Pubdate: Wed, 18 Sep 2002
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page A03Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company
Author: William Booth, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


City Officials Vow to Defend Medical Uses

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Sept 17 -- There were speeches from lawyers about 
freedom and pleas from doctors for compassion and some rhetoric against the 
Bush administration. Then the patients began to roll forward in their 
wheelchairs to get their prescriptions -- their marijuana buds and pot 
cupcakes -- on the steps of City Hall.

The gaunt AIDS patient said marijuana helped him eat again. An elderly man 
with post-polio syndrome grinned and picked up his vial. A patient 
suffering from pancreatic cancer simply said "thank you." Then Jodie 
Lombardo, who has lupus, decried the recent bust of the popular 
medical-marijuana cooperative here as inhumane and asked what federal 
authorities would do if their own loved ones were sick and needed the 
relief these patients say they find in this weed.

With the mayor and most of the city council in attendance, Santa Cruz today 
pledged that its efforts to deliver marijuana to the sick and dying would 
continue -- despite the armed raid by federal agents two weeks ago against 
a marijuana pharmacy that has been openly operating here for years.

"We are not the enemy," said Valerie Corral, one of the founders of the 
medical marijuana cooperative. "Our message is not about defiance, but 
peace, and we plead for the same from the government."

California is pressing its case that sick people should be permitted some 
use of marijuana, and it is challenging Congress to take another look at 
the issue. And through its elected officials -- from mellow Santa Cruz to 
the capital in Sacramento -- the state is challenging the federal 
government's insistence on prosecuting medical marijuana distributors.

In many California cities, there have been efforts to accommodate marijuana 
dispensaries, and local prosecutors and police have generally either taken 
a hands-off approach or worked closely with groups giving away or selling 
marijuana for medical use.

Today's act of defiance was sparked by a Sept. 5 raid by federal agents at 
a medical marijuana collective run by Corral and her husband, Michael. The 
Corrals were instrumental in drafting Proposition 215, a 1996 ballot 
initiative that made California the first of nine states to allow people 
suffering from AIDS, cancer or other ailments to use marijuana to alleviate 
their symptoms.

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 167 plants and 
arrested the Corrals at their Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, but 
they were released later that day, and no federal charges have been filed 
against them. Marijuana cases are usually tried in state court.

The Corrals' nonprofit operation has worked closely with local officials, 
including doctors and police. They openly grow and distribute marijuana, 
and they have issued identification cards to several hundred patients who 
have prescriptions. Local law enforcement accepts the cards as proof of 
need for those in possession of marijuana.

DEA officials did not contact the Santa Cruz Police Department or the 
county sheriff before carrying out the raid, which officials here describe 
as heavy-handed interference in a local matter.

"That's part of the outrage shown by almost everyone I've talked to," said 
Santa Cruz Mayor Christopher Krohn."Whatever the stereotype of a marijuana 
user is, these are very vulnerable people, people with terminal cancers who 
use medical marijuana."

The DEA, however, says that marijuana remains a dangerous and prohibited 
drug -- for everyone.

"The DEA is charged by Congress to enforce federal drug laws, and federal 
drug laws indicate marijuana is a controlled substance," said Will Glaspy, 
a DEA spokesman in Washington. "If we develop information that someone is 
trafficking drugs, we're going to conduct an investigation."

The medical community believes that marijuana is not a drug to make sick 
people healthy -- it can cause psychological problems, heart disease and 
cancer -- but there is some evidence that it can temporarily alleviate some 
symptoms, such as chronic pain, glaucoma and the debilitating loss of 
appetite that can accompany AIDS and cancer, especially among those 
undergoing chemotherapy. However, most physicians feel that there are 
probably better drugs than marijuana to restore appetite and alleviate the 
nausea of chemotherapy.

Proponents of medical marijuana say the federal government is harassing 
sick people and wasting its resources on a relatively harmless drug that 
might do some patients some good.

"They're hoping their actions will have such a chilling effect that other 
proprietors will see what happens and put themselves out of business," said 
Paul Armentano, a spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws in Washington.

Since California voters approved the 1996 ballot initiative, federal agents 
have raided a dozen pot pharmacies around the state. Some have remained 
shuttered and others have reopened.

Several years ago, after the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative was shut 
down, marijuana proponents won a victory in federal court, arguing that 
there was a "medical necessity" loophole in the nation's drug laws and that 
the government should not stand between patients and physicians.

But the Supreme Court last year affirmed that federal law supercedes state 
law and barred physicians from prescribing an illegal drug.

The pro-pot advocates at Santa Cruz City Hall today stressed that their 
goal was not legalization of recreational dope, but permission to 
distribute "a medicinal herb." Arnold Leff, a physician who works with AIDS 
patients here said, "This is not a bunch of patients lighting up and 
getting high."

But federal authorities have long suspected that the medical marijuana 
agenda is simply a first step toward legalization (though in California, an 
arrest for simple possession equates to a parking ticket).

And this is Santa Cruz: In the crowd on the City Hall lawn, there were 
others with their own agenda. They openly rolled joints and huffed away, 
not sick at all, but getting high. And there wasn't a DEA agent in sight.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager