Pubdate: Tue, 05 Nov 2002
Source: Salon (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 Salon
Author: Louise Witt
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Corral, Valerie)
Bookmark: (Ashcroft, John)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Conant vs. McCaffrey)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Hutchinson, Asa)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


The new front in the nation's drug war came into sharp focus at 7 a.m. on 
Sept. 5, when loud shouts and stomping woke Valerie Corral at her home 
north of Santa Cruz, Calif. Suspecting that the intruders weren't ordinary 
burglars, she snuck out a back entrance and walked around to her front door 
to tell them to leave. When she opened the door, stunned federal agents in 
flak jackets trained M-16s on the 50-year-old homeowner. When she asked to 
see a search warrant, the officers screamed at her to get down. They pushed 
her to her knees, then forced her to lie face down on the floor. With her 
hands handcuffed behind her back, an officer pressed his rifle muzzle to 
the back of her head.

Valerie Corral tried explaining to the agents (there were about 30) that 
she and her husband, Michael, 53, ran Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical 
Marijuana, a legal cooperative in California that has grown the drug for 
250 terminally ill and sick patients, many with cancer or AIDS, for almost 
nine years. Twenty-two of their clients have died in the past 12 months -- 
but to the officers from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, that 
didn't matter. The DEA took Valerie, still in green silk pajamas, and 
Michael to a federal detention center in San Jose. Under the Federal 
Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug -- dangerous and 
with no possible medicinal value -- right up there with heroin. Not only 
did they uproot and seize 167 marijuana plants, but they also confiscated 
the co-op's patient list.

"We do not target drug users," insists Will Glaspy, a DEA spokesman in 
Washington. "We target drug traffickers. There is no such term as 'medical 
marijuana,' except as created by the marijuana lobby."

In California and other states -- including three that will feature 
marijuana initiatives on Tuesday's ballots -- the marijuana lobby happens 
to be the voters. Valerie, who smokes pot to control grand mal epileptic 
seizures, worked to legalize medicinal marijuana in Santa Cruz county in 
1992. Four years later, she helped draft California's Proposition 215, 
which lets patients who have a doctor's recommendation grow and use 
marijuana. So, on Sept. 17, in defiance of President Bush, DEA chief Asa 
Hutchinson and drug czar John Walters, the Corrals along with Santa Cruz 
Mayor Christopher Krohn, most of the city council members and a county 
supervisor handed out pot to patients on the steps of city hall. And under 
state and local law, it was perfectly legal to do so.

"When you look down the barrel of a gun, it's frightening," Valerie says. 
"But when you face illness or death, the inhumane actions of the government 

In the last year, especially, the Bush administration has renewed the war 
on marijuana with a vengeance -- only this time, it is a war that pits the 
federal government against the majority of the American people, and 
sometimes against state and city officials and even local police officers. 
Headed by religious conservatives who take an absolutist stance against 
drugs, the Department of Justice, the DEA and the White House's Office of 
Drug Policy are using the might of the federal government and millions of 
dollars worth of advertising in an effort to roll back the public's growing 
acceptance of marijuana as a medicine and the desire to decriminalize 
possession of the drug in small amounts. Walters and his allies appear to 
realize that if they don't stop the acceptance of marijuana now, then the 
war on drugs as we know it will be forever altered.

The government's drug warriors have already lost ground. Since 1996, eight 
states have followed California's lead and passed laws allowing cannabis to 
be used for medicinal purposes with a physician's recommendation: Alaska, 
Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Tuesday, 
voters in Arizona and Nevada will decide whether to take steps to 
decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. Voters in Ohio will 
decide whether to allow treatment instead of jail time for some drug users. 
Even if these ballot initiatives fail, the mere fact that voters are 
considering them suggests that their ardor for the war on drugs is waning.

The federal government has been trying to outlaw cannabis since the '30s. 
In 1937, Harry Anslinger, the newly named commissioner of the Federal 
Bureau of Narcotics, testified before Congress that "marijuana is an 
addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and 
death." The American Medical Association opposed passage of the act and 
recommended that the drug's status as a medicine be maintained. Congress 
declined to ban marijuana, but in the Marihuana Taxation Act they levied a 
tax on the crop that had the same practical effect.

