Pubdate: Fri, 08 Nov 2002
Source: Providence Phoenix (RI)
Copyright: 2002 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group
Author: Sam Pfeifle
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Medical Marijuana Pioneer Valerie Corral Talks About Her Struggle's Highs 
- -- And Lows

The medical-marijuana debate is one I've always had a difficult time 
wrapping my head around. It seems, a priori, to be a nonissue. How is it 
possible that the government has no problem with doctors prescribing 
powerful drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, 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 had the opportunity to speak with Valerie Corral, I seized it. 
She's 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 homegrown marijuana when she found that it 
kept her seizures in check -- Corral was the first person to be recognized 
under California's Proposition 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 their participation in the alliance.

Lately, however, things have gotten tough for the successful program. 
Although 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. 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.

Q: 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 might 
be able to emulate?

A: 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 WAMM is 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, perhaps.

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 

A: Yes. My suggestion to most communities is smaller collectives. The 
reason 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 interdependentness. 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 else's.

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

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. 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: Mm-hm. 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: 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, not to 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 do.

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 

Q: 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 caregiver's 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 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 oftentimes 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: Jo-D