption.'"

CU supervisors seem resigned to the 4/20 festivities going forward whether they like it or not. Although {NORML@CU executive director Alex Douglas would] be even more upbeat if the university actually supported what was going on.

"They think it's a black eye to the school, but to me, I think it's something they should embrace," he says. "These students pay a lot of money to go to CU, and they're standing up for what they believe in. The university thinks that's debasing the degree -- but why would taking a stand for something do that?" (April 19)

"4/20 at Civic Center: On the scene with our marijuana critic."

4:28 p.m.: Smoked some golden goat with a guy and his self-proclaimed-lightweight dad, and watched the haze rise over the crowd. The skies cleared up right at 415, only to get hazy again at 4/20 -- his time a slightly different haze.

I may be high, but I think I just heard that my idol, Willie Nelson, is here... Going to investigate...

4:47 p.m.: No Willie Nelson. Struck with disappointment (and in need of a pot nap), I decided there wasn't much more to cover. I made my way north on Bannock through the crowds, cops and TV-news reporters into downtown for my ride and (predictably) got lost...

4:56 p.m.: Found my ride...

Fun rally. As is always the case with the 4/20 rally, the actual event of smoking pot in public was the highlight of the day for most everyone. It was cool to see so many different types of people burning down with each other -- black kids from Five Points repping colors, passing huge blunts with pot-leaf-necklace-wearing, curly haired hippie girls.

It was more packed than last year, which shows how many people are learning about medical cannabis and cannabis in general.

Happy 4/20, everyone. (April 20)

"Pot proposal HB 1284 passes the Senate."

"What a long, strange trip it's been," state senator Chris Romer said earlier this week, as he contemplated the full Senate hearing of House Bill 1284, which will formalize the medical marijuana dispensary system in this state.

And after a few detours to add more amendments, the long, strange trip has reached something of a destination: The Senate just passed the bill -- but not before a few lawmakers continued to carp about its flaws.

The best line, though, came from Republican Nancy Spence, who co-sponsored the measure with Romer. "I asked about my role," she said, and Romer told her, "If the drug cartel takes me out, will you still be there to carry the bill to its third reading?" (May 6)

"Medical marijuana bills are flawed landmarks, says MMJ advocate Brian Vicente"

Vicente views the legislation as a blend of the good and the bad, with some ugly thrown in. But he concedes that, "in some ways, a number of advocates, including myself, are having a hard time seeing the forest through the trees. The long-term effect of a state doing this is landmark. But for folks like myself, who've been in the trenches and have spent considerable time fighting things like five-patient caps and local bans -- and now to see those things codified in state law -- well, that's tough to swallow." (May 12)

"Medical marijuana advocacy group implodes on the cusp of victory."

This week should have been a time to celebrate for the main players in Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation.

In recent months, the group has been an energetic and effective advocate for measures to codify the medical marijuana business in the state. Instead of rebelling against any and every attempt to limit the industry's activities, or backing away when legislators pushed proposals they saw as wrongheaded, CMMR representatives actively engaged in the process -- and while House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109 don't read like a dispensary owner's wish list, their approval by lawmakers, and Governor Bill Ritter's promise to sign them, is enormously significant for the medical marijuana movement in Colorado and beyond.

But as HB 1284 was passing through the legislature on Tuesday, CMMR's principals were at each other's throats, pointing fingers about potential wrongdoing in ways that have torn the organization in half. Some victory party. (May 14)

"Medical marijuana ban: Aurora City Council wants voters to approve one."

"One thing that really concerns me, and has from the beginning, is that marijuana is an illegal substance at the federal level," [councilman Bob Broom] says. "How in the world can you have a state law that overrides the federal law?"

That's not to say he rejects the possibility that marijuana might have some medicinal benefits: "I'm not totally black-and-white on this," he maintains. "But when you combine drugs and money at various locations, I think you're going to end up with, if not armed robberies, then break-ins at night and all kinds of things like that, which will put an additional burden on our police department and our court system." (May 24)

"Wearing 'Yes We Cannabis' T-shirt leads to 1-year ban from Aurora mall."

According to Jessica Corry, who's representing [John] Gailey in tandem with her [now-former] husband, fellow attorney Rob Corry, Gailey and his girlfriend visited the Aurora mall last Saturday and bought a Denver Broncos hat. But shortly after making the purchase, he was stopped by a security guard quickly joined by colleagues and representatives of the Aurora Police Department. They told him he could take off the "Yes We Cannabis" T-shirt, wear it inside-out, or leave.

Gailey turned down all three of these options, arguing that he was simply exercising his right to free speech. And besides, numerous mall stores sell marijuana-themed products, including Spencer's Gifts, a national chain.

The response from guards and officers was "a 45-minute police interrogation riddled with threats and a trespass citation," says Corry. Gailey was also told he's banned from shopping at the mall for a year. (May 27)

"Medical marijuana bills strengthen oversight, Bill Ritter says on signing HB 1284 and SB 109."

Governor Bill Ritter has finally signed HB 1284 and SB 109, the two medical marijuana bills that wended their way through the Colorado legislature this year.

How did this former district attorney explain his reasons for backing legislation that many law-enforcement officials around the state absolutely loathe? By arguing that they "strike a delicate balance between protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters."

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. But from a political standpoint, it makes sense to emphasize that a legislative solution had to be found in the wake of Amendment 20's passage almost a decade ago. (June 7)

"Medical marijuana deluge: Number of Colorado MMJ patients passes 100,000 mark."

As of this month, about 105,000 people have applied to the registry for cards -- which amounts to roughly 2 percent of the state's population. To put it another way, the number of would-be medical marijuana patients in Colorado now exceeds the total population of Pueblo -- and it's significantly higher than the percentage of Coloradans who identify themselves as American Indian.

