A Banner Year for Bhang

Pot smokers got a Christmas present this year when televangelist Pat Robertson spoke up against locking up small-time marijuana criminals on his December 23 “700 Club” broadcast.

The surprise announcement came on the heels of news that a Montana prosecutor found it impossible to seat a jury to convict repeat offender Teuray Cornell for selling a small amount of marijuana. After several jurors expressed their disgust at the waste of resources involved in taking the case to trial, a plea agreement was reached in which Cornell was not required to admit to guilt.

One potential juror told the judge, “I was convicted of marijuana possession a few years ago, and it ruined my life.” This prompted another to ask, “Tell me, how much marijuana are we talking about?…If it was a pound or a truckload or something like that, OK, but I’m not going to convict someone of a sale with two or three buds.” And at that point, four or five additional jurors spontaneously raised their hands and said, “Me too.”

The “Mutiny in Montana” story’s got legs, with the New York and LA Times, picking up the news, and seeing it as a trend. At the same time, outlets like the Washington Post were picking up an AP story about LA Cannabis clubs re-opening despite efforts to shut them down. Seems there isn’t enough enforcement around to keep a good plant down.
It was a positive ending to a huge year for marijuana reform efforts. After Prop. 19’s strong 46% showing in California, reformers are ramping up for another rollicking year in 2011, starting with a CalNORML-sponsored conference in Berkeley on January 29.

Here’s a round up of the Top Ten Underreported Marijuana Stories from 2010:

1. Princes of Pot, Flowers Both in U.S.
Canadian Marc Emery, known as the Prince of Pot, was extradited to the US for a 5-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds online. At the same time, the national museum of Mexico loaned the famous Xochipilli “Flower Prince” statue to the Getty Villa in Malibu where it was on view. Emery’s extradition is the latest example of the demonization of our ancient, sacramental plant teachers, celebrated in Xochipilli.

2. Heavyweights Endorse California Initiative
Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP made powerful statements in support of California’s Prop. 19. Huffman testified in Sacramento at hearings on Prop. 19, saying, “[Marijuana] is not a gateway to other drugs in my community, it’s a gateway to the penal system.”She spoke at the National NORML conference on the topic, “The New Jim Crow: Marijuana Prohibition.”

Actor Danny Glover appeared at an LA press conference just before the vote to speak in support of the measure, saying he’s had brothers arrested for marijuana use. Singer Melissa Etheridge said, “I don’t want to look like a criminal to my children anymore.”

3. Boxer Aide Resigns Over Pot Flap; “Ongoing Issue” at Capitol
Marcus Stanley, a senior aide for California Senator Barbara Boxer, resigned after he was caught on September 7 trying to bring a bag of pot into the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. Politico reported, “Marijuana possession has been an ongoing issue on the Capitol grounds, especially since the Capitol Visitor Center opened with additional screening facilities. In the past year and a half, more than a dozen people have been stopped for bringing marijuana into the Capitol complex.”

4. Who Dosed J.R.?
TV star (Dallas, I Dream of Jeannie) Larry Hagman, who has previously called for marijuana legalization, admitted to taking LSD on the Joy Behar show, saying, “I think it ought to be mandatory that all our politicians should do it at least once.” Behar noted that Cary Grant also took LSD and commented that it was popular among Hollywood people. “Yes, and college students and high school students and doctors and lawyers and dentists…” said Hagman. An August Vanity Fair article reminisced about the days when Grant and other Hollywood stars experimented with the then-legal drug.

5. Randy Paul and the Aqua Buddha
U.S. Senate candidate, teabagger and dubious doctor Rand Paul was outed as a strange and perverse pothead by GQ Magazine in August. The magazine quoted a woman who was one of Paul’s teammates on the Baylor swim team who said Paul and a friend kidnapped her and tried to force her to take bong hits. “They told me their god was ‘Aqua Buddha’ and that I needed to bow down and worship him,” the woman recalled. Kentuckians voted nevertheless to put Paul in office.

6. Famous Coroner Says Marijuana Doesn’t Cause Death
The US’s most famous coroner, Cyril Wecht, stood up at an August meeting in Pittsburgh in support of a medical marijuana law there. Wecht, 90, was the coroner who examined John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Anna Nicole Smith. In more than 36,000 autopsies, Wecht said he had never seen a death attributed to marijuana use. “Restricting a drug which can have therapeutic medicinal purposes in specific instances, which does not lead to morbidity and mortality, just makes no sense,” he said. “Let’s help ease physical and emotional pain and suffering.”

7. Ex-Pres Inhaled…Brownies?
Author Christopher Hitchens, who was at Oxford at the same time as Bill Clinton, purported to explain in his memoir Hitch-22 why Clinton said he didn’t inhale. Hitchens wrote, “He preferred, like many another marijuana enthusiast, to take his dope in the form of large handfuls of cookies and brownies.”

8. Pentagon Shooter Protested Drug War Injustice, Corruption
Jeffrey Patrick Bedell, who was shot and killed when he opened fire at the Pentagon in March, had been arrested for marijuana cultivation in Irvine, California in 1996. Bedell blogged about the injustice of the drug wars, including the 1991 death of Colonel James Sabow, who allegedly had knowledge of officers at the El Toro Navy base shipping drugs into the US from Central America.

9. Reagan’s Grandson Wanted on Pot Charge
A judge issued a warrant in March for the arrest of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s grandson for failing to answer a charge of marijuana possession. Cameron Reagan – the son of radio and TV personality Michael Reagan –
was pulled over for speeding in Malibu, California in November 2009, and officers allegedly found the pot while searching his car. Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy kicked off her “Just Say No” to drugs campaign in 1984.

10. Medical Marijuana Smoker Wins the Iditarod
For the first time, Iditarod mushers were tested for marijuana this year, possibly a policy targeted at three-time champion Lance Mackey, a cancer survivor open about his use of medical marijuana to combat pain. Mackey won the grueling race in March, despite having both knees injected with synthetic cartilage and his right arm still healing from a major operation to fix a staph infection.

This year, we said goodbye to VIPs Jack Herer, Dennis Hopper, Tony Curtis and Eddie Fisher. Also: Darryl Gates, the LAPD chief who said, “Casual drug users should be taken out and shot” to a 1990 Senate committee, died on April 16.

Ellen Komp is an activist and writer who manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com.