Timothy Leary, the psychedelic guru, challenged the act after his marijuana 
arrests in 1965 and 1966. G. Gordon Liddy, a local district attorney in New 
York who would later be convicted for his involvement in the Watergate 
break-in, led the raid on Leary's home in Millbrook, N.Y. In 1969, the U.S. 
Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional. Not to be deterred, Congress 
went to work on the Federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970, in which 
marijuana, heroin and LSD were deemed to be without medical value.

That was the genesis of the modern war on pot -- an effort that has clearly 
flagged in recent years as the generations that came of age after the 1960s 
moved into the mainstream. But John Ashcroft, a man whose reputation 
includes never having touched alcohol or taken a drag on a cigarette, 
became attorney general in early 2001, promising to "reinvigorate the war 
on drugs." And he did. Under Hutchinson, a former prosecutor who made a 
name for himself as the congressman who took the lead in Clinton's 
impeachment, the DEA is cracking down on state-sanctioned medical marijuana 
operations, even small ones. So far the DEA has raided or arrested 17 
medical marijuana providers in California, 15 of which came after the Sept. 
11 terrorist attacks, plus one in Oregon. A week after medical pot-grower 
Steve McWilliams publicly handed out buds to show solidarity with the 
Corrals, the DEA confiscated 26 plants and 10 pounds of the drug he grew 
for patients in San Diego. Under the Clinton administration, there had been 
seven raids or arrests since Prop. 215 had passed in 1996, according to the 
A-Mark Foundation's, which compiles information on 
medical marijuana.

"Attorney General Ashcroft is not stupid; he understands that if society 
changes its mind on medical marijuana, then it sets the table for a 
completely different discussion about marijuana and changes the debate 
about drug prohibition," says Jamin Raskin, a constitutional law professor 
at American University in Washington, and the author of "Overruling 
Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The People," slated for publication in 
March. "This is the Battle of Bull Run in the war on drugs. If the critics 
of drug prohibition win on medical marijuana, the cards begin to topple in 
a more libertarian direction."

If the polls are right, most Americans oppose this strident stance on pot. 
In March 2001, the Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of Americans 
support medicinal marijuana laws. After Sept. 11, the respected polling 
firm of Zogby International did a survey for the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws that found 61 percent favor decriminalizing 
possession of small amounts of the drug.

Support for medical marijuana cuts across generations --and party lines. It 
may be a hot-button for some conservatives, but it's not a Republican 
issue. Former President Ronald Reagan's director of communication, Lyn 
Nofziger, whose daughter died from cancer, speaks out for medical 
marijuana. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, another Republican, is an 
outspoken proponent of legalizing marijuana. In Maryland, David Brinkley, a 
Republican candidate for state representative who survived Hodgkin's 
lymphoma 14 years ago, says his support of medical marijuana isn't even an 
issue in his campaign. "I'm a very conservative person in a very 
conservative district," he says. "But there comes a time when you have to 
be practical in dealing with patients and their concerns and needs."

Even Bush, during the 2000 presidential campaign, said he didn't see 
medical marijuana as warranting national attention. In October 1999, he 
told The Dallas Morning News that, with respect to medical marijuana, "each 
state can choose that decision as they so choose." Yet Bush, who has 
skirted questions about whether he ever used illegal drugs, has publicly 
changed his position. When he nominated John Walters for director of the 
Office of Drug Policy, he told the audience in the Rose Garden: "Acceptance 
of drug use is simply not an option for this administration. We 
emphatically disagree with those who favor drug legalization."

"This is crazy," says Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., sponsor of the States' 
Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (H.R. 2592), a bill he introduced this year 
to permit states to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. "I 
can't think of worse use of resources as we struggle to fight terrorism, 
charging people with conspiracy who are trying to alleviate pain. To 
prosecute them is ludicrous. It's the worst example of putting people's 
very vindictive, personal obsessions ahead of decency and rational public 
policy," he says. "They're doing it because they're obsessive right-wingers 
who think marijuana threatens all that Americans hold dear." Rep. Dana 
Rohrabacher, another alumnus of the Reagan White House, is a co-sponsor of 
the bill.

