The Year In Pot

Twelve Months in the Life of Marijuana Prohibition

April 25: The Hawaii State Senate passes medical marijuana legislation, joining California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Alaska, Arizona, and the District of Columbia in shielding medical marijuana patients from criminal prosecution.

June 9: Human Rights Watch releases a study showing that Illinois has the worst racial disparity among jailed drug offenders of any state in the nation. Black men in Illinois are 57 times more likely than white men to be sent to prison on drug charges, and blacks make up 90 percent of all drug-related prison admissions. Though federal studies show that nationwide white drug users outnumber black drug users 5 to 1, blacks make up about 62 percent of prisoners incarcerated on drug charges, compared with 36 percent for whites.

June 14: Los Angeles—Bestselling author, cancer and AIDS patient, and high-profile medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams is found dead in his home. McWilliams, barred by a federal court order from using marijuana to counteract the extreme nausea caused by his AIDS drugs, is found slumped on his bathroom floor, choked to death on vomit. His federal prosecutors say they are "saddened by his death."

McWilliams's books include How to Heal Depression; Getting Over the Loss of a Love; Life 101; and Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country.

July 31: Ontario, Canada—Ontario's top court rules unanimously (3-0) that Canada's law making marijuana possession a crime is unconstitutional, because it does not take into account the needs of medical marijuana patients. The judges allow the current law to remain in effect for another 12 months, to permit Parliament to rewrite it. However, if the Canadian government fails to set up a medical marijuana distribution program by July 31, 2001, all marijuana laws in Canada will be struck down.

August 16: Los Angeles—The American Medical Marijuana Association reports that medical marijuana patient, grower, and author of How to Grow Medical Marijuana Todd McCormick, confined to federal prison while appealing his case, has been sent to solitary confinement. Todd has severe spinal problems that have caused him "unbearable" pain, according to his mother, Ann McCormick. She says Todd went to the medical office and requested the synthetic form of marijuana, Marinol, produced by Unimed Pharmaceuticals, which he had been taking before his incarceration. One day after Todd asked for the easily prescribed drug, the feds ordered he be drug tested. When the results came back positive for marijuana, Todd was placed in solitary confinement.

August 20: Seattle—A crowd estimated at 100,000 gathers at Myrtle Edwards Park for Hempfest 2000, calling for the legalization of marijuana for personal and medical use, as well as legalization of hemp for environmentally sustainable industrial uses. The event is the largest of its kind in the world, with no arrests reported.

September 8: Santa Fe—Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader joins New Mexico's Republican governor, Gary Johnson, in criticizing the nation's war on drugs, calling for marijuana legalization and reform of what Nader calls "self-defeating and antiquated" drug laws. Rehabilitation gives a far better payoff than "criminalizing and militarizing the situation," Nader says at a news conference. "Study after study has shown that, and yet somehow it doesn't get through to federal policy."

October 16: The FBI releases its 1999 Uniform Crime Report. There was a record total of 704,812 U.S. marijuana arrests in 1999, or one every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 620,541 (88 percent) were for simple marijuana possession, and 84,271 (12 percent) were for sales or cultivation. Through 1999, there were 4,175,357 marijuana arrests under the Clinton administration, a record for any U.S. presidency.

November 7, election day: Voters across the United States pass sweeping drug law reform initiatives. In California, despite united opposition from Governor Gray Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, statewide police associations, and prison guard unions, citizens vote 61 percent to 39 percent to pass Proposition 36, diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. Proponents claim the move will save the state $150 million annually and eliminate the need for a new state prison. Mendocino County voters approve Measure G by a 58-42 margin, decriminalizing personal use and the growing of up to 25 marijuana plants.

Nevadans vote 65 percent to 35 percent to pass Question 9, allowing qualified patients to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. In response, a self-appointed task force of state health care officials, the Nevada Medical Marijuana Initiative Work Group, moves to limit use of the drug to research studies, adding months if not years to approval time.

By a 53-47 margin, Colorado voters pass Amendment 20, allowing qualified patients to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Tom Strickland, U.S. attorney for Colorado, says that his office will continue to "aggressively enforce federal drug laws, including the prohibition of marijuana, regardless of the passage of this ballot initiative."

Utahans, by a margin of 69-31, pass Initiative B, denying government agencies the right to seize property from individuals before they are convicted of a crime.

Oregonians pass a similar property-seizure reform initiative, Measure 3—the Oregon Property Protection Act—by a margin of 67-33. Measure 3 diverts drug forfeiture proceeds from police treasuries into drug treatment programs.

November 27: In U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, 00-151, the Supreme Court takes on the issue of whether "medical necessity" is an acceptable defense against the federal law that makes marijuana distribution a crime. A decision is expected by June 2001.

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