Blowing Smoke: OC Weekly's Top Ten Marijuana Stories of 2012

2012 was a busy year for marijuana. It began with what looked like the beginning of the end of the medical marijuana industry in California and ended with the legalization of recreational weed in both Colorado and Washington State. 

Looking back through the posts in Navel Gazing's Cannabis Chronicles archive, there are dozens of stories about raids--bummer!--lawsuits--yay, suits!--busts--yikes!--and pot seizures--not the epileptic kind--at the San Clemente immigration checkpoint and local beaches to choose from. There's even a cameo appearance by a Presidential airspace-crashing Cessna. 

Join us now for a mind-bending, bongoriffic trip back through OC Weekly's year in weed. 


DEA Raids Several Costa Mesa Dispensaries

No, the federal government was not joking when it announced in October 2011 that it was going to run California's medical marijuana industry into the ground. One of the DEA's first big raids took place on Jan. 17, 2012, when the agency raided several dispensaries in Costa Mesa, three of which were in the same building. The DEA also sent letters to operators of a few dozen other storefront operations, as well as their landlords, threatening raids and property seizures if the clubs didn't close down voluntarily. They did. Twelve months later, good luck finding a storefront marijuana dispensary in Costa Mesa. 

This guy is so totally fired. So thought whoever paid the pilot of the Cessna that strayed into airspace being used by President Obama to attend a Corona Del Mar fundraiser last February. A pair of military jets forced the plane to land at Long Beach Airport, where authorities arrested him. The first words o pass the hapless pilot's lips? "This isn't about the weed, is it?" Actually, the cops had no idea he was carrying 40 pounds of pot, but they promptly confiscated it. 


Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine Win New Trial, Convictions Tossed!

Just in time for Christmas 2011, and after a ridiculously lopsided trial thanks to Judge Charles D. Sheldon, a Long Beach jury convicted Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine of several counts of selling marijuana. But before he managed to sentence the two Joes, Sheldon sent a congratulatory letter to prosecutor Jodi Castano. Realizing this move had pretty much invalidated any notion that he'd been fair or impartial, Sheldon recused himself from the case. Too little too late: In April, a new judge reviewed the trial transcript and found ample evidence that Sheldon had made a mockery of justice. 

During the spring of 2011, Long Beach cops were busting so-called "rogue" pot dispensaries that were operating without city permission at a healthy clip. As the raids mounted, employees of said clubs began to notice a pattern. A guy named Emmanuel Walker had visited each dispensary within a few days of the raid. Suspicions were cemented when he was viewed getting out of a police car. His photo ended up being distributed to clubs, and the jig was up. But Walker's career as a snitch also wasn't helped when he helped murder Long Beach resident Stephen Brown in May 2011. Walker was convicted of the crime and is now serving a sentence of life in prison.

So what happens when the feds crack down on medical marijuana in California? The Mexican cartels step up their cross-border shipments. Increasingly, thanks to heavier enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico land border, these loads are arriving by boat. On May 20, authorities found several large bales full of marijuana floating 13 miles off the coast of Dana Point. The total haul weighed about 8000 pounds and was estimated to be worth some $4 million. Presumably, whoever was running the weed got jumpy and dumped it in the water. Better luck next time, Chapo

On Oct. 25, the DEA arrested a dozen people who worked at a ring of pot shops all allegedly owned and operated by the same person: John Melvin Walker. Walker's name had come up last year when Orange County Sheriff's deputies raided the Belmont Shore Natural Care collective, which they alleged was run by Walker, who they accused of hiring a local lobbyist to keep city officials from interfering with his shop. When the feds arrested Walker, they caught him with a large amount of cash and weaponry. Also nabbed were a host of his employees, many of whom had almost cartoonish nicknames: "Hippy Chick," "Dragon Six," "Bucky" and "Mob Queen," to name a few.

Again: what happens when you drive medical marijuana underground? Among other things, the Asian indoor growers step in to fill the demand. On Oct. 3, Binh Ly, 43, from Rosemead and Thank Chiem, 45, of San Jose, were arrested in connection with two grow houses where cops found a whopping 2000 flowering plants and 20 pounds of dried marijuana. So how did the authorities determine this was worth $6 million? We asked our readers for help running the math. Here's what loyal reader 20-Foot Jesus (Where ya been, pal?) had to say: 

"Well @ wholesale, say 20lbs @ $100/oz = $32k plus...  2,000*500/gr/pl=1,000,000 grams / 453.6/gr/lb = 2,205lbs. * $1600/lb = $3,527,336 for a total of $3,559,336. $6 million is a tad high; no pun intended." 

The long-term impact of the Nov. 6 vote by Washington State and Colorado to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes is not yet known. But immediately, it signaled that California's topsy-turvy experiment with medical marijuana may have shown the rest of the nation that such policy isn't worth pursuing. Amazingly, the newly re-elected President Obama has yet to say he's going to crack down on those states, but rather intends to watch events as they unfold and draft a more cautious response. This could be the beginning of the end of the war on weed. 

It's been common knowledge among drug-war critics for a decade or more that D.A.R.E., the nations' longest-running anti-drug non-profit, has been a complete disaster for America. After all, statistics show that drug use among teenagers has actually risen as a result of kids being exposed to the stuff via the D.A.R.E. curriculum. Finally, on Dec. 3, D.A.R.E. announced that it was dropping marijuana from the list of drugs it teaches elementary school kids not to try. If nothing else, that means a lot less parents now have to worry about the cops knocking on their door the day after little Jimmy tells his teacher that daddy has a closet full of funny-smelling plants in the house.

This really sucks. On Nov. 13, Grumbine showed up at the Long Beach downtown courthouse for a scheduling hearing for his new trial on pot charges, having already had his previous conviction for the same offenses overturned. Unfortunately, prosecutors had learned that he'd been stopped near his home in Riverside with a legal amount of marijuana in his car. They told the judge that was a violation of his bail provisions, and Grumbine's been in the slammer ever since. 

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