The photo of Betty Breadth, beaming and wearing a scarlet feather boa,
belies the tale of a middle-aged mom with cancer who had to learn how
to roll a joint -- and smoked only outside on her deck -- so she could
endure the excruciating final stages of her illness.

The Kodak shot of a grinning Jo Daly doesn't tell the story of how
she, a former San Francisco police commissioner, found that marijuana
was the only drug that could ease intense nausea from chemotherapy
treatments that failed to save her life.

You would never know to look at the picture of Margo Karow, laughing
and holding her baby, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer
during her pregnancy. The photo barely hints at the truth that smoking
pot was the only way she could stay well enough to enjoy the first
months of her child's life before she lost her own at the age of 31.

Best Line of Defense

But these pictures and the montage of photos that sprawls over an
entire office wall at the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in
Santa Cruz may prove to be the pot collective's best line of defense
against the feds who seized its marijuana crop last September and hope
to shut the group down. The pictures are the most powerful evidence of
the petty and merciless federal government policy that treats
desperately ill people like criminals and robs them of a way to face
their deaths with dignity.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel said at a hearing in San Jose this
month that he was moved by the dying declarations that WAMM members
had submitted as testimony, and he will decide soon whether to
temporarily restrain Drug Enforcement Administration agents from
closing the collective. But he may not rule soon enough to relieve the
agony of those who are barely hanging on.

There couldn't be a more pathetic example of the "war on drugs" than
persecuting the group of professors, housewives, architects,
musicians, church deacons, homeless people, day laborers and community
leaders who belong to WAMM.

City, County Support

The decade-old collective's founders, Valerie and Michael Corral,
operate with the full support of city and county law enforcement
officials -- hardly the tactics of street drug dealers. They dispense
a weekly allotment of homegrown marijuana to WAMM's 250 members, who
present doctors' recommendations that have been carefully verified.
More than 80 percent are terminally ill, and many never smoked pot
before discovering that it was the only way to bear the ravages of
cancer and AIDS.

But that didn't stop DEA agents from raiding the Corrals' home and
confiscating their marijuana plants.

It's too bad the agents didn't have to file past WAMM's memorial wall
of photos and listen to the stories behind every one. Maybe they would
have had a better understanding of the legal rights that WAMM's
lawyers have presented to Judge Fogel -- the right of individuals to
control the circumstances of their own deaths.

The Corrals have managed to build a community among people who had
been isolated in pain and infirmity. They got help from their city
council and county sheriff, and all of them conspired to make it
easier for their terminally ill neighbors to face mortality.

Is this the community the war on drugs is being waged against? Tell
that to the friends and relatives of Betty Breadth, Jo Daly, Margo
Karow and all the others whose photos are tacked up on WAMM's
memorial wall. Tell that to the friends and relatives of those whose
pictures will be on the wall soon. Tell that to the people who want
to feel a little peace and grace in the very last days of their lives.


Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2003
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Jose Mercury News
Contact: letters@sjmercury.com
Website: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews