Top ten Westword marijuana news stories of 2011

From regulations changing and shops being raided, to pizza delivery guys calling the cops on tokers, it has been an interesting year for medical marijuana in Colorado.

Below is our top ten list of Westword's most popular marijuana stories of 2011 as well as links to the original posts.

10. Marijuana: Colorado to formally ask DEA to designate pot Schedule II controlled substance When House Bill 1284 was passed into law, many people were upset by the regulations it created. But one small section also forced our state to take an active pro-marijuana position with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

By the end of the year (like, in a few days), the Colorado Department of Revenue director Barbara Brohl has to request that the DEA reschedule marijuana from a schedule I substance with no medicinal value, to a schedule II controlled substance with some recognized medicinal value. Unfortunately, the governors of Washington and Rhode Island beat her to the punch when they both petitioned for the rescheduling together (our own guv has declined to follow their lead).

As of December 20, the letter from Colorado hasn't been mailed. Department spokesman Mark Couch assures us that it's on Brohl's end-of-the-year to-do list, though.

9. Marijuana raid: Cherry Top Farms compliant with state, but feds still seize plants, medicine Colorado had remained somewhat free of Federal intervention in our dispensary system since shops started flourishing back in 2009, until this raid. The unfortunate part of the story? The DEA wasn't specifically targeting Cherry Top Farms at all. Instead, they were going after the owner Earth's Medicine, Nathan Do, who was allegedly illegally shipping marijuana out of state.

Federal agents followed Do as he made a delivery of what Cherry Top Farms assumed was legal marijuana to their shop and moved in to snag him. Cherry Top Farms managers swear that they were 100 percent compliant, but since Federal agents can't ignore a 2,500 plant grow when they see one - Cherry Top went down with Do and hasn't reopened since. Some argue that this proved the state's regulation system is working to keep legal shops in business while weeding out bad seeds like Do, while others say it is just a small taste of the massive raids to come.

8. Med. marijuana patients pulled over by cops talking their way into jail? When a guy who used to have to prosecute marijuana cases as judge tells you how to avoid a ticket, you listen. At least, that was the case earlier this month when Latest Word editor Michael Roberts caught up with former Lafayette judge Leonard Frieling.

Despite the urge most patients would have to hand over their card the minute any sign of trouble arises, Frieling says to do the opposite: "Don't drive impaired. Don't break two laws at the same time. And don't confess." When the cops ask "What's that I smell?," Frieling suggests responding with: "I don't smell anything," or, "If you want to have any discussions like that, they have to be arranged through my lawyer.

7. HempCon 2011: What do fake orgasms have to do with medical marijuana? As I wrote at the time: What does a skeezy beauty pageant, and "hot ass" and "best orgasm" contests have to do with medical marijuana? Nothing.

Both were scheduled events for HempCon 2011 held at the end of September, though after my phone call to the promoters for the original story they pulled the events from the schedule. Some people agreed with us, while others thought our take was prudish. Either way, the story blew up and the discussion in the comment section was one of the best all year.

6. Medical marijuana: Donor complaints lead food bank to abandon dispensary pot-for-food drive

Being a community dispensary, Urban Cannabis wanted to support those less fortunate around them by donating 2,000 pounds of food to Metro CareRing, a local food bank. But after Metro CareRing received calls from a few conservative "faith" groups that were incensed by the group pairing up with what they no doubt viewed as evil, sinful drug peddlers, the organization decided to sever all ties with Urban Cannabis.

The move baffled anyone with anyone with an ounce of sense, especially considering that metro-area food banks often struggle for donations during the spring and what many volunteer groups consider the off-season for donations due to the lack of major holidays. Urban Cannabis eventually found a home for their canned goods with A Community Taking a Stand.