Still, only a fraction of those Coloradans have received their official medical marijuana ID cards: 32,000 in 2010, [Colorado registrar for vital statistics Ron] Hyman says, with a backlog of 73,000 people whose applications are still being processed. To deal with that mountain of paperwork, Colorado's department of health has added 56 temporary employees this year, twenty of whom were hired over the past three weeks. If all goes as planned, the backlog should be eliminated over the next eight months. (July 26)

"Marijuana seizures up 380%, black market growing, says Commander Jerry Peters."

In his view, "the production of each plant, and how to verify that when you're trying to regulate this as a business, is problematic. You don't necessarily have an opportunity at the point of cultivation for someone to do an inspection to find out how much a plant is yielding. It's kind of difficult to say this plant will yield two ounces, or three ounces, or a pound. And each yield is different depending on the grow cycle as well.

"Sometimes you'll be short, and sometimes you'll be over. And each of these are issues that causes the black market to exist even more than it has been before. Because anytime you try to regulate an illegal business, you're going to drive other sources. It's a Whac-A-Mole. You push it down in one place and it pushes up in another -- and extra yields will be pushed out the back door." (August 5)

"Medical marijuana lawsuit against Westminster could challenge all local dispensary bans."

HB 1284, the medical marijuana regulation law signed by Governor Bill Ritter, includes the right for municipalities to ban dispensaries, and numerous cities, including Aurora and Broomfield, are taking advantage of it. But while MMJ attorneys have talked about issuing lawsuits to challenge this and other HB 1284 provisions, none have appeared -- until now. And the just-filed complaint involving Westminster's Herbal Remedies could be a game-changer.

Among the attorneys handling the case is Sean McAllister, who led the successful campaign to decriminalize marijuana in Breckenridge last November. He makes it clear that while the case focuses on the City of Westminster, he thinks it'll have statewide repercussions.

"This is the test case," he says, "and we as the plaintiffs and the attorneys are going to bear the obligation for the entire movement to get a good result here." (August 11)

"Medical marijuana: Does using $9 million in fees for budget shortfall screw MMJ patients?"

"This is essentially a proposal -- a plan we've submitted to the joint budget committee that they will review. Then it will go to the full legislature for a decision. And this is not unique to the medical marijuana fund. That language exists with all or most of the cash funds, and those types of transfers have helped us keep our budget balanced, along with spending cuts and eliminating programs and furloughs and reducing take-home pay. They've been one part of a larger strategy."

Moreover, [Governor Bill Ritter spokesman Evan] Dreyer notes, the medical-marijuana fund has been used in precisely this way already: "We did it with the medical marijuana fund this year, when the legislature was in session. They approved a $3 million transfer" -- a move that received next-to-no publicity. (August 25)

"Proposition 19 loss gives CO chance to be first state to legalize marijuana, says Mason Tvert"

At this point, Tvert and his supporters haven't pinned down the specifics of a 2012 ballot measure. But he says, "We're not going to cater to the fringe and those people who want to live in a dream world. We're going to move forward with the best law possible -- the one that's supported by the most people. And I think any law we introduce will be very different from Proposition 19, because Colorado is very different. We already have a state regulated system for medical marijuana on the books, and I think it'll be easier to open that up to a state regulated marijuana system for all adults." (November 3)

"Medical marijuana: Nearly 2,000 MMJ patient recommendations nixed over quiet rule change."

A week later, on October 25 -- after the department "finished getting legal advice and consulted the Board of Medical Examiners," [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark] Salley says -- personnel began returning the applications of patients with recommendations from Dean and the other seventeen doctors flagged for license restrictions. Complaints from patients soon erupted.

How many are affected? In a letter to various health department personnel, including acting chief medical officer Dr. Lisa Miller, Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute used the number 5,000, but Salley disputes that total. He says the actual amount is between 1,000 and 2,000 -- but closer to 2,000. (November 5)

"Marijuana election round-up: More losses than wins for MMJ in Colorado."

While the big weed setback last week might have been the defeat of California's Proposition 19, marijuana didn't fare too well in Colorado, either. As per the state's new medical marijuana laws, local officials are now allowed to ask voters whether or not their communities should allow dispensaries and affiliated businesses to operate. Last Tuesday, such votes went forward in fifteen counties and 28 cities and towns statewide -- and when the dust settled, MMJ had taken a beating.

While major communities like El Paso County and Pueblo embraced medical marijuana businesses, many more locales decided to ban MMJ businesses outright. (November 9)

"Medical marijuana licensing: Colorado scores $8 million from new business regulations."

Colorado is still enjoying the considerable windfall from its brand-new medical marijuana business licensing fees. As first reported by Face the State, Colorado has now collected more than $8 million in MMJ licensing fees since the rules went into effect this August, up from $7.3 million this summer. (November 16)

"Medical marijuana & flying: If paperwork checks out, Denver Police and the TSA say, 'Get high.'"

Carrie Harmon, TSA spokeswoman for the region, confirmed that patients have been allowed through security legally carrying their medical marijuana. She stopped short of saying it was TSA's call, however, noting that it's the agency's policy to contact local police if they find something they suspect is illegal during screening. "It's up to them to determine if passenger can fly with the item, not TSA," she says.

John White, spokesman for the Denver Police, said he wasn't aware of this issue having come up yet at DIA. He said if the TSA asked Denver Police to verify someone as a patient, they would "take every measure to make sure they are a valid cardholder," but added, "If they are in legal possession, we are in no position to tell that person they can not fly." (December 8)

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: New health dept. rules could be devastating for patient access, advocate says."

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