Pubdate: Thu, 10 Oct 2002
Source: Good Times (Santa Cruz, CA)
Copyright: 2002 Pacific Sierra Publishing
Authors: Laurel Chesky and Bruce Willey
Cited: Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana


DEA's Recent Raids on Small Medical Marijuana Cooperatives In
California Are Rooted in Politics

Just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 5, before the sun had risen over the slope
above his house, Mike Corral awakened to the sound of vehicles driving
over the narrow gravel road leading to his property. He peeked outside
the second-story window and saw five U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) agents, dressed in black combat gear and wielding
automatic weapons, marching towards his door. Like an episode out of
Cops, the agents busted in the unlocked house and screamed at Corral
to hit the floor. "Stay calm, I'm not going to resist, you don't have
to do this," he recalls saying before the agents pushed him to the
ground, frisked and handcuffed him.

Mike's wife, Valerie, and two friends slept in an adjacent house on
the couple's 106-acre property--a quarter of which they own in the
hills near Davenport--when Valerie heard heavy boot steps in her home.
One of her friends, Suzanne Pfeil, a paraplegic who requires a
respirator to breath, was being ordered out of bed. Because she
couldn't stand without the aid of crutches, agents handcuffed her to
her bed. Meanwhile, Valerie, wearing the green silk pajamas that her
mother had given her for her 50th birthday, walked through the door of
the room and demanded, "What are you doing in my house? Get out." The
officers told her several times to hit the ground, while Valerie asked
to see a search warrant and their badges. Instead, the DEA shoved her
to the ground and cuffed her.

The bantam, five-foot-tall Valerie was no match physically for the
heavily armed agents, but she stood her ground, telling them that what
they were doing was wrong. "The only way you're going to shut me up is
with duct tape," Valerie told the agents gathered in the house.
"You're causing harm, you're causing suffering and you need to know

For the past decade, the Corrals have run the Wo/Men's Alliance for
Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a cooperative that grows marijuana and
shares the harvested crop among its membership of medical marijuana
patients, who swear by the reefer's relief. WAMM patients suffer from
cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, polio, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy (Valerie
Corral suffers from seizures herself) and a host of other afflictions.
And conventional pharmaceuticals, they say, just don't do the trick.

But that's none of the DEA's concern. The Corrals were taken,
handcuffed, to jail in San Jose, where they spent the next eight hours
in a holding cell. Meanwhile, agents took a chainsaw to 167 marijuana
plants growing on the Corrals' farm.

As shocking as the morning proved to be, the Corrals feared a bust
might be imminent. The WAMM bust is just one in a recent rash of raids
on mom-and-pop medical marijuana cooperatives across the state. In the
past year, the agency has raided gardens producing as few as six
plants--chump change in terms of the feds' goal of eradicating illicit
drugs. And the DEA promises more to come.

Slash and Burn

Nestled on a hill at the end of a long, bone-jolting road, sits the
Corrals' home, where the couple has lived for 16 years. The defunct
WAMM garden is discreetly set 20 or so yards from the side of the
ranch-style house, behind an old wooden gate. Aside from a small crop
of corn, squash and a few heavily laden tomato plants, the
wheelchair-accessible garden is stripped bare, weedless and dusty.
Every 10 feet there are craters where the marijuana's roots once grew,
the only hint of what was.

Up until Sept. 5, the Corral's regularly doled out pot to 238
card-carrying medical marijuana patients, 85 percent of whom suffer
from terminal illnesses. WAMM is touted as a model medical-marijuana
cooperative. Patients and caregivers help grow the weed, which is
given away, not sold. And the organization is picky about who gets it.
It's an unusual co-op--more hospice than pot club--and it's a place
where patients not only get pot to relieve suffering but find
emotional support.

WAMM enjoys the support of the Santa Cruz City Council, the county
Board of Supervisors and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department.
"Valerie Corral, of all people, is probably the most responsible of
all the medical marijuana providers we've dealt with," says sheriff's
spokesman Kim Allyn.

Never mind, the feds say. The Corrals were breaking federal law, which
deems marijuana a controlled substance with no recognized medical value.

Federal law enforcement has never taken a hands-off approach to
medical marijuana, legalized by state Proposition 215 in 1996.
However, under the Clinton Administration, federal prosecutors
targeted the largest and most public medical marijuana

As far as growing operations, the DEA would rarely take on cases
involving less than 1,000 plants. But in the past year, the DEA has
taken to raiding small-time growers and distributors in California.

"Up to a couple of years ago, the DEA never stepped in until there
were thousands of plants," says Dale Gieringer, the state coordinator
of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform
of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "WAMM would not have typically been a DEA
bust in past years. They're now going after people we haven't seen

In March, the DEA busted a 660-plant medical marijuana garden in
Sonoma County. In August, the DEA seized 281 plants from a six-patient
caregiver garden in Lake County; 128 plants from a 10-patient
cooperative in Santa Rosa; 35 plants from a garden in Ventura County;
and six plants from a garden in Butte County. Last month, following
the raid of WAMM's 167-plant garden, the DEA confiscated 26 plants
grown by Steve McWilliams for six patients in San Diego. Federal
prosecutors have yet to seek indictments related to any of these busts.

Will Glaspy, DEA spokesman in Washington D.C., says raids on medical
marijuana groups are not intensifying. "I think what you see is that
we are enforcing the law consistently throughout the country," says
Glaspy. "However, due to circumstances in California, there's
certainly more media attention. Additionally you have people there who
are openly discussing the fact that they are in violation of federal
law, which adds to the information we have into the probable cause to
initiate an investigation. If they flaunt the fact that they are in
violation of federal law, that is something we are obligated to look

Does that mean that medical marijuana advocates invite a raid every
time they go public? It's a question Glaspy can't or won't answer.
Still, California must be easy hunting grounds for the DEA. All they
have to do is pick up the local paper, mark the spot and put on their
boots and flak jackets.

Seeded in Politics

Nevertheless, it's the paltry size of recent busts, along with the
U.S. Justice Department's habit of not bothering to formally press
charges on alleged criminals and therefore denying them legal
recourse, that proves worrisome. The nature of the recent raids
suggests that they have more to do with politics than fighting crime.
To medical marijuana advocates and state and local officials, it seems
that the federal government is flexing its sovereignty in a
not-so-subtle way--the people be damned.

"We're pawns of a bigger issue--state versus federal rights," Kim
Allyn says. "Unfortunately, sick people and voters of California are
caught in the fray."

"We voted on this issue, and I don't understand why the federal
government can [bust medical marijuana cooperatives]." says Santa Cruz
resident Jim Cotter, a caregiver to an AIDS patient who uses medical
marijuana. "There's such a thing as states' rights, and I don't
understand why the federal government is not working with the state."

But the truth is, states' rights have been eroding since the Civil
War, before which the amendment was used to justify slavery. Later, it
was used to defend racial segregation. Meanwhile, over the past
several decades the federal government has been handed more and more
power by the courts (despite the fact that the current conservative
U.S. Supreme Court leans towards favoring states' rights). In
particular, the constitutional responsibility of Congress to regulate
interstate commerce has been broadly interpreted to give the federal
government a legal trump card over state laws.

In 1970, Congress delegated to the federal government the power to
enforce drug laws via the Federal Controlled Substances Act. And in
May of 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court--which has a history of respecting
ballot initiatives passed by the people--made it clear that federal
drug laws do not recognize the medicinal value of marijuana. So in the
case of medical marijuana laws, federal law--at least as it stands
right now--trumps state law.

In the case of WAMM, the organization's lawyers argue that because
WAMM was a privately run operation where pot was homegrown and given
away, the federal government's constitutional obligation to regulate
interstate commerce doesn't come into play. In other words, the
federal authorities have no jurisdiction, and state law should prevail.