As drug czar, Walters is trying his best to make Americans fear marijuana 
legalization. In September, with several states and municipalities planning 
pot-related ballot measures, his office rolled out an ad campaign linking 
the drug to violence. The campaign is reminiscent of earlier government 
efforts to demonize marijuana. In one TV ad, Dan, a handsome all-American 
white teenager, buys his pot from a dealer who gets her drugs from a 
smuggler who gets his supplies from a swarthy, nefarious-looking man.

"While many people have made the connection between opium and terror, they 
see marijuana as a benign drug," Walters said in a statement. He declined 
Salon's request for an interview.

Walters last month campaigned against initiatives in Arizona and Nevada to 
decriminalize possession of pot in small amounts as part of an effort to 
make the drug more accessible to patients. He stopped in Tucson a week 
after a Northern Arizona University poll found that 53 percent of the 
voters supported a measure decriminalizing possession of up to two ounces. 
It would also require the state's Department of Public Safety, most likely 
police officers, to provide the drug free to patients who have doctors' 
recommendations. Speaking to local reporters, Walters labeled the 
initiative a "stupid, insulting con" and called medical marijuana "the 
21st-century snake oil." A more recent poll shows 51 percent of voters 
opposed to the ballot question.

A few days later, Walters was in Nevada to campaign against the initiative 
that would allow adults to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and set 
up state-licensed and -taxed smoke shops to sell the drug. Medical 
marijuana proponents say they were trying to prevent patients from buying 
cannabis seeds on the black market to grow their plants. But Walters, 
frustrated with what he calls "distortions" from the proponents, told a 
local TV station in Reno, "I call this reefer madness, madness." The latest 
polls show about 60 percent of voters opposed to the decriminalization 

While Walters gave the media catchy sound bites, he declined to participate 
in debates with local politicians or proponents of the marijuana 
initiative. In Nevada, Billy Rogers, spokesman for Nevadans for Responsible 
Law Enforcement, invited him to a debate, but Walters declined. He said 
he'd only debate three people: George Soros, a billionaire who's now 
chairman of the liberal Open Society Institute; Peter Lewis, CEO of 
Progressive Insurance in Cleveland; and John Sperling, founder of the 
for-profit University of Phoenix.

To a large degree, today's marijuana debate is being shaped by six men: 
Ashcroft, Hutchinson and Walters on one side and Soros, Lewis and Sperling 
on the other. Lewis gave money to the Nevada group. Soros, Lewis and 
Sperling are major financial backers of the Drug Policy Alliance, which 
supports state medical marijuana efforts. In a May 2002 Op-Ed in the 
Washington Post, Walters wrote: "By now most Americans realize that the 
push to 'normalize' marijuana for medical use is part of the drug 
legalization agenda. Its chief funders, George Soros, John Sperling and 
Peter Lewis, have spent millions to help pay for referendums and ballot 
initiatives in states from Alaska to Maine."

Ironically, pot does turn out to be the gateway drug, after all -- the 
gateway to less draconian drug laws. Probably no one understands this more 
than Walters, who has made a career out of championing the war on drugs. 
When William Bennett was secretary of education under Reagan, Walters, 
whose late father, Vernon Walters, served as deputy director of the CIA 
under Nixon and as U.N. ambassador under Reagan, was in charge of the 
Schools Without Drugs program. Then, when the first President Bush 
appointed Bennett the first drug czar in 1989, Walters was his chief of 
staff. And for a brief stint in 1993, he was acting drug czar until he quit 
when Clinton redirected the drug policy office's focus to hardcore users 
instead of enforcement and interdiction.

Even when many in the mid-'90s considered the drug war a failure, it never 
lost its appeal for Bennett, the self-appointed watchdog of American 
virtue, and Walters. Along with John J. DiIulio Jr., whom the current 
President Bush appointed to the newly created White House Office of 
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the men wrote "Body Count: Moral 
Poverty and How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs." In the book, 
the authors argue that "moral poverty" is at the root of all crime and that 
religion is "the best and most reliable means we have to reinforce the good."

Now Bennett and Walters are working together, again. Bennett, co-director 
of Empower America, a conservative group, is also co-chairman, along with 
Mario Cuomo, of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In October, 
Walters' office and the partnership released a new series of ads focusing 
on teens and drugs.

