Pubdate: Thu, 17 Oct 2002
Source: Portland Phoenix (ME)
Copyright: 2002 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group
Author: Sam Pfeifle
Cited: Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana
Bookmarks: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


As Maine continues to struggle with a medical marijuana distribution
system, Valerie Corral -- a woman who has established a successful
medical marijuana cooperative, and seen it attacked by John Ashcroft
- -- offers some advice

Valerie Corral speaks, at Luther Bonney Auditorium, on the
USM/Portland campus, October 25. Call (207) 780-4289.

The medical marijuana debate is one I've always had a difficult time
wrapping my head around. It seems, a priori , to be a non-issue. How
is it possible that the government has no problem with doctors
prescribing powerful drugs like percocet, vicodan, oxycontin, and
morphine for folks to take home, but objects to doctors granting
permission for very sick patients to grow and smoke a little dope --
even after states vote to allow it?

So, when I heard Valerie Corral was coming to town, I couldn't wait to
speak with her. She is a hero to many people who feel that smoking
marijuana can cure their symptoms in ways that pharmaceuticals cannot.
As a sufferer of epilepsy -- and someone who self-prescribed her
homegrown marijuana when she found that it kept her seizures in check
- -- Corral was the first person to be recognized under California's
Prop 215 Compassionate Use Act as an official medical marijuana patient.

But that was just her first step. Corral, with husband Mike, went on
to found the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a
collective that -- unlike buyers' clubs that sell marijuana at market
prices -- supplies medical marijuana to patients who need it, in
return for their help in producing it and participation in the alliance.

Lately, however, things have gotten tough for the successful program.
Though only about 100 sick people participate, and though all of them
have debilitating conditions like cancer, AIDS, paralysis, and
arthritis, the Justice Department, under orders from John Ashcroft,
swept in and destroyed WAMM's garden. Think about that. They ignored
the intent of a California state law, approved by an overwhelming
majority of voters, so that they could destroy a quantity of medicine
that could have helped hundreds of people at virtually no cost.

In exchange, Ashcroft offers expensive drugs supplied by the
pharmaceutical industry, a profit-driven enterprise.

Corral's community, including the mayor, chief of police, sheriff, and
district attorney for Santa Cruz, California, have rallied around her
(even hosting what amounted to a city-sponsored medical marijuana
event). But that won't bring her crop back.

Speaking with her on the eve of her appearance at the Maine Women's
Studies Consortium Conference, it was good to hear her in high spirits
and passionate about making further progress.

Phoenix: You're coming to Maine to speak at the Women's Studies Conference,
but you've made your notoriety from running the Wo/Men's Alliance for
Medical Marijuana. I want to explore the medical marijuana issues and the
connection to women's issues, but let's start with medical marijuana. We
have here in Maine, as you know well, a medical marijuana law, but we don't
yet have a distribution system set up, and that's what we've been
struggling with. How have you been successful in distributing medical
marijuana and what do you think works in the system that you've set up that
other states, like ours, might be able to emulate?

Valerie Corral: What I did, essentially, is just bring patients together in
a collective, and approached city and county officials, including law
enforcement, and worked pretty steadily with them.

This also included, for some six years, being a member of the alcohol
and drug abuse commission, so that, in the early days, I'd be able to
better understand what fears would be raised by those who had issues
with the larger issue of abuse. I was able to answer some of those
questions, and also to make peace between us, to denote the difference
between medicine and drug abuse.

But, in the development of this collective, I came to realize, of
course, the bigger you are, the bigger the target to the federal
government. But, also, the bigger you are the more cumulative power
you have to address accountability, which I feel, for this issue, is
extremely important.

The accountability is based primarily on not seeking to profit from
the work, or from people's illnesses. That's an unusual approach in a
nation that spends a lot of money trying to be well when we're sick.

Q: The way I understand it is that's it's kind of a time-share
arrangement, where people contribute a certain amount of time and
energy and, in return, they receive medical marijuana.

A: Well, it's a little bit more broad than that because people have
differing degrees of disability. Someone who might come into our
office paralyzed from the neck down -- quadriplegic -- from a surfing
accident, he's not going to be able to do a lot of physical labor,

So what we do, what we ask -- it's a very basic principle -- is to
give what you can and take only what you need. So it isn't exactly a
time-share agreement, where they have to give a certain amount to get
what they need, only that their intention is to be part of the
alliance, in giving what they can, in reviewing what the possibilities
are for what they have to offer, be it money, time, energy, or a caregiver.

So, it's a broad design to meet the needs of as many people in our
area who find themselves facing imminent death or very serious,
debilitating illness.

Q: Is the size of your collective limited by how much marijuana you
can produce?

A: Yes. My suggestion to most communities is smaller collectives. The
reason that I suggest that is because I think people working together
is extremely important for people who are seriously ill because your
community changes when you find yourself ill.

You know, the surfing community changes when you're no longer able to
go surfing. You lose your friends. Not because they don't love you,
but because they're busy carrying on their normal lives.

So, I think what's important to note that's so valuable in our
community is the interdependence. We notice if people are hungry, if
people are losing their homes. Seven of our members have become
homeless, simply because they didn't have enough money to fight their
illness, pay their rent, and stay in their home. So, we've hooked
people up with other places.

We do a lot of in-home care when people are facing death and they
don't want to be in a nursing home. We try to keep people in their
homes, we try to keep one another fed, we have weekly support groups
in our office in town. It's quite important to recognize that one of
the elemental pieces of our organization is a commitment to being a
part of something bigger than ourselves.

Q: Did you start out simply growing medicine for people and then
realize that just growing marijuana doesn't really solve the problem?