"This is not interstate commerce," says the Corrals' attorney Gerald
Uelman. "This is grassroots Santa Cruz compassion."

But as far as the DEA is concerned, busting small-time medical
marijuana cooperatives simply adds up to law enforcement. "Typically
the DEA focuses on higher echelon drug traffickers," says DEA
spokesman Will Glaspy. "However, if we develop any information on
somebody trafficking drugs, we are still responsible or obligated to
follow-up on that issue."

Be that as it may, the DEA's stepped-up attacks on medical marijuana
seem hardly worthy of the federal government's attention and resources
in fighting its War on Drugs, a point not lost on California Attorney
General Bill Lockyer. In his letter to John Ashcroft, Lockyer noted:
"A medical marijuana provider such as the Santa Cruz collective
represents little danger to the public and is certainly not a concern
which would warrant diverting scarce federal resources away from the
fight against domestic methamphetamine production, heroin distribution
or international terrorism, to cite just a few more worthy

That's not to say that the federal law enforcement should never
interfere with state issues. "There are many instances in history when
the federal government stepped in," Sam Farr says. For example,
"Kennedy's federalization of the national guard in Alabama during the
civil rights movement. Shouldn't the federal government be able to
come in and usurp violation of civil rights? So it can go both ways."

Yet raiding medical marijuana operations "isn't a civil rights issue,"
Farr says. "It's simply about an administration of justice. In this
case you have a law, by initiative, presented by the people and
adopted by the people. The details of that law have been established
in California, and local law enforcement and state authorities have
been a part of that.

"This is a case where you have a conflict between a state approach and
a federal approach, and the federal government ought to respect that,"
he says. "The federal government ought not to be working against the
will of the people." Cultivating Change

Federal indictment or not, the Corrals will have their day in court.
On Sept. 24, their lawyers, Benjamin Rice and Gerald Uelmen, filed a
motion in federal court to return WAMM's property taken by the
DEA--namely, the 167 pot plants, a computer, a video, photo albums and
two antique guns--on the grounds that the couple's constitutional
rights were violated during the raid. A hearing on the motion is
scheduled for Nov. 4. While Rice has been successful in convincing
state courts to return marijuana, nobody contacted for this story
could recall an instance when a federal court had handed back pot.

The Corrals still face possible indictment and time in prison, and
they could lose their home and farm. The federal government could
initiate civil forfeiture proceedings against their property.

"That's what dictatorships do," Mike Corral says. "They come into your
house, they take all your possessions, confiscate what they want, and
then they either kill you or they let you go. You're never charged or
anything. That's exactly what happened here."

For now, the DEA shows no signs of slowing its attack on medical
marijuana cooperatives. In a Sept. 30 response to Bill Lockyer's
letter, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson vowed to continue his
mission. "Until Congress decides otherwise ... when marijuana is
observed in the ordinary course of law enforcement duties, DEA is
legally mandated to seize it, even if no prosecution results," he wrote.

Santa Cruz County's congressman, meanwhile, is doing his part to keep
the DEA at bay. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Sam
Farr is attempting to rein in the feds. Farr has introduced
limitations on the DEA's funding, which would prohibit the agency from
using federal funds to conduct raids on medical marijuana operations
in states that have legalized medical marijuana, without first
checking with that state's attorney general. Besides California, those
states include Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Maine and Colorado.
Farr doesn't expect the funding limits to be voted on before the
November elections.

As for legalizing medical marijuana on a national level, a bill to
legalize it, introduced by Rep. Barney Franks of Massachusetts, has
languished in Congress for the past 10 years.

Farr, at least, remains hopeful nonetheless.

"State laws are changing, and federal law simply hasn't caught up," he
says. "It's interesting that Congress is not so much a leader of the
nation as it is a follower of the people. I think once you start
changing people's attitudes, people come around to a common sense approach." 
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