5. Med. marijuana laws = 9 percent traffic-death decline, 5 percent beer-sales dip, study finds

Two professors from Montana and Colorado took a look at the issue -- both being from medical marijuana states -- and found that alcohol consumption and highway deaths from booze dipped from 1990 to 2009 in the thirteen medical marijuana states they surveyed. While they don't make the direct correlation between more people choosing ganja over booze, some say it was implied in the study itself.

This story was so popular because it showed what marijuana users have known for a long time: driving stoned doesn't necessarily equate to more dangerous roadways.

4. Medical marijuana: Coca-Cola says it won't put Coke machines in dispensaries, then backtracks. After an Altitude Wellness Center manager called to have their soda machine restocked, she was told "Coca-Cola has made an internal decision not to place equipment at Marijuana dispensaries." In response to that, AWC sent out emails saying "We'd be remiss if we didn't urge everyone that is involved in MMJ to boycott Coca-Cola, by not purchasing it in grocery stores and by refusing it at fast food places and movie theatres [sic.] or anywhere else Coca-Cola has a presence... IF Coke doesn't need us, do we really need Coke?"

A few days later, Coke retracted their statement and issued an apology to AWC. Maybe the thought of several hundred thousand stoners boycotting their product all at once hit them, or maybe they just realized that Coke goes great with the munchies.

3. Medical marijuana: Papa John's delivery driver calls cops on legal patient over weed There's an unspoken rule that even if for some odd reason a pizza delivery driver isn't a stoner, they are supposed to be okay with it. Apparently nobody told that to the Aurora Papa Johns driver who called the cops on Rick Smith late last November. Smith got off without even a warning from the sympathetic police, but Papa Johns never apologized for the driver's actions.

The result? Hundreds of comments on our blog from people vowing never to eat at the pizza chain again and free pizzas every month for a year for Smith from cannabis-friendly local pizza chain, Sexy Pizza.

2. Medical marijuana hearing nods to "Drugs are Bad, M'Kay" South Park ep?

It was pretty clear from the start that Rep. Cindy Acree didn't really have a grasp on the industry she was trying to regulate last year when she introduced HB 1250. Her orignal draft would have ended edibles altogether, based on her fear that children were getting into THC-laced foods. Despite rational arguments to the contrary, Acree kept on with her bill seemingly to save face.

Things got really strange when someone decided to insert some South Park humor onto an example of a warning label that Acree was supporting, riling the feathers of watchdog activist group, the Cannabis Therapy Institute. In the end, the legislation was so pared down from it's original form that many say it was a useless waste of time and didn't add anything that existing state laws weren't already requiring.

1. Marijuana seizure in Pike National Forest: Were the 3,000 plants really worth $9 million? This story from September surprised me a little at first as being the most popular marijuana story of the year. But I think the fact that it blatantly showed how law enforcement trumps their figures to make themselves seem needed resonated with people not just in Colorado, but also around the world as this story was also picked up on Reddit and Digg.

As one commenter put it: "Let's just give the "DEA and their boyfriends" (love that line btw) some slack and say each plant produces a QP. That would net 750 pounds from the whole crop, which would mean they are getting $12,000 a pound.

That shit better be good..."

Page down for William Breathes' personal top ten list of 2011.

Finally, some of this year's biggest stories weren't the ones to get picked up nationally and garner massive pageviews. Because of that, some of the most important stories of the year were clearly overlooked above. To hopefully make up for the discrepancies, below are my Top 10 stories of the year:

10. CU to (attempts to) ban 4/20 celebration on campus.

9. Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division chief Dan Hartman re-assigned, former liquor chief Laura Harris takes over.

8. Local municipalities ban medical marijuana centers

7. High Times brings Medical Cannabis Cup to Denver

6. Banks stop working with medical marijuana centers.

5. Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol group files language, activists feel left-out of discussions 4. Medical marijuana red card wait times

3. Health Department could deny as many as 4,200 applications

2. 40,000 patients drop off the Medical Marijuana Registry in four months.

1. Proposed THC DUI-bill gets defeated.

Feel free to suggest your top stories of the year in the comments below.

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes