Pubdate: Fri, 06 Sep 2002
Source: DrugWar (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 Kalyx com
Author: Daniel Forbes, Special to DrugWar com
Note: This web only report includes many links at it's source webpage. We 
recommend reading it at
Bookmarks: (Cannabis - Medicinal) (Forbes, Daniel)

The DEA in Chains:


The Drug Enforcement Administration believes in starting at the top.
By shutting down two of the most aboveboard and righteous of
California's medical marijuana operations, the feds can perhaps
instill such fear that they free themselves from chasing the shaky and
the small-fry. Last October they shuttered the Los Angeles Cannabis
Resource Center, so respected that the city of West Hollywood
co-signed its mortgage and so open that it allowed Congress's General
Accounting Office in for a look.

And yesterday, some two dozen DEA agents descended, chainsaws in hand,
upon the medical marijuana cooperative, the Wo/Men's Alliance for
Medical Marijuana (WAMM), located near Davenport, some sixty miles
south of San Francisco. California NORML director Dale Gieringer said,
"The DEA is making a statement by going after the gold standard of

As the agents went about destroying some 130 plants up in the middle
of nowhere in the San Lorenzo mountains, twenty or more WAMM members -
none of whom pay for their medicine - barricaded the sole route off
the property, a narrow mountain road.

First they blocked the road with a truck. Abandoning that strategy,
they retreated a bit further to make their stand at a gate to the
property, a heavy chain soon padlocked around the gate. Not that the
woman in a wheelchair or the stout one with a cane could have
physically overmastered the agents, should it have mano a mano come to
that. But WAMM also called in the media, and soon several TV news
cameras and print reporters stood by hoping for a confrontation.

WAMM board member Heather Edney was one of the protesters. Noting the
press, she said, "I don't think the DEA wanted to have to shove a patient
in front of the TV cameras." It's elemental, whether facing Bull Conner's
Birmingham fire hoses or the DEA's shiny new SUVs: at some point desperate
people who can't stomach it any longer prepare to put their bodies on the line.

Ready to leave, the DEA was now locked in. They had packed up the pot
in their rental trucks and, charges Edney, seized some patient lists.
But those pesky TV cameras remained focused on pathetic people in
wheelchairs who didn't have enough sense to accept their lot and go on
home. The protestors yelling louder, some agents perhaps feeling
foolish, the DEA did what any good citizen needing help does: they
called the cops.

Mark Tracy, the sheriff and coroner of Santa Cruz County, said that
the DEA contacted his office for assistance with the individuals
blocking the access road.

Special Agent Richard Meyer, spokesperson for the DEA San Francisco
field division, said, "There was some sort of civil disturbance, and
the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office came and assisted."

But Tracy, a committed WAMM supporter, wasn't going to have his men
clear an escape route for the DEA. So there matters lay for a tense
hour or so until WAMM's founder and director, Valerie Corrals, started
talking tough.

And why shouldn't she, considering the start to her day: men in
helmets pointing rifles at her and then handcuffing her still in the
pajamas that - marked woman that she is - she had foolishly thought to
wear to bed.

WAMM board member and a guest in the house, Suzanne Pfeil, described
the raid to a tele-press conference. She said she awoke sometime after
7:00 a.m. to find five agents in her bedroom pointing rifles at her.
They told her to get out of bed; she told them as a polio patient and
paraplegic she could not. Finally she scrambled up on her crutches,
her wheelchair being elsewhere, and was handcuffed.

DEA spokesperson Meyer confirmed that, following the protocol for any
drug raid, the agents wore "ballistic helmets" and - pointing out that
DEA agents have died in the line of duty - he stated that they carried
weapons sufficient to provide the necessary protection. He would not
disclose the type of weapon or number of agents involved.

The gate locked and the feds bottled up, Ms. Corral and her husband,
Michael, WAMM's horticultural wizard, were by this point up in San
Jose for processing. She relates the tale as follows: Two agents asked
me to tell our members to disperse. I said no. They asked me to ask
them to let the DEA pass. I again refused. And then they offered to
take us back. At one point, Michael asked them if it was a hostage
exchange. It was a negotiation to some extent. Yes, I would describe
it as a quid-pro-quo.

Cell phone service blissfully unavailable, there was a scramble to
devise a means for Corral to deliver her dispensation, to call off the
rabid cancer and AIDS patients. Apparently the Santa Cruz sheriff's
department produced a satellite phone, and the ragged band was told to
stand down.

At that, still in those PJs of hers, Valerie and Michael were driven
to Santa Cruz and given $40 for a cab home, the agents involved not
wanting to risk getting caught up on that dangerous mountain. True to
the parsimonious ways that have enabled them to serve so many so
cheaply for so long, the Corrals called a friend instead. Ms. Corral
said, "I consider that money a down-payment on what they owe us."

Sheriff Tracy told me the DEA gave his office no prior notice of the

Special Agent Meyer insisted that the DEA "coordinated with local
authorities." He refused to specify how or with whom.

Meanwhile, having been arrested on possession with intent to
distribute and conspiracy charges, the Corrals face the same sort of
legal limbo the Los Angeles club's Scott Imler has labored under for
close to a year. Ambiguously released, the Corrals could face charges
at any point over the next five years solely on the evidence gathered

But no charges were filed yesterday. The U.S. Attorney's office in San
Francisco would only say, "No charges have been filed." With no
charges as of yet, is hauling off hundreds of patients' medicine
tantamount to simple theft? A source in the U.S. attorney's office
added, "When no charges are made with the arrest - there's no
complaint or indictment - the investigation is on-going. You can
always investigate further."

Citing anonymous sources, the Oakland Tribune said today that,
"federal prosecutors had declined to charge them, forcing the [DEA] to
let them go." Is it possible the DEA didn't inform their Justice Dept.
colleagues of the raid?

It remains to be seen how much more there is to investigate in what,
after all, is a relatively small bust by federal standards. At some
130 plants, the number barely exceeds what has been the feds' typical
practice of turning most cases of 100 or fewer plants over to local
law enforcement. (In what by all accounts is a beautiful, high-yield
garden of more than an acre, some plants were seven-feet tall.)

The DEA acted on a tip from " 'confidential sources' " it told the
Oakland Tribune. Given the positive publicity WAMM has received,
including a recent feature in Mother Jones, the agency's hot tip is
akin to confidential information on the occupant of Grant's tomb.

So the Corrals will endure a stretch of legal limbo, an uncertainty
that just might be cut short by Ms. Corral's refusal to slink quietly
away. She told me, "We can't undue the harm they create in the world -
the great harm and physical suffering - but we'll change the law if we
have to beat down their flipping doors. "

Given WAMM's reputation and local and statewide support, it remains to
be seen if that federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, will
actually be applied to the Corrals. (They were the only two arrested;
Suzanne Pfeil and a couple of other house guests were not.) How eager
is the government for a contentious, high-profile trial of altruistic
people who give their pot away?

And since WAMM is a cooperative, a horticultural collective, might the
feds be on shaky legal ground busting a group of patients? The May,
2001 Supreme Court ruling against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club
outlawed distribution but did not address personal cultivation. Close
to 300 sick and dying WAMM members who are physically capable get
their hands dirty in the garden, with some of the rest sleeping over
in a trailer to guard the crop. So, does that constitute distribution?
Or is it personal-use cultivation by people with doctors' notes who
are legal under California state law?

Sheriff Tracy asserted that WAMM always operated on the right side of
state law as far as he was concerned. His office maintains "very
professional relations with WAMM. At all times they have tried to run
their operation in a professional manner."

Would a trial emphasizing the Bush administration's overarching
intransigence prove worth it for, should the government succeed, very
short sentences? Since the Corrals have good records, sterling
references and there was no hint of violence or drug-kingpin profits,
they would face perhaps less than a year should the sentencing
guideline complexities shake out in their favor, said a law
enforcement source. This individual added that the feds don't
typically even send people to prison for less than a year, preferring
some sort of halfway house or home detention in those cases.

Bill Panzer, a prominent Oakland-based, medical-use defense attorney,
figured that the Corrals - despite ostensible federal mandatory
minimum guidelines - might actually end up doing no more than several
months time, followed by some months "wearing a bracelet." And Panzer
wondered "whether the government would want some big show trial where
it just ends up looking horrible?"

Of course, should the Corrals persist in trying to relieve pain and
suffering, as may well prove the case, all bets are off. And insist
they probably will, stubborn souls that they are. Ms. Corral said,
"We're a collective, we'll continue." Half her members are able to
donate to the cause, and half cannot.

By some lights, it's hard to see how she can do anything but, given
her assertion that, "We work to keep 35-year-olds out of nursing
homes. We wipe their asses for them. We take shifts sitting up with

WAMM seems a genuinely different sort of place. Ethan Nadelmann,
executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, noted that WAMM was
the first medical marijuana dispensary to achieve non-profit status.
Raiding it is particularly shameful, he said, since it's the
dispensary most true to the "hospice" model. Saying there were "no
shenanigans, no profit," he added that 85% of the club's patients are
terminally ill.

The last refuge for miles around for the very sick; there's a long
waiting list for admission to the cooperative, typically possible only
when a current member dies. Unfortunately that happens all too
frequently. Ms. Corral said five friends - five WAMM members - have
died in the last two weeks. As Panzer put it, "There are no
23-year-old skateboarders going in there claiming their knee hurts."

In 1999, Ms. Corral served on California Attorney General Bill
Lockyer's panel on medical marijuana. And, according to the Oakland
Tribune, she and Michael "helped write" Prop 215. Panzer, who may get
involved in WAMM's defense, said, "There's no one in the medical
marijuana movement I have more respect for. I've never heard a bad
word about them." He referred to the group admiringly as a "hippie

WAMM enjoys a few gorgeous, sylvan acres, the Pacific just visible in
the distance. There's a couple of ramshackle houses with a shifting
roster of occupants. Allen St Pierre, executive director of the NORML
Foundation, referred to WAMM as the "socialists in the woods." Dale
Gieringer said, "Theirs is a living counter-culture. They're living
the old '60s dream on the fringes of the cash economy."

Following the DEA evisceration, WAMM received widespread support.
Americans for Safe Access claimed there would be protests today at
various federal buildings in Oakland and San Francisco, Sacramento,
San Jose, Santa Rosa, Madison, Wisconsin, New York, Chicago, Austin
and Washington, D.C. It says it participated in general protests at 54
DEA offices this past June.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said that WAMM operated
totally within the law and declared herself "absolutely appalled"
that, so close to September 11th, the federal government is spreading
"sorrow and fear. It's not reassuring that federal agents are running
around the mountains in Santa Cruz County interrupting WAMM's
important work."

Nadelmann noted that 65% - to - 70% of the public favor the use of
medical marijuana. Despite that sentiment, Nadelmann declared the Bush
administration chock-a-block with the "fanatical, inhumane and the
temperance-minded. They're like the old [alcohol] temperance warriors
who cared not a bit for the harm prohibition causes."

Probably coincidentally, the raid came a day after a Canadian
Parliament committee called for marijuana legalization. The exhaustive
600-page report, issued by the Canadian Senate's Committee on Illegal
Drugs, called for regulating marijuana like alcohol. Among many other
provisions, it found no evidence for the discounted theory that pot is
a 'gateway' drug leading to harder drug use, according to its
chairman, Pierre Nolin. It's a theory promulgated continually by U.S.
federal authorities, most recently by Drug Czar John Walters.

Apparently though, a press-conscience DEA is fond of coincidence. In a
particularly pointed jab, it chose February 12th - the same day DEA
Director Asa Hutchinson addressed a jeering crowd at the Commonwealth
Club in San Francisco - to raid San Francisco's Sixth Street Harm
Reduction Center. Oddly enough, in that speech Hutchinson declared
that the DEA would not go after patients; WAMM, of course, is nothing
but the very sickest of patients. Their medicine hauled away, Pfeil
said, "Patients are going to be forced to take more pharmaceutical
drugs, which is maybe what the government wants."

In the absence of public support, it's hard to fathom the Feds' true
aim, with now four widely protested raids on California dispensaries
since October, 2001. Gieringer asserts he has heard from several
sources both within the medical marijuana community and within law
enforcement, "that the Justice Department has ordered a crackdown on
California's medical cannabis clubs." The Feds having now decimated
the two most high-profile, tight and correct operations outside San
Francisco, the question arises as to how many more big-news busts they
even need before the majority of dispensaries give up the ghost.

Speaking more broadly and referring to the use of automatic weapons to
raid a "hospice," Nadelmann said such actions indicate a worrisome
rogue mindset as the White House and Congress define the limits of
sensible homeland security.

Bitter at the loss of so much medicine, Ms. Corral said, "People
should wonder how they're going to be safe in their homes with this
happening. But with a court-appointed president, this is what you get."

Street dealers, of course, rejoice at the imposition of federal law. A
WAMM member named Hal told me it cost WAMM 94-cents to grow a gram of
organic medicine; he estimated the street cost at $15.00 a gram.
Another, more self-reliant route beckons, though one that does the
terminally ill little good. Pointing to that 2001 Supreme Court ruling
outlawing distribution but not personal cultivation, St. Pierre said,
"It's a good time to be a local grow-equipment entrepreneur. Two years
from now there's going to be a profusion of equipment sellers."

Whatever happens, doubtless there'll also be a profusion of special
agents - folks the drug war enables to retire early with a pension and
health care for the rest of their days - ready with their boots shined
and their "ballistic helmets" polished.

The Corrals face prison - maybe. And some patients face a hastened
death because men with guns, men working for every voter in this
country, stole the cannabis that some use to control their vomiting so
they can keep other medicine in their stomachs long enough to make it
into their bloodstream. It's that simple.

- -------------

Daniel Forbes  writes on social policy. His recent
report on state and federal political malfeasance geared to defeat
treatment rather than incarceration ballot initiatives was published
by the Institute for Policy Studies. Much of his work, including his
series in Salon that led to his testimony before both the Senate and
the House, is archived at 
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