Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2005
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Santa Cruz Sentinel
Author: Brian Seals, Sentinel Staff Writer
Cited: WAMM
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


For a little more than a year, members of the Santa Cruz-based
Wo/men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana have run what is, in effect,
the only legal medical pot farm in the country.

The garden's safe status is now in peril after Monday's U.S. Supreme
Court ruling that medical marijuana users can be prosecuted by the
federal government.

The 6-3 decision reverses a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision
in 2003 that allowed for medical marijuana use so long as no money
changed hands and the marijuana crossed no state lines. California and
nine other states have versions of a law that allow people to grow,
smoke or obtain marijuana for medical needs with a doctor's

Predictably, the mood at WAMM's Westside office Monday ranged from
sorrowful to angry.

"My feeling is rage," said Hal Margolin, 73, as he pounded an office
desk with his fist. "This is my government, and my government is
telling me that what I do to help myself is illegal."

A spokesman for the federal drug czar hailed the ruling, calling
medical marijuana a "Trojan horse for drug legalization."

Area medical marijuana advocates had been anxiously awaiting the
ruling, as it is closely linked with pending suits brought by WAMM
against the federal government.

The group won an injunction in April 2004 that prohibited federal
raids on its Davenport garden, as happened in September 2002, until
the case that was decided Monday was finally adjudicated.

Nonetheless, members of the cooperative vowed to continue their

"We'll just keep going," WAMM co-founder Valerie Corral said. "We'll
just be continuing the work we've been doing and hope the judiciary
and Congress catches up with us."

Most medical marijuana patients, at least those who can grow their
own, need not worry, said WAMM attorney Ben Rice, but clubs and
cooperatives run the risk of being shut down. And that, he said, is
harmful to those who are very sick.

"Nobody thinks individual patients are gong to be targeted," Rice
said. "The crime here is that the most sick among us are going to be
most affected because they can't go out and get it or grow it

WAMM serves about 160 members whose ailments range from epilepsy to
cancer to AIDS. They say marijuana -- smoked or eaten -- offers them
relief in ways pharmaceuticals do not.

"I can't replace it with pain medications because I am allergic to the
pain medications," said Jeremy Griffey, who smokes and eats marijuana
to cope with AIDS and arthritis.

Others have similar stories.

"I don't have a choice to quit using marijuana," said member Suzanne
Pfeil. "Now, we have to worry about being raided again. It's an
uncomfortable way to live."

The Supreme Court ruling will have an impact on WAMM's lawsuit against
the federal government in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

Part of the WAMM case -- and part of the case decided Monday -- centered
around the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The
9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had ruled that when sick people
share marijuana and money is not exchanged, there is no interstate
commerce involved, therefore it cannot be regulated by Congress.

While the Supreme Court gutted that portion of the local cooperative's
argument, the legal fight is still on, Rice said.

Another portion of the WAMM's legal contention is centered on due
process provisions of the Constitution, Rice said. The group will
argue, he said, that if a patient is following a doctor's
recommendation, abiding by state law and is using a substance to
alleviate pain and suffering, then the patient has a right to the medicine.

"Our team has always felt that is our better argument," Rice

The Supreme Court decision becomes valid in 60 days. Rice said the
U.S. Attorney's Office would likely file to have the injunction
protecting WAMM's garden dissolved in light of Monday's ruling.

Luke Macauley, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in San
Francisco, said he couldn't speculate on how the department will respond.

WAMM will continue on its own case in U.S. District Court in San Jose,
and likely fight on to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rice said. The city and
county of Santa Cruz signed on as plaintiffs in WAMM's suit.

For Corral and husband Mike, also a co-founder, there is another
concern. When federal agents raided WAMM's Davenport garden in 2002,
they uprooted 167 plants. The Corrals were taken to jail, but never
charged. The statute of limitations for them to be charged doesn't run
out until 2007.

Critics of Monday's ruling included U.S. Rep Sam Farr, D-Carmel,
co-sponsor of legislation that would protect patients and doctors from
federal prosecution so long as they were acting within their state's

"Often people joke about medical marijuana, but due process and
respecting state laws is a serious issue," Farr said in a written
statement Monday. "Beyond that, I think it is high time the federal
government recognized that one of the best ways to prevent
recreational use of a drug is to let doctors prescribe it in closely
regulated ways."

In writing the decision, Justice John Paul Stevens said that Congress
could change the law to allow medical use of marijuana.

Among those praising the ruling was Rafael Leamaitre of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy, known as the Office of the Drug Czar. He
scoffed at what he called the "caricature" of the federal government
arresting sick people.

"We're after major drug traffickers," he said.

While the Supreme Court decision allows for federal prosecution,
medical marijuana advocates said that using marijuana medicinally
remains legal under California law.

Santa Cruz County government abides by Proposition 215, the 1996 state
ballot initiative voters approved that allows for medical marijuana

The county established a photo-identification card system in 2003.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors set limits that allow patients who
have a doctor's recommendation to possess 3 pounds of pot and keep a
garden with a 100-square-foot canopy.

An estimated 500-600 people have been issued county ID cards, said
county health officer Poky Namkung.

Sgt. Fred Plageman of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office said he
didn't expect department policies to change. When the matter comes up,
deputies check to see if a person has a valid prescription, then the
department acts accordingly, he said.

Attorneys with the state Department of Health Services said they were
reviewing the Supreme Court's decision to determine how it would
affect the state's medical identification card program, said
department spokesman Robert Miller.

Andrea Tischler of the marijuana-friendly Compassion Flower Inn said
the ruling sparked calls of support to her Santa Cruz bed and
breakfast. The inn allows medical pot users to consume on the premises.

Though the ruling was "devastating," she said, it didn't mean death to
the movement.

"It is not the first time we have suffered setbacks" Tischler said. "I
think the movement will continue. It's not going to stop." 
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