Valerie and Michael Corral, who were arrested in a Sept. 5 federal
raid on their one-acre pot farm, embrace before addressing supporters
at Santa Cruz City Hall.

Thumbing their noses at federal drug laws, members of a Santa Cruz
County medicinal marijuana organization on Tuesday staged their own
version of the Boston Tea Party.

Only they didn't dump tea in the harbor. They passed out pot -- right
in front of Santa Cruz City Hall and with the support of local
officials and several hundred other people.

Their message: The federal government needs to acknowledge that
states like California should be able to decide for themselves
whether marijuana can be used as medicine.

The pot giveaway and rally attracted nearly 1,100 people, including
about 200 journalists from around the world who came to witness the
latest -- and most serious challenge yet -- to stepped-up federal
efforts to confiscate the drug from medicinal marijuana clubs and the
farms that produce it.

No arrests were made, although a mysterious helicopter hovered
overhead. While it circled, politicians, prominent attorneys,
physicians and numerous AIDS and cancer patients vowed to prod
Washington lawmakers to preserve medicinal marijuana laws.

Six of seven city council members and three former Santa Cruz mayors
attended, but while the officials supported the rally, they did not
handle the marijuana.

The event was triggered by an early-morning Sept. 5 raid on a
one-acre pot farm in the hills north of Davenport run by the Wo/Men's
Alliance for Medical Marijuana, better known as WAMM. About 30 U.S.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents carrying M-16s cut down 167
plants and took them away in U-Hauls, arresting WAMM founders Valerie
and Michael Corral.

The Corrals, who helped write a 1996 California measure aimed at
legalizing medicinal marijuana, were arrested on federal charges of
intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy. But the U.S.
Attorney's Office has not yet filed charges against them -- and
officials have refused to say if they will.

In July, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 1996
measure, Proposition 215, protects Californians who have a doctor's
approval to smoke marijuana from conviction for violating state drug
laws. The ruling came two months after the U.S. Supreme Court said
that ``medical necessity'' should not exempt marijuana users from
federal drug laws.

``I think it's outrageous that the federal government is ignoring the
will of the huge majority of people in the county and the state who
want to see medicinal marijuana legal,'' said Councilman Scott
Kennedy. ``Given the developments around the world, you'd think
federal agents would have better things to do.''

A DEA spokesman, however, defended the crackdown and decried elected
officials who took part in the event.

``If I were a teenager in Santa Cruz and heard that the mayor and
city council were at this event, I'd be confused,'' said DEA special
agent Richard Meyer. ``Anyone who thinks that marijuana is not a
dangerous drug is in denial.''

Meyer acknowledged that the agency was ``monitoring'' the event.

``Go away, DEA! Go away, DEA!'' a crowd of several hundred people
shouted as they gazed skyward at the helicopter.

One Santa Cruz protester dressed in camouflage and wielding a toy
machine gun pretended he was a DEA agent. Others held up signs
reading ``God Gave Us Herbs,'' ``My Medicine Is Not a Crime,''
``States Rights'' and ``Federalism Now.''

Notwithstanding the ``Legalize Pot'' signs, speakers at the rally
were careful to draw the distinction between medicinal marijuana and
pot used to get high.

``Even our children can understand the difference between the
recreational use of drugs -- which we condemn -- and giving marijuana
to sick and dying people,'' said Santa Clara University law Professor
Gerald Uelmen, a noted constitutional expert.

Only a ``twisted and perverted bureaucrat'' could approve sending in
agents with automatic weapons to wipe out WAMM's tiny farm, he said.

California's chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Bill
Lockyer, a strong backer of Proposition 215, has also condemned the
DEA's latest efforts. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft sent a day after the raid, Lockyer said federal officials
were acting like bullies.

Eight states besides California -- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii,
Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- also allow marijuana to be
grown and distributed to people with a doctor's prescription. But the
DEA has focused its raids on California, where medicinal pot clubs
have been routinely raided this year.

The Santa Cruz raid was the most dramatic because WAMM has been so
high-profile and has earned the respect of Sheriff Mark Tracy and
other law enforcement officials.

``This is grass-roots Santa Cruz compassion,'' said Uelmen, who was a
member of O.J. Simpson's legal defense team and plans to put a team
of legal experts together to fight the federal government on the
issue.

Other city council members attending the rally and watching some of
WAMM's 238 patients getting marijuana in small bags, muffins and
tincture were Mayor Christopher Krohn, Vice Mayor Emily Reilly and
Councilmen Tim Fitzmaurice, Mark Primack and Ed Porter. Former mayors
Mike Rotkin, Jane Weed and Celia Scott also were on hand, as was
county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt.

Councilman Keith Sugar said he chose not to attend the event because,
even though he supports WAMM, he wanted to work with the DEA to
re-focus its efforts in Santa Cruz on heroin traffic.

``We have cops getting shot over heroin,'' he said, referring to Aug.
1 incident in which an officer was seriously wounded in the Beach
Flats area near the boardwalk.

Police had returned fire and killed a Mexican national, who family
members said was a heroin addict.

Phil Baer, a city council candidate, has made the growing heroin
problem in Santa Cruz his main campaign issue. He did not attend the
rally and does not support its cause.

``It hurts our city to be known for lax drug law enforcement,'' he
said. ``Santa Cruz has a reputation as a pot town.''
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Contact Ken McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@sjmercury.com or (831) 423-
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Dale Gieringer (415) 563-5858 // canorml@igc.org
2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114


Karen T. Borchers--Mercury News