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2013: The Year California Did Nothing on Drug Reform 

Wednesday, Dec 25 2013

This was going to be the year. Not when California policy got with the polling and made marijuana legal for all adults (that's next year, or 2016), but at least when the state got its shit together and embraced and regulated medical weed, its biggest cash crop.

But it wasn't. Legalization is still waiting for us, predictably and reliably ahead in The Future (whenever that may be), and in the meantime, the present is reliably fucked.

Medical cannabis in California is still an erratic and inconsistent hodgepodge, thanks to a combination of lawmakers' gaffes and law enforcement's hostility in Sacramento. Despite polling that is so pro-legalization that the only surprise is exactly how many people have turned towards weed (support for ending the war on cannabis polls in the high 50 or 60 percent), California cities are still banning dispensaries while at this moment legal, adult-use pot stores in Denver and Seattle are making plans to open up in the next few months.

This, despite more studies and research that show prohibition to be unjustly directed at black and brown nonviolent offenders and marijuana to be relatively benign and medically effective (except when you ask the U.S. Supreme Court, that is).

Was 2013 a total waste of time? For drug reform, in California, yes. But on the bright side: The feds shut down only one dispensary in San Francisco, lawmakers' efforts to make marijuana smokers subject to an automatic DUI failed — and, best of all, the Year That Shouldn't Have Bothered is over.

At least it was interesting. Here are some highlights.


2013 was when dabbing — pardon the pun — blew up. A super high, delivered via a hit from a small amount of concentrated cannabis, usually made via butane extraction (a common acronym is BHO, or butane honey oil). Already controversial within the movement ("This is medical?" was a common burn), dabbing was vilified in the press for causing lab explosions and rendering dabbers babbling stoned messes. Only the latter is valid.


Could the annual April 20 smokeout on Hippie Hill be coming to a close? If politicians and the public remember this year's debacle, it might. Already on thin ice with city officials, Northern California pot smokers did prohibitionists a solid by depositing a literal ton of garbage in Golden Gate Park at 4/20 2013 (falling as it did on a Saturday). The mess, along with the traffic, noise, and flock of stoned people, led some former flower children in the neighborhood to call for the event's end.

You know something's amiss when even the Haight-Ashbury is turning on you.


"Weed is legal!" Barack Obama and Eric Holder seemed to say on the campaign trail and in 2009, when the Justice Department issued a now-notorious memo saying state law on cannabis would be respected. "Weed is NOT legal!" the duo said with another memo in 2011, when U.S. Attorneys cracked down on the industry, which was in the throes of a resultant boom in dispensaries and cultivation sites (and crash in the price of wholesale weed).

Then, this August, another memo. This one could most closely be read as, "Weed is illegal, but we'll leave it alone under these certain eight conditions... just trust us."


Yet for all the talk of obeying state law, the feds sure are working hard to promote illegal activity. Dispensaries, which are nearly all-cash since being barred from using credit card companies (unless they use Square or just flat-out lie) and have trouble finding banks willing to take their business, this summer found themselves rejected by the armored car and security firms required to carry all that cash around.


And just in case there wasn't enough reefer madness in the world...

Weed nearly burned down Yosemite National Park — along with San Francisco's water supply. That was the story for a few days, anyway. At the height of the Rim Fire in August, a fire chief in rural Tuolumne County told a public meeting that it was "highly suspect[ed]" an outlaw marijuana grow had sparked the third-largest wildfire in California history.

The news made national headlines... until a few days later, when federal investigators identified a hunter's errant campfire as the cause. The origin of the marijuana-grow theory was never revealed.

So here we are: more or less where we were. On to 2014.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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