When the decade opened, marijuana was illegal in Colorado, even for medicinal use.
As it comes to a close, pot leaf-emblazoned dispensaries have opened in nearly every community that hasn't banned them, and the number of people registered with the state as medical marijuana users has exploded.
Colorado voters took the first step down this path in November 2000 when they approved Amendment 20, which legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for patients and their caregivers.
But the road took unanticipated twists and turns this year -- first with the announcement by the Obama administration that it wouldn't pursue federal charges against marijuana users who complied with state laws, then with the decision by the state Board of Health to remove limits on the number of patients a caregiver could see.
Applications to state Department of Public Health and Environment for medical marijuana cards skyrocketed, and entrepreneurs saw an opportunity and seized it.
At the start of the year, fewer than 5,000 people were registered as medical marijuana users with the state. Today, there are an estimated 30,000.
"We expected an increase with the policy changes, but the increase exceeded all expectations," said Ned Calonge, chief medical officer for the state health department.
In June, a Boulder marijuana dispensary was robbed, alerting much of the public to a new type of business in the community -- retail stores that sell pot.
Broomfield, Erie, Louisville and Lafayette joined dozens of other communities around the state in either banning dispensaries or imposing moratoriums. Boulder, meanwhile, continues to allow new marijuana-related businesses as long as they aren't too close to schools or other dispensaries. At the end of October, the city had issued business licenses to 67 marijuana-related businesses, and new applications have continued to come in, though not at the same pace as earlier in the fall.
In August, a Boulder County jury acquitted a Louisville medical marijuana patient arrested for possessing far more than the 2 ounces allowed by law. A judge then ordered authorities to return 34 ounces of marijuana to Jason Lauve.
Though his office lost the case, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said the results vindicated his approach.
"Trying cases helps clarify issues," he said.
Aware of the possibility of a backlash, dispensary owners formed a voluntary trade association to police themselves.
Nonetheless, the state Legislature plans to consider a bill that would put an end to the retail model for distributing medical marijuana, and advocates are gearing up for an intensive lobbying campaign on behalf of their medication of choice.
Laura Kriho of the Boulder-based Cannabis Therapy Institute, an advocacy group, said it's hard to know what to make of the past year, the past decade and what it all means.
"For a long time, we were pushing the ball up a really steep hill," she said. "Now, we're running to catch up with it."
December 21, 2009
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.
Top 10 stories of the decade: No: 10 -- A long, strange trip for medical marijuana