A: Yes I did, actually. The experience has certainly been
enlightening, or an awakening, I should say. There are situations that
I might never have guessed would arise. But, before I ever really got
into this work, and I just grew marijuana for myself, 18 of my friends
and family members had died. Which is kind of unusual. I mean, I was
40 years old at that time.

I found that the need was always there for people to be in camaraderie
with each other. And to simply notice what's going on in one another's
lives, and to have that social connection.

You might feel very isolated being the only man in the room that's
bald from chemotherapy if you have prostate cancer, but you come in to
WAMM and you look around and there are so many people in there that
know exactly what you've been through. They recognize the pain and
just the dreariness of a day, how hard it can be to get through it.
That kind of experience aligns people, but it also gives folks an
opportunity to step outside of their own experience and share somebody

When I first started, I didn't know how huge it could

Q: Speaking of huge . . . you were talking about some of the problems
that arose as you got bigger and bigger.

A: Well, that did, and does, happen. The federal government found out
about us, but they had known about us for a long time. So, I don't
think that it's something that we didn't expect.

I just felt that, since we're so clean and above reproach because we
don't sell marijuana, that they would stay away from us because we
would be a nightmare. But for this federal government, nothing is a
nightmare, except, perhaps, themselves. And they did come after us,
but it hasn't stopped us.

We still meet on a weekly basis, and we still have our medicine, and
we don't have our garden -- so things will be different next year --
but we imagine that we'll be able to somehow make it through it. We
don't see any reason why not.

So, consequently, one of our most effective avenues will be to divest
toward smaller gardens grown to serve the whole, but with fewer attendants.

Q: You'll decentralize?

A: Mmm, hmm. You do what you can. If they make you back down from one
approach, then you find another. That's something we've always done.
For instance, I've always changed the language. Distribution's against
the law, so we don't distribute, we supply. Whatever they need, it's
all semantics.

Q: But the local community and even the local government and law
enforcement officials have been very supportive haven't they?

A: Yes, extremely.

Q: They helped you pass out medical marijuana on the steps of City
Hall, right?

A: Well, they didn't pass it out, we did. But they stood by as we
carried out one of our weekly meetings.

Q: How does that feel, to be getting such mixed messages from two
different arms of the government?

A: I've always felt that I was light years away from the federal
government, that they were just some shadow government where I don't
really know who they are, and they don't really know who we are, and
that, in fact, we probably never would get direct support from them.
You know how the federal government is, they're the last to respond,
and only when they feel totally and completely safe.

Take Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who are senators from
California. Now, the medical marijuana issue got more votes than
either of them did, by far. Now, do you think they have the wisdom to
recognize that medical marijuana is sensible? No, they don't, because
they're fearful, they're afraid. I guess they're afraid that someone
will use that against them, but, what happens is that it pushes people
toward voting Green. You know, it just really does. And we have to
show them that, we've really got to shake up DC.

Q: Obviously, it's going to be hard to make any headway while there is
a Bush/Ashcroft administration in power, but, if there were to be a
Democratic switchover in 2004, do you think there's any sentiment on
the national level for medical marijuana, or, at least, to not pull
doctors' licenses for going along with state laws?

A: Yes, I do. Which is not to say that the Democrats have been great
friends. But, importantly, we have to recognize that this current
administration has been the enemy of sick and dying people. I think
that's hugely important to recognize. Whereas the former
administration didn't choose to be so -- how can I say this -- vile.

You know, it's tyranny. It's simple. When a government does not
respect the will of the people, and the democratic process, in a
supposedly democratic society, then that's tyranny. They've certainly
not been paying attention. And if they have been paying attention,
it's only to the locations of the gardens of sick and dying people.

And they tell us they're worried about our health, that they're
concerned about our health, but they don't offer us health care. It's
just more rhetoric.

They think we just want to feel better and, guess what, we

Q: Heaven forbid, right?

A: Yeah, I mean, it's not a big shock. People who are sick just want
to feel better. And, they sell us a myriad of pills just to achieve
that end. But, I think because marijuana's free, they insist that it's
not a good medicine.

Q: Okay, but you're coming to town to speak at a women's studies
conference. When does medical marijuana go from being a people's issue
to being more of a women's issue?

A: It's interesting. When I began this outreach organization, I was
working with mostly men, and women were more cloistered or hidden
about their marijuana use, less willing to be noticed for it. But
that's really changed in the last 10 years.

One of the things that makes it a women's issue is that women are
often the ones by the bedside of those that are dying. They're
preparing the food, doing a lot of the work. So, as a women's issue,
it probably relates first from a care-giver point of view. They don't
like to see the people they're caring for suffer, and marijuana can
make it stop.

But in a lot of cases, especially here in Santa Cruz, where there's an
exceptionally high rate of breast cancer, there are more and more
women who are willing either to begin using marijuana or who have
actually come out about their use, where they had not done so before.

And, often, women are the caretakers of their children, so they're
concerned about crossing that boundary where using marijuana might get
them into hot water and they might lose their children.

Q: Do you think they also have fears about sending a bad message about
drug use to their young children?

A: I think that happens in families a lot. I know that many of the
women with whom I work have either kept it a secret or have begun this
really extensive educational outreach in their own homes whereby they
enforce the understanding that the marijuana that they smoke is really
a medicine. It's important that it be separated from the recreational
aspect -- that, as an adult, they're really making this distinction.
It's in the medicine cabinet and, "no, you can't take it."

I think it's a human issue, and I'm not saying that it appeals more to
women to be humanitarian, but often times that appears to be so. And,
it turns out that I'm a woman, and I started this. I guess most
dealers are men, and WAMM is really contrary to the concept of dealing
and opening up buyers' clubs. This is a vastly alternative approach.

A lot of people must think that I'm crazy. I must be the only one in
the world who can't make money off marijuana.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake