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Dope's New Hope

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SANTA CRUZ - On a wall in the back room of her Westside office,
Valerie Corral points to pictures of her deceased friends. "She died
just a few months after the raid," Valerie says, pointing to a photo
on the wall of a woman smoking from a glass pipe.

The raid that Valerie refers to, conducted by the Drug Enforcement
Agency in September of 2002, shut down the marijuana farm that she and
her husband Mike had operated in Davenport. The pictures that now hang
in her office, at the Wo/men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, include
photos of 20 people she says have died since the raid - after the
couple could no longer provide marijuana from the farm to those who
smoke the drug to help relieve various medical ailments.

The deaths are not linked to the suspended marijuana supply, the
Corrals acknowledge. But the final days of those suffering may have
been less difficult if the drug would have been available to them, the
Corrals say.

"We know pain and discomfort has increased," Mike said. "We hear that
on a weekly basis."

The Davenport marijuana farm, which once grew 167 plants in an area
not much bigger than a small back yard, now lays fallow because of the
federal law criminalizing marijuana. The land that once grew the plant
for about 250 people in the county, many terminally ill, has more
recently grown tomatoes.

But the Corrals have not given up hope that they will one day legally
grow and supply medical marijuana to their ailing clients.

A recent court ruling may warrant their optimism.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 16 that the 1970
Controlled Substances Act, which outlaws marijuana, may not apply to
sick people who have a doctor's recommendation to use the drug. The
ruling applies to the seven Western states in the 9th Circuit's
jurisdiction, including California, that have approved medical
marijuana laws.

Under the December ruling, the three-judge panel ruled that
prosecuting medical marijuana users under the Controlled Substances
Act is unconstitutional if the marijuana is being used for medical
purposes and is not sold or transported across state lines.

That's the same argument the Corrals cite in their legal fight against
the U.S. Department of Justice in response to the raid of their farm.
Their lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose on behalf
of WAMM in April of 2003 and calls for an injunction against future
raids on medical marijuana operations. WAMM, which was founded by the
Corrals in the early ' 90s, is joined by the county and city of Santa
Cruz in the suit.

Their legal argument is grounded in California's voter-approved
Proposition 215 which, in 1996, made medical marijuana with a doctor's
recommendation, in spite of federal law, legal under state law.

While the December decision in federal court, upholding the use of
medical marijuana, is likely to be appealed by the U.S. Department of
Justice and the DEA, the Corrals think it bodes well for WAMM's case.

"There's no such thing as a small victory," Valerie says. "We're
pleased to see the will of the people reflected in the courts."

A hard fight ahead

Still, the couple isn't breathing sighs of relief. They know legal
battles remain.

WAMM's suit seeking an injunction from future raids, now in U.S.
District Court, differs from the December ruling in that it applies to
individuals rather than groups like theirs.

Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law professor who is on WAMM's
legal team, said, however, the concepts ruled on by the 9th Circuit
Court could apply to medical pot cooperatives.

"It really isn't that great an extension to apply it (the ruling) to a
group like WAMM," Uelmen said.

In a separate suit, now before the 9th Circuit on appeal, WAMM is
seeking the return of the marijuana plants that were taken in the
raid. The December ruling does not address whether the DEA must return
the confiscated plants.

"That (December) ruling is good, but it's sort of groundwork for
future rulings," Mike said.

There is also, of course, the possibility that the Supreme Court will
overturn the decision of the 9th Circuit Court, leaving the Justice
Department and the DEA in a position to conduct further raids.

While the Corrals and WAMM find support in Santa Cruz County for the
use of medical marijuana, the drug is viewed skeptically in other
parts of the state and nation.

A common complaint is that medical marijuana as practiced in
California sends a bad message to youth.

"Our main concern is marijuana is the No. 1 drug of choice for youth,"
said John Redman, executive director of Californians for Drug-Free
Youth in San Diego. "We now have more kids in treatment for marijuana
than for alcohol for the first time ever."

If marijuana is to be medicine, Redman said, it should not be the
domain of cooperatives and buyers' clubs, but of doctors and

"When you don't have controls, the abuses goes even further," Redman

Brian Blake, spokesman for the U.S. Office of National Drug Control
Policy, commonly known as the office of the Drug Czar, declined
comment on the suits initiated by WAMM, citing pending litigation. But
he offered similar views as Redman on the subject of medical marijuana.

Blake said the federal government would enforce marijuana statutes
until laws change and the Federal Drug Administration approves the
drug, no matter what voters in individual states approve.

"We have the responsibility to make sure medicine is safe when it's on
the market," Blake said. "Unfortunately, medicine is not created
through plebiscite in the United States."

Save a couple of busts in the early '90s, one with charges dropped
based on a medical necessity defense and another that was never
prosecuted, the Corrals and WAMM have enjoyed support from local government.

The Santa Cruz City Council deputized the Corrals in late 2002, which
was a symbolic vote of support for the couple's actions. That came
just weeks after the council allowed a medical pot giveaway for about
a dozen WAMM members on the steps of City Hall.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Mark Tracy said his office had met with WAMM
over the years to talk about how to operate within the state's medical
pot law.

"(Proposition) 215 is the law governing medical marijuana in
California," Tracy said. "By keeping communication open, it helps us
allow the law to be implemented."

The Corrals and medical marijuana advocates are closely watching the
fed's next move in the wake of the December ruling. The U.S. Justice
Department could seek a stay of the injunction at any point, meaning
the December ruling would be put on hold until the Supreme Court makes
a final decision.

In the meantime

This past year, the Corrals and WAMM members have worked with county
Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt to establish an identification card system
with the county Health Services Agency.

The system aims to provide legal clearances for users and let law
enforcement officials know when the drug is being used

However, local marijuana advocates have not made much headway in their
most basic mission of getting the drug to the ill that use it. Since
the raid, WAMM members have been forced to live with less.

For Hal Margolin, that means rationing supplies and waiting until
later in the day before taking a puff of marijuana to help him cope
with foot pain caused by a condition known as chronic peripheral neuropathy.

The drug has been most commonly prescribed to those suffering from
terminal illnesses or severe chronic diseases, such as epilepsy and
arthritis, to ease symptoms.

Margolin said he never imagined he would use marijuana, but his
incessant pain prompted him to try it about five years ago.

"Marijuana allows me to function despite the pain," Margolin

To this day, the cooperative still gets calls from people wanting the
drug. A 75-year-old man wants to know how to grow for his ill wife. A
breast cancer patient needs relief.

"We get phone calls everyday," Mike Corral said. "I hope we're going
to come back to full operation and more so."

While the ability to begin legally growing and distributing rests, for
now, with the courts, an active year lies ahead.

WAMM wants to establish its own hospice for members. The idea is to
make patients as comfortable as possible in a patient's final days.

"I see it as a natural evolution of our work," Valerie

The Corrals have also been working with the city of San Francisco on
ways to implement Proposition S. The ballot measure, approved in San
Francisco in November 2002, re-affirms city policy stating that the
city shall explore the possibility of creating a program to grow and
distribute marijuana for medical use.

"On the one hand we're consultants to the city of San Francisco. On
the other, we were raided by the DEA," mused Mike. "The world is a
strange place."

Pubdate: Mon, 05 Jan 2004
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Santa Cruz Sentinel
Contact: editorial@santa-cruz.com
Website: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Breaking News, Sports, Business, Entertainment & Scotts Valley News