In a blow to champions of medicinal marijuana and a key victory for U.S.
government regulators, a federal court in San Jose ruled Thursday against
restraining U.S. drug agents from raiding a Santa Cruz cannabis
co-operative that helps the ill and dying.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel obliquely acknowledged that medicinal
marijuana could alleviate pain but asserted that federal drug laws
prevailed over the state's 1996 medicinal marijuana initiative.

``Although plaintiffs have made a significant showing of irreparable
injury, the Court has no alternative but to conclude that under existing
law they cannot succeed on the merits of their claims,'' Fogel wrote.

Since voters passed the Compassionate Use Act seven years ago, bitter legal
battles have pitted federal drug officials against those advocating states'

Thursday's court opinion was a loss for the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical
Marijuana in Santa Cruz County, a group that has won extensive support from
local government officials in the county.

In July of last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that Californians who
have a doctor's approval to smoke marijuana are protected from conviction
for violating state drug laws. But in 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a
ruling that made it impossible for third parties to provide medicinal
marijuana to seriously ill patients without running afoul of federal drug
laws. As a result, several Bay Area medicinal pot clubs were shuttered.

But the Wo/Men's Alliance continued to operate, dispensing marijuana to the
terminally ill. Then Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the
property along Santa Cruz County's north coast on Sept. 5, arresting
co-foun ders Valerie and Michael Corral, seizing membership lists and photo
albums and ripping out 167 marijuana plants. The lawsuit stemmed from that
incident. Since the raid, the Corrals say, 16 of their clients have died.

The defendants in the case were Attorney General John Ashcroft, National
Drug Control Policy Director John P. Walters and William B. Simpkins,
acting administrator of the DEA.

News of Fogel's decision reached Valerie Corral Thursday evening at her
Davenport-area home, where, she said, the group will continue their work
while seeking justice.

She declined to discuss whether the organization is growing marijuana.

``It feels like a blow at this moment, but it will strengthen us,'' she
said. ``I guess we're considered criminals by our governments. It's
difficult to fathom why anyone would want to stand in the way of
alleviating suffering.''

Corral, a plaintiff in the suit along with the city and county of Santa
Cruz, said she hopes to appeal the decision.

``I think Judge Fogel is a good and thoughtful man who did not see how to
do things differently,'' Corral said. ``Maybe the 9th Circuit (federal
appeals court) will, or the Supreme Court.''

Neither attorneys for the defendants nor the plaintiff's high-profile
attorney, Gerald Uelmen, could be reached Thursday night.

The Corrals still have not been charged in the nearly year-old case.

Pubdate: Thu, 28 Aug 2003
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Jose Mercury News