Why this new obsession with the wicked weed? Ethan Nadelmann, executive 
director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York City, which supports state 
efforts to legalize medicinal marijuana, says the administration is 
pandering to a small but vocal group of conservatives. "It's not about 
compassion, it's not about cost-benefit or anything like that. It's simply 
a moralistic, demonizing perspective on a certain activity," he says. 
"These people are anti-drug fanatics. They're modern-day Carrie Nations." 
Nation, an early prohibitionist, was a large woman, almost 6 feet tall and 
180 pounds, who carried a hatchet in one hand to smash liquor bottles and a 
Bible in the other. She once destroyed the bar in Wichita's finest hotel.

California's Prop. 215 tried circumventing the Controlled Substance Act for 
medical marijuana. The Clinton administration challenged Prop. 215, and in 
May 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision written by 
Justice Clarence Thomas that the drug "has no medical benefits worthy of an 
exception" under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Coincidentally, 
Thomas was the justice Ashcroft chose to swear him in as attorney general.

In doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Ashcroft, the son of a Pentecostal 
preacher, a way to attack state medical marijuana laws. Within a few months 
after the high court's decision, the DEA stepped up raids and arrests of 
state-sanctioned medical marijuana providers in California.

"From their perspective, all the legal issues have been resolved," says 
Gerald Uelmen, an influential professor at Santa Clara College School of 
Law and attorney for the Santa Cruz marijuana co-operative, who is 
challenging the raid on constitutional grounds. "They're treating all the 
marijuana groups and organizations as though they were illicit drug 
dealers. They're coming in with guns blazing as though they're crack houses 
or methamphetamine labs."

A day after the raid in Santa Cruz, California's Attorney General Bill 
Lockyer fired off a letter to Ashcroft and Hutchinson, complaining that it 
was "a disheartening addition to a growing list of provocative and 
intrusive incidents of harassment by the DEA in California." The DEA is 
conducting raids on state-sanctioned marijuana clubs as a "punitive 
expedition," added Lockyer, a Democrat. In closing, he asked to have a 
meeting with Hutchinson and Ashcroft to come up with more "realistic and 
reasonable" alternatives.

But if California's top law enforcement official was expecting some 
reconciliation, he must have been disappointed. In a rather starchy, almost 
condescending reply, Hutchinson, wrote: "Your repeated references to 
'medical' or 'medicinal' marijuana illustrates a common misperception that 
marijuana is safe and effective medicine." Further, he continued, "state 
'medical' marijuana laws -- including those in California -- are being 
abused to facilitate traditional illegal marijuana trafficking and 
associated crime." In his letter, Hutchinson offered no evidence to prove 
the claim.

Hallye Jordan, Lockyer's press secretary, said conflicts between state and 
federal law are bound to continue until the federal government changes the 
Controlled Substance Act and lets doctors prescribe marijuana to their 
patients. In the meantime, she said, Lockyer's office will adhere to the 
state's law and leave medical marijuana operations alone.

The DEA's bullying tactics may have had unintended consequences. For 15 
years, the San Jose Police Department has worked with federal agents to 
arrest drug dealers. But a month after the raid on the Corrals, San Jose 
Police Chief William Lansdowne pulled his men off of a DEA task force. "The 
most pressing problem is methamphetamine and that is where we should spend 
our time, not on medical marijuana," he says. "I think their [the DEA's] 
priorities are out of sync with local law."

Uelmen, the Corrals' lawyer, has filed a suit against the U.S. government, 
contending that the search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and 
that the Federal Controlled Substances Act exceeds congressional power to 
regulate interstate commerce under the Tenth Amendment. Uelmen hopes this 
case will finally resolve the conflict between state rights to regulate 
medical marijuana and federal narcotic laws.

In Santa Cruz, meanwhile, it turns out that the DEA didn't get all of 
Valerie and Michael Corral's stash. Undaunted by the legal obstacles, they 
continue to hand out pot to their co-operative's members. "The only other 
option is rolling over," Valerie says. "That means something very dramatic 
when you're facing death. That means rolling over and dying. And that is 
not an option for us."

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

About the writer
Louise Witt is a writer who lives in Hoboken, N.J.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jackl