By Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune,
Advocates pledge protests today in response to arrests, destruction of pot plants
Federal agents raided a medical marijuana collective near Santa Cruz and arrested two well-known activists Thursday, the first such action in Northern California since February's raids in Oakland and San Francisco. But by day's end, Valerie and Michael Corral -- who helped write the state's medical marijuana law -- were home. An official source said the federal prosecutors had declined to charge them, forcing the Drug Enforcement Administration to let them go.
Still, medical marijuana advocates across the nation took the raid and its destruction of 167 marijuana plants as a declaration of war, promising protests at noon today outside federal buildings in dozens of cities including Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose. 'My heart's broken,' Valerie Corral said Thursday night. 'We have 250 members of our collective garden, a lot of people who are sick and suffering. But they (the DEA) cannot make us stand down. We will carry on business as usual.' More than 20 DEA agents, some reportedly clad in riot gear and wielding assault rifles, arrived early Thursday at the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) just off Route 1 near Davenport, 60 miles south of San Francisco. DEA spokesman Special Agent Richard Meyer said Thursday morning that the Corrals, WAMM's co-founders, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. 'We received information from confidential sources that these people were involved in marijuana trafficking,' he said, adding it didn't matter whether that 'trafficking' differed from the alliance's free provision of marijuana to its physician-screened members. 'That's a myth put out by people who want to legalize marijuana. There is no medical marijuana,' he said. 'We make no distinctions because there are none -- people who grow marijuana are marijuana traffickers. Our job is to enforce federal laws, and we surely will.' Yet by day's end, the U.S. attorney's office said no indictment or criminal complaint had been filed against the Corrals, and declined further comment. An official source elsewhere said federal prosecutors had declined to file charges. Valerie Corral late Thursday said she was 'told to await indictment,' which entails prosecutors convincing a federal grand jury the Corrals should be tried. Michael Corral said DEA agents who released them said they could expect to hear from the government again, 'could be in a day, a week or a year.' The federal government still deems all marijuana growth, possession or use illegal, even though California voters approved medical use in 1996. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington have similar laws. Word of the raid spread fast and far, and distance didn't dilute the resulting rhetoric. 'These are terrorist actions,' said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. 'If Osama bin Laden sent squads of armed men into the U.S. to storm medical facilities, seize confidential patient records and literally take medicine from the sick and dying, George W. Bush would be promising to hunt him down to the ends of the earth. If he wants to hunt terrorists, he should start with his own DEA.' Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative executive director Jeff Jones agreed: 'I can't believe that federal priorities are this out of line -- we've only arrested one terrorist in California, but near the anniversary of 9/11 we have the DEA up to no good, seizing the medicine of 250 Californians.' WAMM board member and patient Suzanne Pfeil, a paraplegic who uses marijuana to control post-polio syndrome pain, said more than 20 WAMM patients went to the farm Thursday to beg DEA agents to leave the plants, to no avail. 'Now these people have no medicine for this year -- it's being cut down and it's going to be buried somewhere,' she said. 'I feel like my country is waging war against me.' DEA agents in February raided the Oakland home-office of noted marijuana author Ed Rosenthal; the Harm Reduction Center medical marijuana club in San Francisco; and other sites, arresting Rosenthal and three others. Rosenthal on Thursday noted WAMM accepts no money for marijuana it provides to patients, relying instead on charitable donations. 'These two people, Valerie and Mike, did not do this for money, they did this for love,' he said. 'They're very loving people, and to call them drug traffickers is just laughable.' Said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the national Drug Policy Alliance, 'This club, of all the clubs that have been raided, stands out as being the one that was most true to the hospice spirit -- there were no shenanigans, there was no profit-making.' Meyer said agents seized three rifles and a shotgun; Pfeil said the weapons were unloaded family heirlooms passed down to Michael Corral by his grandfather. The Corrals helped draft the state law provision letting patients and caregivers cultivate their own medical marijuana, and Valerie Corral in 1999 served on state Attorney General Bill Lockyer's medical marijuana policy task force. 'The DEA under the Bush administration has made it perfectly clear that they don't care about the will of California voters, who think medical marijuana should be available for people whose doctors believe they would benefit from it,' Lockyer spokeswoman Hallye Jordan said Thursday. Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department spokesman Deputy Kim Allen said the DEA never told his department about the raid. Deputies went there after the fact only to keep the peace between protesters and DEA agents, he said: 'Our concern is to make sure nobody gets hurt.' The department has a marijuana enforcement team targeting illegal trafficking, Allen said, but meets regularly with the Corrals and had deemed WAMM in compliance with -- and protected by -- state law. Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said she was 'absolutely appalled' by the raid, and called WAMM 'an extremely responsible collective... they have operated their business in a way that has been exemplary.' With Sept. 11 so near, 'it is not reassuring to me to know that federal agents, instead of concentrating on issues of national security, are running around the mountains of Santa Cruz County disrupting the work of people who provide a valuable medical resource to the community,' she added.