Santa Cruz Officials Fume Over Medical Pot Club Bust

September 05, 2002

Maria Alicia Gaura, SF Chronicle,

DEA arrests founders, confiscates plants

Federal agents who raided a Santa Cruz medical marijuana collective Thursday didn't encounter any resistance as they kicked in the door, arrested three people and cut down 150 cannabis plants. But the chain-saw-toting agents provoked a furious reaction from high and low in Santa Cruz, where voters have enthusiastically endorsed two measures legalizing medical pot. While medical marijuana clubs in some jurisdictions have operated with a nod and a wink from local authorities, Santa Cruz officials have made their support public. For six years, city, county and law enforcement officials have cooperated closely with the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana to craft a system that defines who qualifies as a medical user, issues identification and provides organically grown pot free of charge. WAMM founders Mike and Valerie Corral, who helped draft Proposition 215, California's successful 1996 medical marijuana initiative, were arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute and suspicion of conspiracy. The Corrals and collective member Suzanne Pfeil, who also was taken into custody, were released Thursday afternoon. 'This is an outrageous thing for the federal government to target this wonderful group of people,' said Ben Rice, an attorney representing the Corrals. 'Our sheriff here has even intervened when state enforcement wanted to come in and eradicate the WAMM garden last year.'

CAN'T IGNORE THE LAW, DEA SAYS

Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Richard Meyer acknowledged that WAMM had operated openly for years with the cooperation of local officials, but he noted that marijuana remained illegal under federal law no matter what local law enforcement tolerated. 'They operated illegally for all these years, and finally the law caught up with them,' Meyer said. Agents seized more than 150 pot plants, a small amount of hashish, three rifles and a shotgun in the raid, he said. The first obstacle for the DEA in Thursday's raid came when two dozen medical marijuana users blocked a driveway with a gate and a car, demanding that the departing agents hand over the cannabis they had seized. The plants were a year's supply for more than 200 members of WAMM. The federal agents, who had not warned the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department of the raid, had to call in local deputies to clear the road for them. Deputies complied with the request, making no arrests as they dispersed the angry crowd. But local authorities were left steaming -- and considering their options. 'The people of California and the County of Santa Cruz have overwhelmingly supported the provision of medical marijuana for people who have serious illnesses,' said county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt. 'These people (blocking the road) are people with AIDS and cancer and other grave illnesses. To attack these people, who work collectively and have never taken money for their work, is outrageous.'

VOTERS, GOVERNMENT DEEPLY SPLIT

Hard feelings left by the raid, the latest in a series focusing on medical marijuana clubs, illustrates the chasm between California voters and the federal government, which has refused to honor legislation passed in this and eight other states. Some of the selected groups have enjoyed clear support from local governments. A club in West Hollywood raided last year had purchased its building with loan guarantees from the city. A San Francisco club raided in February was operating under a plan developed with help from the district attorney. A Oakland cooperative that was singled out had enjoyed a formal city sponsorship. The Santa Cruz sheriff's office has allowed WAMM to grow an annual marijuana crop for the use of its members for several years, and for a time the group held its monthly distribution at a city-run community center. Members of the collective who are not too disabled help grow and distribute the marijuana. New members typically are admitted from a long waiting list only when existing members die. Santa Cruz sheriff's spokesman Kim Allyn confirmed that deputies had been called to clear the road for trapped DEA agents. 'We were there to maintain the peace,' Allyn said. 'We are happy to say nobody was arrested on our behalf.' But some local police officers were irritated by the federal agents' actions. 'What a bunch of babies these DEA guys are,' said one disgusted Santa Cruz officer, who did not want to be identified. 'They're up there with all these agents, but they see a bunch of pot-smoking sick people on the road, and they have to call us for help.' E-mail Maria Alicia Gaura at mgaura@sfchronicle.com. Click to view.


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