DEA's Medical Pot Seizures Targeted by Santa Cruz Suit
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Author: Claire Cooper -- Bee Legal Affairs Writer
Published: Thursday, April 24, 2003
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: [email protected]
City again wants to freely give marijuana to the critically ill.
Santa Cruz -- Seven months after hosting a medical marijuana giveaway outside City Hall, Santa Cruz officials took another unusual step Wednesday: They joined patients to sue the federal government for interfering with the local supply of legal pot.
Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can make better use of their resources "than to chase ill people around the county of Santa Cruz," Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said at a press conference to announce the filing of the suit in San Jose federal court. The suit requests an injunction against further raids on a city-sanctioned pot farm.
It was the latest salvo in the struggle between California, which legalized marijuana for some seriously ill patients in 1996, and federal agents, who have conducted a series of raids on cooperatives complying with the state initiative.
Another shot could be fired today. A resolution is set to be heard on the Assembly floor, urging President Bush and Congress to let states control pot within their borders. AJR 13, introduced by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, also requests oversight hearings on the use of DEA funds to "harass, prosecute and intimidate" legal pot users.
A DEA raid in September on the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana outside Santa Cruz left the area with too little legal pot to ease the "excruciating pain and suffering" of its sick and dying members, WAMM founder Valerie Corral, an epilepsy patient, said Wednesday in announcing the lawsuit.
Corral, who helped draft the California law, was deputized by the city in December to carry out its medical pot ordinance by cultivating and distributing the drug. Since the raid, she said, 15 of the organization's 250 members have died.
An earlier WAMM suit, seeking the return of 167 pot plants seized in the September raid, was turned down by the San Jose federal court in December. That's on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has before it other novel and interrelated cases.
Among them are a suit to enjoin federal prosecution of two women, from Oakland and Oroville, who say they have no medical alternative to using marijuana, and a suit in which operators of a marijuana cooperative in Oakland claim legal immunity based on that city's deputizing of them.
The new complaint also makes an immunity argument as well as a states' rights claim based on constitutional limits on the federal government's authority to regulate health and safety issues and commerce within the states.
Those arguments so far have failed in the other cases.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday adds a new constitutional argument based on individual rights of privacy and autonomy.
The legal complaint asserts that "the DEA's seizure of medical marijuana violated the WAMM patient plaintiffs' fundamental right to control the circumstances of their own deaths."
"I don't think the American public's ready for that," said Richard Meyer, the DEA's regional spokesman.
He said he was speaking only in general terms, however, and had been instructed not to comment on pending litigation.
Pat Ramey, speaking for 93-year-old Dorothy Gibbs at the Santa Cruz press conference, had a different perspective. Ramey said the post-polio syndrome patient, for whom she serves as caregiver, "has the right to die with some dignity and not lying in a bed not knowing her own children when they come in because she's on harsh drugs."
Gibbs is named as a plaintiff in the suit.
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