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CONTACT: Tony Newman
April 21, 2004

(212) 613-8026
Landmark Judgment Today: Seriously Ill Patients of Santa Cruz Medical Marijuana Collective Protected From Federal DEA Raids
Court Grants Injunction Allowing WAMM Members
to Grow and Use Their Medicine
Teleconference 3:30 PM PST, April 21 2004 Featuring Plaintiffs, Legal  Team and Santa Cruz Elected Officials

San Jose, CA. Eighteen months after a brutal DEA raid on a medical marijuana collective in Santa Cruz, California, the seriously ill collective members finally got the protection from future raids and harassment they have sought since filing suit against the federal government one year ago. After reconsidering his earlier decision in the high profile case County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Gonzales, Judge Jeremy Fogel of the Northern District of California has granted Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction and denied the government's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint. Today's ruling will protect the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) while the lawsuit is pending, and allow the collective to resume cultivation.

The Drug Policy Alliance, along with the law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP, the Santa Cruz City Attorney and co-counsel Prof. Gerald Uelmen and Ben Rice, represent Plaintiffs in this case. "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. "Today's decision affirms the right of WAMM's members to cultivate and use marijuana for medicinal purposes free from federal interference," stated Neha Shah Nissen, an attorney with Bingham McCutchen. "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."

"We applaud the Court's decision and we are profoundly pleased as we prepare to replant our garden," said Valerie Corral, co-founder of WAMM. "But we also steady ourselves for a tug of war with the present administration's unwillingness to honor the democratic process."

Links to more media coverage regarding Judge Fogel's Decision:

December 17, 2003
Court boosts medical pot
Santa Cruz Sentinel Staff and
wire report SAN FRANCISCO

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a congressional act outlawing marijuana may not apply to sick people with a doctor’s recommendation in states that have approved medical marijuana laws.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that prosecuting these medical marijuana users under a 1970 federal law is unconstitutional if the marijuana isn’t sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

Every WAMM member helps however they can.

"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," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the majority.

The court added that "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."

The decision was a blow to the Justice Department, which argued that medical marijuana laws in nine states were trumped by the Controlled Substances Act, which outlawed marijuana, heroin and a host of other drugs nationwide.

But it was welcome news for groups like the Santa Cruz-based Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which was raided by federal agents in September 2002.

"This is so perfect," said Mike Corral, co-founder of the group. "This is the best Christmas present that could come down for our group. Advertisement WAMM member Suzanne Pfeil said the ruling eases the anxiety for medical marijuana patients who must deal with chronic illness and the possibility of federal prosecution.

"Anything that can reduce the stress and fear medical marijuana patients live with since (Attorney General John) Gonzales began these raids is wonderful news."

The Justice Department was not immediately available to comment on the ruling from a court some call the nation’s most liberal appeals court.

Randy Barnett, a Boston University constitutional law professor, said the case was precedent-setting.

"It’s the first time there’s been a ruling that the application of the Controlled Substances Act to the application of cultivation of medical cannabis is unconstitutional," he said.

The case concerned two seriously ill California women who sued Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. They asked for a court order letting them smoke, grow or obtain marijuana without fear of federal prosecution.

The case underscores the conflict between federal law and California’s 1996 medical marijuana law, which allows people to grow, smoke or obtain marijuana for medical needs with a doctor’s recommendation.

Corral said Tuesday’s ruling could have implications for two suits WAMM has before the 9th Circuit, one seeking return of 167 marijuana plants uprooted during the September 2002 raid and another seeking an injunction that would bar federal agents from raiding medical marijuana gardens. Santa Cruz County and the city of Santa Cruz signed on as plaintiffs to that latter suit.

Ben Rice, one of WAMM’s attorneys, called the ruling "pretty fabulous."

"What it tells us is the panel agreed with us — the commerce clause (of the Constitution) does not allow that kind of intrusion into state law," Rice said.

He said WAMM’s cases could proceed in two directions, staying before a 9th Circuit Court panel while also going back to U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel for reconsideration. Fogel was the judge who heard the cases that led to WAMM’s appeals.

 However, Rice said there will be more legal battles ahead, as Tuesday’s ruling is almost certain to be appealed.

"We’ve known all along this is going to mean a trip to the Supreme Court," Rice said.

A U.S. District judge tossed the case in March, saying the Controlled Substances Act barred him from blocking any potential enforcement action against medical marijuana patients Angel Raich and Diane Monson.

Tuesday’s ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins, who was ordered to sign a preliminary injunction blocking federal drug action directed toward Raich and Monson. While the women’s case has yet to be tried, the court said the two "have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits."

Raich, a 38-year-old Oakland woman suffering from ailments including scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea, fatigue and pain, smokes marijuana every few hours. She said she was partially paralyzed on the right side of her body until she started smoking marijuana.

She and her doctor say marijuana is the only drug that helps her pain and keeps her eating to stay alive.

"I feel safe for the very first time ever since I’ve been a patient," Raich said of the ruling. "This is very triumphant not only for myself but for patients and caregivers across the country."

Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state have laws similar to California’s, which has been the focus of federal drug interdiction efforts. Agents have raided and shut down several medical marijuana growing clubs.

The appeals court, the nation’s largest, does not have jurisdiction over Colorado and Maine. The case is Raich v. Gonzales, 03-15481. Sentinel staff writer Brian Seals contributed to this report.

