Letter from the Editor

2009 – A Great Year for Medical Cannabis

With the economy still gasping like an old man crawling across a desert, it would be easy to dismiss 2009 as The Bad Year—the year for which nothing good could be said except that it’s over.

But look closer. For the medical-marijuana community, at least, 2009 was actually a lot better than economists would have us believe. Cannabis made giant strides last year toward becoming the legal and socially acceptable natural resource it had been before the likes of William Randolph Hearst got his hands on it.

Whether you voted for him or not, we got a new president last January—one who apparently understands that the whole point of smoking is to inhale and that the best use of federal resources isn’t kicking down the doors of sick people. It isn’t enough, of course, and of course we want more. We want the raids to stop entirely, and for the White House to throw its full weight behind legalization. But at long last, the carpet bombing has stopped.

Also last January, Massachusetts became the 12th U.S. state to decriminalize small quantities of cannabis. Now, admittedly, “decriminalization” is a funny word, and one reeking of hypocrisy. It’s institutionalized denial—an open admission that prohibition is unworkable but the only trick legislators and law enforcement have up their sleeves. But at the very least, it’s a step in the right direction. Ask a Bostonian who’s just been caught with a gram of medicine how he feels about decriminalization, and he’ll likely explain to you the difference between a ticket and a jail cell.

In Colorado, medical cannabis finally came into its own in 2009, with more than 100 collectives and dispensaries opening in Denver alone. Other states—including Arizona, New Jersey and Wisconsin—are poised to join the 13 others that have adopted compassionate-use programs.

Helping them along was the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection, in May, of lawsuits by the counties of San Diego and San Bernardino challenging California’s own compassionate-use program—Prop. 215. The court’s decision sent a clear message to the counties that they could no longer pretend the 13-year-old voter-approved initiative existed, and cleared the way for other states to adopt their own programs.

In November, the American Medical Association reversed its long (and increasingly untenable) position against medical cannabis when it urged the federal government to remove marijuana from its Schedule I list of narcotic substances. The 250,000-member doctors’ organization simply could no longer maintain the charade that pot is without medicinal value, is as dangerous to the public health as heroin and is more dangerous than cocaine. To understand how dramatic a reversal the decision was, consider that AMA doctors played a key role 70 years ago in prohibiting cannabis in the first place.

Shortly after the AMA policy shift, the L.A. City Council rejected a call by City Atty. Carmen Trutanich to ban sales of medical cannabis at the estimated 800 to 1,000 dispensaries operating in the city. Declaring that patients have a right to access to their medicine, the council then moved forward on adopting a dispensary ordinance that would both regulate the industry while acknowledging the fact that cannabis was here to stay.

Quite a year, indeed.

For the first time in more than seven decades, Americans got a taste of what the mainstreaming of marijuana might actually look like—and they liked what they saw. Throughout 2009, poll after poll revealed growing public support of both medical marijuana and the once-unthinkable concept of re-legalizing cannabis for all adults. A clear majority of Californians favor legalization and taxation of pot, while nationwide, support for lifting prohibition is higher than it’s ever been.

If trends continue, America’s anti-harm reduction warriors will soon find themselves in their rightful place in the great marijuana debate—firmly in the minority.

Onward and upward in 2010!

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