Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Author: Judy Appel
Published: April 29, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact: [email protected]
Thousands of seriously ill Californians who rely on medical marijuana to relieve their pain, restore their appetite, treat their nausea or help with a slew of other symptoms are breathing a little easier this week as a result of a federal court order.
In the case of County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Ashcroft, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel issued a temporary injunction barring the federal government from raiding the gardens of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, or WAMM. The ruling allows the collective to resume cultivation free from the fear of further federal prosecution. This relief comes 18 months after a brutal Drug Enforcement Administration raid on WAMM in Santa Cruz, and a year after the collective's seriously ill members filed suit against the federal government to stop the law enforcement harassment.
Last week's order is the first time that a court has applied the law to protect the right of a group of sick people to grow and share their medicine. This is no small victory. In the seven years since the voters of California overwhelmingly passed Proposition 215, which permits patients to use medical marijuana with a physician's recommendation, the federal government has done everything in its power to undermine the will of the voters of California and the eight other states that subsequently passed their own medical marijuana laws.
The WAMM collective is a group of terminally and chronically ill patients and their caregivers who grow and use medicine with the recommendation of their physicians in compliance with state law and local ordinances. WAMM is a true collective, where members do not pay for their medicine and everyone contributes in his or her own way to the community. On Sept. 23, 2002, 30 federal DEA agents raided the WAMM gardens in the Santa Cruz hills. These agents held the collective's founders and a patient at gunpoint while they confiscated their marijuana plants. The founders, Valerie and Mike Corral, were taken into police custody but never charged with a crime. After the raid, the city and county of Santa Cruz joined WAMM and seven patient members in suing the federal government.
Fortunately, the Santa Cruz ruling is not an anomaly. It is the latest in a growing trend of judicial support for state medical marijuana laws. Last year, in Conant v. Walters, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the free speech right of physicians to discuss medical marijuana with their patients. In December, in Raich v. Ashcroft, the same court affirmed the right of seriously ill patients to grow or obtain medical marijuana and use it, upon recommendation of a physician within a state that has legalized it, as long as there is no commerce involved.
In the criminal courts, federal district court judges have been departing from the sentencing guidelines and offering lighter sentences for individuals, like Ed Rosenthal, who were convicted of marijuana cultivation offenses when they were providing medicine to patients. These legal developments are in step with the growing number of Americans, their physicians and local governments that support the legalization of medical marijuana.
Last week's court order provides a real opportunity for local governments to join with patient groups to help patients gain access to quality medicine. For example, San Francisco voters passed Measure S in 2002, opening the door for the city to consider ways to cultivate and provide medical marijuana, including discussions about establishing collective gardens in that city.
It would be naive to think the medical marijuana battle is over. The federal government is expected to appeal the WAMM and the Raich decisions. Still, this is a huge step forward. In the face of enormous budget deficits and an ongoing war on terrorism, the Bush/Ashcroft administration has made the war on sick and dying patients a cornerstone in its attempt to prop up the failing multibillion-dollar war on drugs. But by evicting Ashcroft and his DEA from patients' medicine cabinets, the courts are setting an important precedent in helping to protect the rights of patients and the will of voters.
Appel, director of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, represented the plaintiffs in Santa Cruz case.
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