August 29, 2003, Friday, BC cycle 1:05 AM Eastern Time
  • SECTION: State and Regional
  • LENGTH: 451 words
  • HEADLINE: Judge refuses to block raids of medical marijuana farm
  • BYLINE: By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

BODY: A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Santa Cruz County that attempted to block the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from raiding a cooperative farm that cultivated marijuana for sick and dying members.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled that federal laws making growing pot illegal except for approved research trumps California's 7-year-old medicinal marijuana statute, which allows marijuana to be grown and distributed to people with a doctor's recommendation.

In his 27-page opinion, Fogel wrote that while he agreed the patients represented in the suit "face a significant threat of irreparable harm" from having their access to pot curtailed, he had "no alternative but to conclude that under existing law they cannot succeed on the merits of their claims."

The case involved a raid at the Davenport, Calif. farm of Valerie and Michael Corral, the owners of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a hospice collective with about 250 members. In Sept. 2002, more than 20 armed DEA agents descended on the property, and pointed loading handguns at the couple before handcuffing and arresting them and seizing 165 pot plants.

Although the Corrals were never charged, the government refused to return the plants. With the backing of Santa Cruz city and county officials, who have passed local medicinal marijuana laws, the co-op became one of several cases testing the limits of California's statute.

The lawsuit claimed that the raid violated the patients' constitutional rights by infringing on their ability to alleviate their suffering, to control the circumstances of their deaths, and to follows the recommendations of their doctors.

Fogel rejected those claims, however, ruling that even if the Supreme Court recognized a terminally ill person's right to lessen their pain, that right would not apply to people who use and cultivate a controlled substance. The judge similarly found that the sanctity of doctor-patient relationships did not protect situations where physicians prescribe illegal drugs.

While California voters may think seriously ill patients should be allowed to use marijuana, "the legislative and executive branches of the federal government have a different view, and in a federal system that view is controlling," Fogel wrote.

Judy Appel, a lawyer with the Drug Policy Alliance, said Fogel's decision would be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"I'm disappointed, even outraged," Appel said. "But what I keep thinking about is all of the patients, who are going to suffer and maybe even die as a result of the court's slowness to catch up with the court of public opinion on this issue."

LOAD-DATE: August 29, 2003 Brenda J. Smeeton Office Manager/Legal Assistant Drug Policy Alliance - Office of Legal Affairs (510) 208-7711

APRIL 23, 2003
11:56 AM
CONTACT: Drug Policy Alliance
Tony Newman 510-812-3126
Shayna Samuels 212-613-8037
Media watch while WAMM members pick up legal medical marijuana on the steps of City Hall
In First-of-Its-Kind Lawsuit,
Santa Cruz City and County Sue Gonzales,
DEA for Brutal Medical Marijuana Raid;
Lawsuit Filed Today Regarding Patients’ Rights to
Control Circumstances of Pain Relief, Death

April 23 - Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly and County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt joined extremely sick patients who use marijuana as medicine today on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse to announce the filing of a groundbreaking lawsuit against the federal government for raiding a local medical marijuana collective. The suit marks the first time a public entity is suing the federal government on behalf of patients who need medical marijuana. The medical marijuana collective, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), is also unique in that it doubles as a hospice, and does not charge money for its medical marijuana.

The case focuses on the constitutional right of terminally and chronically ill patients to control the circumstances of their own pain relief and ultimately their deaths -- a right recognized by the Supreme Court.

"We cannot just stand by and watch the harassment of people who are sick and dying," said the Drug Policy Alliance’s Judy Appel, an attorney on behalf of the plaintiffs. "We hope the court will see the injustice and inhumanity of the federal government’s actions, and restore these patients’ rights to treat their severe pain with the medicine that works best for them." The Alliance, along with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, LLP, Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelmen, City Attorney John Barisone and Santa Cruz attorney Benjamin Rice, have been instrumental in developing the legal arguments for this case.

The suit was prompted by a raid that received national attention last September in which armed agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration stormed WAMM, terrorizing residents and patients. The collective was shut down, and several members were detained. WAMM provides medicine to patients who suffer from terminal illnesses and chronic pain under California’s Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215) – a state medical marijuana law which passed in 1996.

"WAMM members are courageous people," said Valerie Corral, who founded the cooperative with her husband, Michael. "Most face incurable illness and the implications that brings – pain and inevitable death. We can only offer peaceful resistance against DEA attacks. Our hope is that the courts will act as guardians of the law and protect us against such injustice."

The suit is being filed against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Acting Administrator of the DEA, John Brown, and Drug Czar John Walters, challenging the federal government’s right to raid WAMM’s medical marijuana garden. Other plaintiffs include seven patients representing more than 200 patients that WAMM serves. They suffer from HIV/AIDS, cancer, post-polio syndrome, epilepsy, and chronic pain. They use medical marijuana to relieve such symptoms as nausea and vomiting, wasting syndrome, neuropathy and severe and chronic pain. (Bios of plaintiffs are available.)

"Becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit is not a goal that most people would have who are preparing to meet their death," said Gerald Uelmen, Professor at Santa Clara University Law School. "But these patients want to leave a legacy, and that legacy is that when we prepare to meet our deaths, the uninvited guests will not include agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency."

A week after last year’s WAMM raid, which followed a series of raids of other medical marijuana facilities throughout California, the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time, Christopher Krohn, joined several City Council members and two former mayors in front of City Hall for a medical marijuana giveaway in protest.

County of Santa Cruz et. al. v. Gonzales et. al. was filed in federal district court in San Jose today. It asks the federal court to prohibit the DEA and Federal government from further raids on WAMM.

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