SANTA CRUZ -- Seven months after hosting a medical marijuana giveaway
outside City Hall, Santa Cruz officials took another unusual step
Wednesday: They joined patients to sue the federal government for
interfering with the local supply of legal pot.

Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can make better use of
their resources "than to chase ill people around the county of Santa Cruz,"
Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said at a press conference to announce the
filing of the suit in San Jose federal court. The suit requests an
injunction against further raids on a city-sanctioned pot farm.

It was the latest salvo in the struggle between California, which legalized
marijuana for some seriously ill patients in 1996, and federal agents, who
have conducted a series of raids on cooperatives complying with the state
initiative.

Another shot could be fired today. A resolution is set to be heard on the
Assembly floor, urging President Bush and Congress to let states control
pot within their borders. AJR 13, introduced by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco,
also requests oversight hearings on the use of DEA funds to "harass,
prosecute and intimidate" legal pot users.

A DEA raid in September on the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana
outside Santa Cruz left the area with too little legal pot to ease the
"excruciating pain and suffering" of its sick and dying members, WAMM
founder Valerie Corral, an epilepsy patient, said Wednesday in announcing
the lawsuit.

Corral, who helped draft the California law, was deputized by the city in
December to carry out its medical pot ordinance by cultivating and
distributing the drug. Since the raid, she said, 15 of the organization's
250 members have died.

An earlier WAMM suit, seeking the return of 167 pot plants seized in the
September raid, was turned down by the San Jose federal court in December.
That's on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has before
it other novel and interrelated cases.

Among them are a suit to enjoin federal prosecution of two women, from
Oakland and Oroville, who say they have no medical alternative to using
marijuana, and a suit in which operators of a marijuana cooperative in
Oakland claim legal immunity based on that city's deputizing of them.

The new complaint also makes an immunity argument as well as a states'
rights claim based on constitutional limits on the federal government's
authority to regulate health and safety issues and commerce within the states.

Those arguments so far have failed in the other cases.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday adds a new constitutional argument based on
individual rights of privacy and autonomy.

The legal complaint asserts that "the DEA's seizure of medical marijuana
violated the WAMM patient plaintiffs' fundamental right to control the
circumstances of their own deaths."

"I don't think the American public's ready for that," said Richard Meyer,
the DEA's regional spokesman.

He said he was speaking only in general terms, however, and had been
instructed not to comment on pending litigation.

Pat Ramey, speaking for 93-year-old Dorothy Gibbs at the Santa Cruz press
conference, had a different perspective. Ramey said the post-polio syndrome
patient, for whom she serves as caregiver, "has the right to die with some
dignity and not lying in a bed not knowing her own children when they come
in because she's on harsh drugs."

Gibbs is named as a plaintiff in the suit.


Pubdate: Thu, 24 Apr 2003
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Webpage: http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/6507698p-7458653c.html
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: opinion@sacbee.com
Website: http://www.sacbee.com/