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Pot raid angers state, patients

What she can’t understand is why [DEA] agents kept ordering her to stand up after they saw her crutches and leg braces next to the bed. Then when her blood pressure spiked and she felt chest pains, the agents refused to call an ambulance, says Pfeil, 42, disabled by polio. That she can’t forgive. “Totally unprofessional,” she says. “They were brutalizing us.”
Pot raid angers state, patients


By John Ritter

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Suzanne Pfeil understands why federal agents burst in just after dawn with guns drawn and handcuffed her. That’s routine in drug busts. What she can’t understand is why agents kept ordering her to stand up after they saw her crutches and leg braces next to the bed.
Then when her blood pressure spiked and she felt chest pains, the agents refused to call an ambulance, says Pfeil, 42, disabled by polio. That she can’t forgive. “Totally unprofessional,” she says. “They were brutalizing us.”
Outrage over a Sept. 5 raid at a medical marijuana cooperative in the coastal hills north of here festers beyond the terminally ill patients who use marijuana to ease pain, which California law allows.
The raid is the latest, perhaps most controversial collision of federal law and the nation’s growing medical marijuana movement.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer condemned the bust as a waste of law enforcement resources, a cruel step against a group that presents slight danger to the public and a slap at the state’s voters. The Santa Cruz County sheriff, whose deputies have worked closely with co-op managers to ensure that the operation is law-abiding, said he was “disappointed” by the raid.
Today, the Santa Cruz City Council will permit the co-op to hand out marijuana publicly to its patients at City Hall.
“It’s just absolutely loathsome to me that federal money, energy and staff time would be used to harass people like this,” says Emily Reilly, Santa Cruz’s vice mayor.
A Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in San Francisco accused the council of “flouting federal law” prohibiting marijuana possession.
In Washington, DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson defends the raid.
“What the DEA concentrates on is the investigation and prosecution of major trafficking cases,” Hutchinson says. “But the DEA’s responsibility is to enforce our controlled substances laws, and one of them is marijuana. Someone could stand up and say one of these marijuana plants is designed for someone who is sick, but under federal law, there’s no distinction.”
Other states follow
Since California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have enacted similar laws. Federal authorities say no conclusive scientific evidence proves marijuana’s medicinal benefit, but advocates say a number of foreign studies do.
“My hope is this bust represents the federal government pushing too far, the overreach that shocks the conscience of a lot more people, especially those in Washington who have seemed so callous to date,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. The group promotes alternatives to the drug war, such as treatment instead of jail for drug offenders.
The DEA has raided eight medical marijuana operations in California,
including one in Sonoma County three days after the Santa Cruz bust. But Hutchinson denies that California is being targeted. “It’s one of the things we’re carrying out all across the country,” he says.
Chris Battle, a DEA spokesman in Washington, says enforcement has been active in California because the state’s law is loosely worded and open to abuse.
“California doesn’t say how much you can grow, how much you can have or what disease you can use it for,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the NORML Foundation, a pro-marijuana advocacy group.
Laws in Oregon, Washington and Maine specify weight amounts, numbers of plants that can be possessed and specific diseases marijuana can treat.
Oregon requires a doctor’s recommendation and a photo ID card. Several bills that would set similar guidelines haven’t been approved by the California Legislature.
Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies closely monitored the co-op that was raided last week, WAMM, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, founded and run by Valerie and Mike Corral. “Valerie has been very open and very consistent in what she’s doing up there and how the marijuana is handled,” sheriff’s spokesman Kim Allyn says.
Valerie Corral is the movement’s “Mother Teresa,” says Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. She served on a task force Lockyer formed to write guidelines for the Legislature, and her group is seen as a model nationally.
Terminally ill patients
Non-profit WAMM dispenses only marijuana it grows organically. It doesn’t acquire marijuana from other sources. Marijuana is free to its 250 members, who contribute labor to the co-op. About 85% of members are terminally ill cancer and AIDS patients.
Using chain saws, DEA agents cut down 160 plants that were a month shy of maturity, Michael Corral says. The Corrals aren’t sure how they’ll continue to supply WAMM members. “We were hoping to increase our membership,” he says. “Right now, attrition is the only way to get in.”
Valerie Corral, who suffers seizures from a head injury from a car accident, began smoking marijuana after conventional drugs failed to control her symptoms.
Her doctor, Arnold Leff, says such drugs often work only in high doses that leave some patients with unpleasant side effects. “Her disorder is responsive to marijuana and not to other things,” says Leff, a deputy director of the White House drug abuse office in the Nixon administration. “This is a very safe herbal product. So if it works, it ought to be used.”
As in several other medical marijuana raids, no charges have been filed against the Corrals. Lockyer, in a letter to Hutchinson and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, called the raids “punitive expeditions” and questioned “the ethical basis for the DEA’s policy when these raids are being executed without apparent regard for the likelihood of successful prosecution.” Medical marijuana advocates say prosecutors refuse to bring cases because they know juries won’t convict.
Challenging federal policy
One of WAMM’s lawyers, Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, says the case could challenge federal actions against medical marijuana on constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court ruled in May that medical necessity cannot be used as a defense against charges of violating federal drug laws.
But Uelmen says the justices didn’t rule on whether states could legalize medical marijuana under the 10th Amendment, which grants states powers not exercised by the federal government, such as regulating medical practices. And under the 14th Amendment’s due process guarantee, Uelmen argues, patients have a right to medicine that provides relief. The conflict between federal and state laws over medical marijuana puts local authorities in an awkward position. Today, Santa Cruz police will be at City Hall to enforce the law, California’s medical marijuana law and laws against possession and sale.
“You can imagine the level of discomfort we have sometimes in dealing with this issue,” says Steve Clark, head of the police department’s investigations unit.
At WAMM’s co-op overlooking the Pacific, Mike Corral walks among the bare rows in the now-decimated marijuana garden, the stumps of once healthy plants protruding from the dirt, and wonders what will become of the co-op. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope that sometime between now and March we’ll be able to replant,” he says.

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