What a year for marijuana!  More progress has been made in 2009 than the previous three decades combined. Marijuana discussion has hit the mainstream with major articles in publications like Fortune Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, CBS News, CNN, the Economist and dozens of others!  Let’s take a look at the top ten news stories of this momentous year.

1. Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps Caught Smoking Bong

The photo of Michael Phelps hitting a bong was on the front page of every newspaper in February.  The sight of the world’s greatest Olympic athlete smoking pot got people talking.  This story broke less than a year after he won the most Olympic medals in history.  Phelps lost some major sponsors, including Kelloggs, but some stayed behind him.  Subway capitalized on the media attention and released TV ads starring Phelps with the slogan “Be Yourself” (Youtube).  Kellogg’s reputation sank after dropping Phelps largely due to a boycott in support of the athlete (link). Not even an industry-wide peanut scare inflicted as much damage on the food company’s reputation.

2. US Federal Government Stops Medical Raids

Until 2009 the DEA was raiding medical marijuana dispensaries even though they were legal under state law.  Under the Bush regime these raids peaked.  Thirteen US states have allowed the sale of medical marijuana with California being number one.  There are over 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in LA alone.  Obama stated early in the year that he opposed  these raids but it was not till October that it became official.  Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

3. American Medical Association Calls for Government to Review Marijuana Restrictions

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drugs in the US.  That means it has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug.  Cocaine and methamphetamine are in the lower classification Schedule II.  The official AMA statement reads

The AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.

The AMA statement shows that marijuana has undeniable medical uses and federal law should reflect that reality.

4. Marc Emery Gets Fucked Over by US Feds

The Prince of Pot was arrested in Canada on orders from the US DEA.  He was arrested in 2005 and the long extradition battle finally ended this year.  Marc was targeted because of his involvement in the marijuana legalization movement.  He was the leader of the BC Marijuana Party and publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine.  The charges against Emery include Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana, Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana Seeds and Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering.  He was the owner of Emery Seeds a company that sold marijuana seeds to Canadian and US customers over the internet.  Canadian authorities have not pressed charges.  Marc expected to be sentenced to five years in US federal prison.  DEA does not dispute that Emery is a political prisoner they issued a press release lauding his arrest as a blow to the legalization movement.  More on Marc Emery.

5. Latin America Ex-Leaders Say Drug War is a Failure

Cesar Gaviria, former president of Columbia, has joined with former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to try to change the debate on drugs in Latin America.  Trafficking gangs have killed tens of thousands of people and weakened democracies through corruption. The presidents form a group called Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy.  They say

the war against drugs is failing and the U.S. government should break with prohibition policies that have achieved little more than cram its prisons and stoke violence.

The commission’s report was successful in changing they way Latin America thinks about illicit drug use.

6. Mexico and Argentina Decriminalize Marijuana and Other Drugs

Mexican congress voted to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs in June.  The bill says users caught with small amounts( 5 grams of marijuana, 500 milligrams of cocaine, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine or 50 milligrams of heroin) of drugs will not be criminally prosecuted.  Argentina followed Mexico’s lead in August of this year.  The Argentine supreme court ruled that drug laws were in conflict with the constitution.  Possession and consumption of small amounts of narcotics were decriminalized. In exchange, the government will publicly fund drug treatment programs for minor offenders and addicts, much like other nations, including the Netherlands and Spain.  Brazil and Ecuador have plans to decriminalize as well.

7. California Proposes Bill to Legalize Marijuana

In February Tom Ammiano of the California State Assembly proposed a bill titled The Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act.  This bill would legalize marijuana and tax it in the same way as alcohol.  If passed marijuana would be legally sold to anyone over the age of 21.  To obtain a commercial grow license one would pay an initial $5,000 fee, then a $2,500 fee each year after that. A tariff of $50 per ounce would also be placed on all sold and grown marijuana.  An estimated $1 billion in annual revenue would be made.  The bill has been delayed and is expected to be heard by state committee in early 2010.  The press jumped on this story broadcasting it all over the world.  It got people talking about the financial benefits of legalization.

8. Breckenridge, Colorado Voters Legalize Marijuana and Paraphernalia

The small ski town in Colorado voted 3 to 1 for the legalization measure.  It was placed on the ballot after campaigners turned in a petition with almost three-times the number of signatures required.  Breckenridge is the first place to legalize paraphernalia in the US. Possession of marijuana is already decriminalized in Colorado, up to 1 oz results in nothing more than a $100 fine.  Drug laws are not determined at the municipal level but this measure makes marijuana possession a low priority for police.

9. Five Years After: Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Policy Shows Positive Results

In 2001 Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other illicit street drugs.  The country was facing rising levels of HIV and drug related deaths.  They took the bold move in an effort to focus on treatment and prevention instead of incarceration.  A report published in the spring of 2009 by the Cato Institute, a Washington libertarian think tank, showed the real world benefits of decriminalization.  Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006.  The report shot down the assumption that liberalizing drug laws will create an increase in drug use and addiction, one of the DEA’s top ten reasons against legalization.

10. British Drug Advisor Fired for Saying Pot is Safer Than Alcohol.

David Nutt was chair of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and a professor of neuropsychopharmacology.  The British government moved cannabis from Class C to the more restrictive Class B in opposition to Nutt’s recommendations. According to Nutt, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made “completely irrational statements” about the dangers of marijuana use. According to Nutt:

“I’m not prepared to mislead the public about the harmfulness of drugs like cannabis and Ecstasy.”

His opponents say he embarrassed the British government, which toughened the penalties for possessing marijuana earlier this year.  The decision to fire David Nutt was no doubt tied to the upcoming general election.  After all, it’s hard to convince voters you’re on their side when your own drug advisor is going about telling them you’re full of shit.

Runner Up

Drug Czar Calls for End to the War on Drugs

The head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, aka the drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske said in an interview that the Obama government wants to make changes to the drug war.  The new strategy will spend more money on treating addiction and scale down the war on drugs rhetoric as part of an overhaul of U.S. counternarcotics strategy. He emphasized the point that “legalization is not on the table” and that the war will continue but they don’t want to use the title “War on Drugs” any more.