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Medical-Marijuana Fight Returns To Court


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Santa Cruz – Members of an area medical-marijuana cooperative return to federal court today seeking an end to drug raids like the one that decimated their pot garden in September 2002. Joining the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana as plaintiffs in the suit are the city and county of Santa Cruz.
They will, once more, ask U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel to outlaw future raids. "We have a lot of reason for optimism," said Mike Corral, who along with his wife, Valerie, is a co-founder of the collective.

Fogel rejected WAMM's arguments last August, but held the ruling in abeyance until a separate suit brought by the cooperative seeking return of property was decided, said Gerald Uelmen, one of WAMM's attorneys.

Meanwhile, a ruling last December in an unrelated case, Raich v. Ashcroft, gave medical-marijuana advocates new hope. A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that a congressional act outlawing marijuana may not apply to sick people with a doctor's recommendation in states that have approved medical-marijuana laws.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that prosecuting such medical-marijuana users under a 1970 federal law is unconstitutional if the marijuana isn't sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

While that ruling applied to individuals and WAMM is a collective, Uelmen said that decision gives the area group some added legal firepower this time around.

Today, the group will seek a preliminary injunction from future raids and argue for the constitutional right of chronically ill people to use medical marijuana.

"We think ... the Raich case solves the issue in our favor," Uelmen said Tuesday. "We're simply asking Judge Fogel to revisit his prior ruling in light of the Raich decision."

Like the individuals in the Raich case, WAMM does not exchange money for pot; they are all ill and grow it for each other, and there is no interstate commerce.

Groups around the state and even the country are keeping an eye on the case, said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance. A victory for WAMM could force elected officials to take notice, he said.

"It would bring home to Congress and others there is a serious conflict between states and the federal bureaucracy," Piper said. "Eventually, Congress will have to act."

Attempts Tuesday to contact the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy, known as the Drug Czar, were unsuccessful. Earlier this year, a spokesman for that agency declined comment on the specifics of the suit, but told the Sentinel that federal drug laws would continue to be enforced until they are changed or the Federal Drug Administration approves use of medical marijuana, regardless of what voters in individual states say.

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which made medical-marijuana use legal with a doctor's recommendation under state law.

The suit to be debated in court today stems from a September 2002 raid at WAMM's Davenport garden in which federal agents uprooted about 167 plants.

Valerie and Mike Corral, who co-founded the group in the early 1990s, were briefly jailed but have yet to be charged.

A separate suit seeking return of property from the raid is pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit.

WAMM continues to operate on a scaled-back level, Mike Corral said. Some 22 members have died since the raid.

"We're still operating a little leaner," Corral said. "We only admit new members when another member passes away."

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
Author: Brian Seals, Sentinel Staff Writer
Published: March 31, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Santa Cruz Sentinel
Contact: editorial@santa-cruz.com
Website: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Breaking News, Sports, Business, Entertainment & Scotts Valley News
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