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Friday, December 10, 2010

Marijuana Roundup: The Year In Pot

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 12:45 PM


How was your 2010? For the cannabis community, it was a wild flip of the calendar, with dispensaries opening and closing, police raiding, a medical cannabis luminary thrown in jail for meth charges -- and we vaguely remember something about a legalization ballot measure.

There's still time yet before 2011 -- who knows what the next few weeks will bring?. In any event, here's your recap of the Year in Pot (to date).

Regulated Edibles Means Hidden Cookies

The year opened with ambitious rule changes from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which oversees the city's medical cannabis regulations. The city passed strict rules regarding dispensaries manufacturing and selling of medical cannabis edibles -- requiring food-handling courses and kitchen inspections for the folks cooking butter and baking brownies. New rules on labels were also passed: All edibles now come with a "made-on date" stamped on their wrappers -- which are now required to be opaque (as in not see-through), as to not attract children. Is your brownie rotten? Only one way to find out -- open it up and take a sniff. But that's what kids are for, right?

Boom to Busts in San Jose; Oakland Tests Feds with Farms

San Francisco is not the center of the universe -- for the cannabis community in 2010, the hubs of activity were Oakland and San Jose.

click to enlarge Sez the cop: 'Hey, you dropped this!'
  • Sez the cop: 'Hey, you dropped this!'

Long a cannabis wasteland -- no dispensaries operated in northern California's largest city from 1997 until 2009 -- San Jose "enjoyed" a Los Angeles-style dispensary boom after a city councilman made a proclamation at Halloween in 2009 that the city should permit -- and tax -- cannabis clinics. The lawmaker, Pierluigi Olivera, promised to write a law allowing clinics -- and over a year later, he hasn't yet. Perhaps he will do so soon.

In the meantime, somewhere between 50 and 100 clubs (nobody is really sure) went ahead and opened up in Santa Clara County anyway. Players ranged from the huge (Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the nation's biggest dispensary, inaugurated a San Jose location) to the tiny (stories of fly-by-night storefronts opening for a week, selling off a few pounds and vanishing again abound). But the big dog in San Jose is law enforcement. Beginning in September, an intra-agency special task force called the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team starting raiding dispensaries with gusto. And just like Al Capone, it was the bookkeeping that did it: SCCSET claimed that dispensaries were making a profit as their excuse to seize cash, medicine and bank account records from Angels Care Collective, MediLeaf and a handful of other pot clubs. No charges have been filed, but with over $1 million worth of medicine lying somewhere in an evidence room, the damage is done. SCCSET has promised more raids throughout the month of December.

Across the Bay in Oakland, city officials are testing the federal government's patience with a plan to license up to four giant industrial-size pot farms. The brainchild of Council member Rebecca Kaplan, tax and permit revenues from the farms are projected to make millions for the cash-strapped city -- but they're also guaranteed to attract unwanted attention from Uncle Sam. Now unnamed sources are saying Attorney General Eric Holder -- the same guy who said that pot clubs would be left unmolested if they obeyed state and local law -- is promising Oakland city officials that they as well as the would-be farmers will be subject to prosecution if the farms are permitted and allowed to operate. At the moment it's a high-stakes game of THC chicken: Oakland is scheduled to announce the winners of the four permits in January, and the feds could swoop in at any time thereafter. Makes San Francisco -- where the biggest news was two dispensaries opening and another losing out in the permitting process after a year-long struggle -- look boring by comparison. But we still had some fun, didn't we?

SFPD: BS About Crime, Shut Down a Good Time - But They Returned 7 Pounds

San Francisco cops and cannabis-users generally enjoy a functional and positive, if not entirely cordial, relationship. Public cannabis use is enforced about as stringently as public intoxication, and police abide by the city's lowest-priority ordinance. And cops play by the rules: When cultivation charges were dropped against a West side grower, the SFPD returned the seven pounds of medicine it had seized -- and in good condition, according to the recipients.

But police-pot relations were strained in the springtime, when then-Taraval Station Captain Denise Schmitt penned an open letter to the Planning Commission claiming that medical cannabis dispensaries -- such as the one which at that time was applying for a permit to operate at 2139 Taraval Street in the Sunset District, Schmitt's area of patrol -- cause crime, from "strong-arm robberies" to "gang-style executions." Heavy stuff -- but when has this ever happened in San Francisco, exactly? Good question: When pressed, Police Chief George Gascon could not provide statistics to back up his subordinate's claims, leading Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus to call both Gascon and Schmitt onto the carpet at a public meeting for "politicking" against pot. Epilogue: the Sunset pot club was defeated at the Board of Permit Appeals a year after its would-be owners filed the original application. Schmitt was promoted to assistant chief.

A tough year for Dennis Peron
  • A tough year for Dennis Peron

Maybe that's why Officer Timothy Dalton, head of permitting at Bayview Station, tried to shut down Americans for Safe Access' patient-advocacy fundraiser at Club Cocomo last month. When the Potrero Hill nightspot planned to host the Fourth Annual Cannabis Competition in November, Dalton placed a call to Club Cocomo's ownership informing them that their liquor license was at risk if they hosted the event. ASA was forced to move the event at the last minute to Terra Gallery in South of Market -- at roughly 10 times the rent, which ate up any funds the event would have raised.

And continuing a lifetime trend, pot luminary Dennis Peron -- the Castro LGBT activist and author of Proposition 215 -- ran afoul of the law again. His Castro Castle was raided in August and October, and he and some of his house guests were taken into custody. Peron was eventually charged with child porn and methaphetamine offenses, and will stand trial in 2011 for both.

Oh, And Prop 19

How could we forget? Actually, we'll never be able to forget: 2010 was the year of the ballot initiative, when Proposition 19 - the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 2010 - was submitted for the approval of the voters. The ballot initiative was plenty controversial a half-year before anyone saw a ballot booth or voter guide: Cannabis advocates were split over the proposition's merits, with some angered over the new criminal penalties included in the law, and others advocating for legalization at any cost, even if it's imperfect, semi-legalization. As you may have heard, the ballot initiative lost -- but it amassed more votes than gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman, and at 1 percent of the cost.

Oaksterdam University impresario Richard Lee, the chief sponsor of Prop 19, promised another ballot initiative in 2012 ... when most cannabis activists wanted to try for legalization in the first place.

READ MORE: Constantly updated marijuana news at Toke of the Town.

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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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