A year and a half ago, the Wo/men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.wamm.org) had an unpleasant encounter with some unpleasant visitors: the DEA (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/254/conflictheightening.shtml). A cooperative established by Mike and Valerie Corral to help medical marijuana patients help themselves, WAMM provided marijuana to more than 250 people qualified under California law to use the herb as medicine. Despite the legality of the operation under state law, the Justice Department of Attorney General John Ashcroft was determined to nip the medical marijuana movement in the bud, and the raid on WAMM and its patients was part of that effort.
But Ashcroft's offensive has run into a series of reverses in the courts, from the judge's refusal in the Ed Rosenthal case to sentence him to prison, to last December's US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft, where the court held that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not apply to patients receiving medical marijuana in states where it was legal and who were not engaged in commerce (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/316/victory.shtml).
The raid on WAMM also led to a slew of unfavorable publicity for Ashcroft and the DEA, as Santa Cruz officials publicly responded by allowing WAMM to distribute marijuana from the steps of city hall. Some of those same officials also appeared on nationally-televised programs to criticize the raid, the DEA, and the Justice Department. Even California Attorney General Bill Lockyer joined the critics, sending a letter to Ashcroft calling the WAMM raid a "provocative and intrusive incident of harassment."
In the most recent reverse for the feds, US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose Wednesday ordered the federal government to keep its hands off WAMM -- at least for now. WAMM and supportive Santa Cruz city and county government had sued for relief from federal harassment after the DEA raid, in which federal law enforcers seized 167 marijuana plants and left WAMM members dry and not high.
Fogel's ruling Wednesday was the first to interpret the meaning of Raich v. Ashcroft in a wider context than single patients and their sole providers. In the December Raich ruling, the 9th Circuit held that: "The intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician is, in fact, different in kind from drug trafficking. This limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market, as well as any broader commercial market for medical marijuana, insofar as the medical marijuana at issue in this case is not intended for, nor does it enter, the stream of commerce."
Judge Fogel had thrown out an earlier lawsuit seeking the return of items seized in the raid, but attorneys for WAMM and the city and county of Santa Cruz filed a new lawsuit in April 2003, challenging the federal government's authority to interfere with medical marijuana activities that are legal under California law.
Federal officials had argued that the commerce clause of the US Constitution preempted state laws allowing for medical marijuana. According to the feds, marijuana use of any kind constituted interstate commerce. But the 9th Circuit didn't buy that argument in Raich, and Judge Fogel didn't buy that argument Wednesday.
Instead, he issued a preliminary injunction barring the feds from harassing WAMM until remaining legal issues are sorted out. Applying the Controlled Substances Act to the WAMM cooperative "is an unconstitutional exercise" of federal power, said Judge Fogel.
"We applaud the court's decision and we are profoundly pleased as we prepare to replant our garden," said Valerie Corral, cofounder of WAMM, during a Wednesday conference call with reporters. "But we also steady ourselves for a tug of war with the present administration's unwillingness to honor the democratic process."
"In the face of overzealous federal law enforcement, for the first time a court has applied the law in a way that protects the right of a group of sick people to grow and share their medicine without fear," said Judy Appel, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), which provided part of the legal team that argued the case.
"Today's decision affirms the right of WAMM's members to cultivate and use marijuana for medicinal purposes free from federal interference," said Neha Shah Nissen, an attorney with Bingham McCutchen, a law firm that worked with DPA. "The federal government can no longer ignore the will of the people of the State of California and the City and County of Santa Cruz to protect the health and welfare of terminally and chronically ill individuals."
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the WAMM ruling, but it did announce this week that it is appealing the Raich decision to the US Supreme Court. And the injunction issued this week by Judge Fogel is only temporary, barring the Justice Department from raiding or prosecuting WAMM until he has had a chance to rule on the applicability of the commerce clause to medical marijuana co-ops. But in the meantime, WAMM is free to plant, and its member patients are free to get their medicine.
Hear Valerie Corral live on Cultural Baggage, live on the Internet or via the airwaves in Houston this Tuesday, April 26. in Houston. Tune in at 7:30 EDT, 6:30 CDT or 4:30 PDT to http://www.kpft.org or 90.1 FM, or check it out in the Cultural Baggage archives after the following morning at http://www.cultural-baggage.com/kpft.htm online.