Brian Seals, Santa Cruz Sentinel,
DAVENPORT — Federal agents raided a medical-marijuana club’s garden Thursday, carting off 130 plants, arresting the club’s outspoken director and leaving 238 members wondering where they will get their medicine. Drug Enforcement Administration agents busted the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana garden just north of Davenport about 7 a.m. The cooperative grows marijuana for members, who must have a doctor’s prescription. The club does not sell to the public.
Alliance director Valerie Corral and her husband, Michael, who live on the property, were arrested on federal charges of intent to distribute marijuana, DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said. The couple was released Thursday afternoon. 'We’re awaiting indictment,' Valerie Corral said that night, promising the alliance would continue its efforts. 'We just can’t allow this type of harm to be caused,' said Corral, who smokes marijuana to relieve pain caused by epilepsy. 'I’m not going to stop. We will live to have another smoke.' Meyer said the raid was triggered by a tip from a confidential source, though the club has been in existence for years. Its’ been the subject of national media stories and has never hid its operation from area authorities. The Corrals are well known locally and nationally in the continuing debate over medicinal marijuana. They helped craft state Proposition 215, a voter-approved initiative passed in 1996 that allows marijuana for medicinal purposes. But while Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington allow the sick to legally receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without fear of state prosecution, the federal government maintains marijuana has no medical benefits and is an illegal drug. Suzanne Pfeil, an alliance member staying at the Corral’s, said she was awakened by two-dozen camouflage-clad agents in helmets who pointed automatic weapons at her. 'They told me to stand up,' said Pfeil, who suffers from post-polio syndrome and uses a wheelchair. 'I told them I’m sorry. I can’t stand up.' She said some weapons seized in the raid — three rifles and a shotgun — were unloaded family heirlooms belonging to Michael Corral. Corral herself was taken to jail in her pajamas. The bust surprised county law enforcement and word spread quickly though the medical-marijuana community. As agents removed the plants, about 30 alliance members and their supporters gathered at a locked gate down a dirt road from the garden. Two DEA agents kept tabs on the supporters, who at times taunted the agents and sought to engage them in debate on the rights of states and the merits of medical-marijuana use. 'I’m just a worker bee,' said one agent dressed in black and wearing a camouflage hat. 'I wish I could solve the problem.' One caregiver carried a sign reading 'We Are Not Criminals.' About 2:15 p.m., two deputies with the county Sheriff’s Office arrived. The deputies sought to soothe the increasingly angry, but peaceful, gathering. 'The process you see here is a federal one,' deputy Terry Moore told the crowd. The crowd threatened to block the road in protest, but Valerie Corral, who is revered in the medical pot community, was reached by cell phone and told them to let the agents leave. In return, the Corrals were released from jail. As the convoy of about 10 vehicles left, including two U-Haul trucks loaded with the uprooted plants, the crowd chanted, 'Shame on you.' An agent dressed in camouflage looked out a passenger’s side window and laughed. Once the agents left, the crowd walked up to what was by then a bedraggled garden, and alliance members salvaged what leaves and buds they could. Amid the stems, some the diameter of a fist, Tibetan prayer flags fluttered in the wind. The plants had grown to about 7 feet tall and were a few weeks from fully budding. The buds are the most potent part of the plant. Alliance members even got to watch the garden’s destruction via videotape in a nearby shed. A security camera had captured the action on film. As pot smoke wafted, alliance members wondered where they would get marijuana. 'We have no other source of medicine for our patients,' said George Hanamoto, a cooperative gardener and a patient. About 80 percent of the group’s members are terminally ill, said Diana Dodson, an alliance board member. 'We’ve lost several members this year,' she said. 'We lose members constantly.' The patients’ stories were similar — cancer, AIDS, epilepsy. Dan Rodriguez, an AIDS patient, said marijuana eases his nausea and boosts his appetite. 'If I don’t smoke a little, I can’t eat,' Rodriguez said. Like others at the garden, he said he didn’t know where to turn now for marijuana. 'What are we going to do, go down to the river?' he said, referring to the San Lorenzo River levee in Santa Cruz, where illegal drug sales are a frequent problem. Alliance member Hal Margolin agreed. 'I don’t know what I will do, I really don’t,' Margolin said. 'I wouldn’t know where to go on the street. I’ve never done that.' The cooperative is unique in that it shares marijuana with members, but doesn’t sell it. The alliance also offers hospice care and support for its members and has a months-long waiting list of applicants. 'It is unique,' Dale Gieringer of California NORML, a statewide marijuana-advocacy group, said of the alliance. 'This is the only one I know where patients help with gardening.' While patients were shocked and angered, the Sheriff’s Office was surprised. Under the administration of Sheriff Mark Tracy, the alliance had enjoyed cooperative relations. Sheriff’s spokesman Kim Allyn said the department was not alerted to the raid in advance. County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt, whose district covers the area, said the Corrals operated in an 'exemplary' fashion. She called the raid an invasion. 'I am absolutely appalled by the actions ... on the part of federal agents,' Wormhoudt said. But Valerie Corral said she knew a raid was always possible. The DEA has repeatedly cracked down on pot clubs during the past year, enforcing federal laws that don’t allow for medical use. In February, agents seized hundreds of plants from a San Francisco club and arrested one of its suppliers, pot guru Ed Rosenthal, author of 'Ask Ed: Marijuana Law. Don’t Get Busted.' Federal agents also raided three other cannabis clubs in California, a garden in Hollywood, and seized the records of 5,000 medical-marijuana users from a doctor’s office near Sacramento. Santa Cruz has been at the forefront of medical marijuana efforts in California and nationally. In 1992, 77 percent of Santa Cruz voters approved a local measure ending the medical prohibition of marijuana. Four years later, state voters — including 74 percent of those in Santa Cruz — approved Proposition 215. And then again, in 2000, the City Council approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Brian Seals at firstname.lastname@example.org.