Artwork: Jean Hanamoto

Sick Policy Versus Sick People
Steven L. Fornal

"I met scores of patients who credit marijuana with dimming
their pain, quelling their nausea, firing their appetites and
quieting their seizures; I also met a handful of people who
believe marijuana is keeping them alive."

Michael Pollen, The New York Times

A REPORT FROM the Institute of Medicine, issued in 1999 and commissioned by Clinton drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, found that patients debilitated by seizures, intense pain, loss of appetite and chronic nausea, might very well receive "broad spectrum relief (from using marijuana) not found in any other single medication." Even so, "that failed to alter the federal government's position that possessing marijuana for any reason should be a crime." [1] MOJO WIRE MAGAZINE; Half An Ounce Of Healing; Evelyn Nieves; January/February 2001

Among the illnesses under the medicinal marijuana umbrella are cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and arthritis as well as more debilitating ailments like postpolio syndrome, epileptic seizures, and Multiple Sclerosis.

In 1996, Californians went to the polls and passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, a referendum to allow medicinal use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Thus, such use became law in the state of California.

However, almost immediately, the Federal Government protested this "intrusion" upon its "authority" to control marijuana use despite the fact that the Constitution of the United States grants vast authority to the People as well as to individual states via the Ninth and Tenth Amendments:

"The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights
shall not be construed to deny or disparage others
retained by the people"
(Amendment IX)

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States respectively, or to the people"
(Amendment X)

Undaunted grassroots organizers pushed for laws legalizing medical marijuana in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada. However, "California's experiment with medical marijuana could well turn out to be a turning point in the drug war, if for no other reason than it is rapidly transforming what has long been a simplistic monologue about drugs - Just say no - into a complex conversation between the people and their Government.

"Before the Prop 215 campaign, Americans had focused exclusively on the victims of drugs; now they were meeting victims of the war against drugs, and these people looked a lot like people they knew. The old stories of children with drug problems were suddenly displaced by stories of dying parents in need of pain relief. And these stories resonated with the experience of voters, a third of whom told pollsters they personally knew someone who used marijuana for medical reasons.

"In California I met scores of patients who credit marijuana with dimming their pain, quelling their nausea, firing their appetites and quieting their seizures; I also met a handful of people who believe marijuana is keeping them alive." [2] The New York Times; Michael Pollen; 20 July 1997

Apparently all the above is what worried United States Attorney General John Ashcroft enough to force action on the issue. Not debate, mind you. But armed intervention on September 5, 2002 when an armed team of Drug Enforcement Agency operatives, replete with automatic weapons, stormed the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, California.

Remember, that marijuana use can help sick people is not in dispute. That the people of the state of California passed a law via referendum (meaning by way of true democratic praxis) is not contested. Yet, on that fateful day, a co-op owned by Valerie Corral and husband Michael and operated by dozens of committed volunteers, eighty-five percent of whom are infirm, was raided by Federal agents. Valerie and her husband were handcuffed, arrested and whisked away to a holding cell in San Jose. While 165 medicinal plants were chain sawed down, loaded in vans and were about to be driven away, alerted co-op members gathered, closed the gate to the farm and refused to allow the Feds to leave. The DEA had to call the local police to intervene.

The result of that ill-fated militant action by the United States government has resulted in a lawsuit which claims Federal authorities trampled State rights, "when they raided an area medical marijuana cooperativeís garden and should be prohibited from doing so again, a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court contends.

"As expected, the Santa Cruz-based Wo/menís Alliance for Medical Marijuana, along with the county and city of Santa Cruz, sued the U.S. government, seeking an injunction against similar raids. Six WAMM members are also plaintiffs. The suit targets Attorney General John Ashcroft, federal drug czar John Brown and acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief John Walters.

"About 70 WAMM members, the groupís attorneys and a few local elected officials, including county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt and Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly, gathered on the steps of the County Government Center on Wednesday morning to announce the filing. Neither the city nor county is spending money on action. The suitís outcome will be watched closely by other states with medical marijuana laws, said Neha Nissen, an attorney with the San Francisco law firm of Bingham McCutchen. The suit, filed in federal court in San Jose, hinges in part on whether the marijuana clubís activities should be considered interstate commerce and, therefore, subject to federal authority, said WAMM attorney Gerald Uelmen.

Uelmen contends that because WAMM doesnít sell marijuana or distribute it across state lines, it is not interstate commerce.

" 'This is a closed distribution system,' Uelmen said. 'It doesnít enter into the stream of interstate commerce'.

"The suit also claims immunity from criminal penalties for WAMM co-founders Michael and Valerie Corral, because they were deputized in December by the Santa Cruz City Council. That protects them from criminal liability, the suit contends.

"The suit also claims the seizures violate a patientís right to 'control the circumstances of their own deaths'." [3] "WAMM Lawsuit Seeks To Curb Federal Authority" Santa Cruz Sentinel; Brian Seals; 24 April 2003

Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Richard Meyer...disputed claims the DEA was picking on sick people. "Our job is to target marijuana distributors," Meyer said. [4] op.cit.

Despite a half century of baseless propaganda aimed at demonizing "God's green herb" claiming all sorts of preposterous notions of it being a "gateway" drug (meaning any young people using marijuana will soon pass through the gateway to other more dangerous drugs like cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, etc) no reliable data exists to prove that case. In fact, most studies have shown marijuana to be relatively benign with no correlation to worsened drug use (beyond what could be established by using Mother's Milk analogy: Working backwards, current heroin user used to use marijuana but also used to be nursed at the breast of his mother; therefore, mother's milk is a gateway substance).

Typical of the outrage found in editorials across the United States was this strong statement from the Times Herald-Record editor, "This is a dumb, wasteful, misguided, punitive, brutal, arrogant policy and the DEA ought to stop it immediately. Go catch some real drug pushers and let these sick people have some respite." [5] Times Herald-Record; 20 September 2002; Orange County Publications

WAMM members have been helping about 250 ill folk feel better. The co-op survives on donations only. It serves as a model for other medicinal marijuana co-ops located throughout the United States. Members volunteer to help plant, maintain, harvest, clean, package and distribute their medicine.

But, that is not all the co-op dispenses. As member Jean Hanamoto puts it, "There's also a lot of love and caring."++


For additional information or to send a contribution to help WAMM in its legal battle against the Federal government, go to


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