Santa Cruz Deputizes Couple in U.S. Pot Case

December 12, 2002

Eric Bailey, LA Times,

A Santa Cruz couple backed by civic leaders after federal drug agents busted their medical marijuana operation have earned a new distinction. They've been named city deputies. In a direct affront to the federal government, the City Council voted unanimously this week to deputize Mike and Valerie Corral, co-founders of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, and authorized them under city law to cultivate, distribute and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. 'We're just trying to give them a little bit more support and legitimacy,' Vice Mayor Scott Kennedy said Thursday. 'We don't support drug trafficking. We don't support marijuana. But we do support what they're doing for the terminally ill and terribly suffering.' U.S. Drug Enforcement agents in September raided the couple's medical marijuana dispensary, which distributes pot to about 200 patients. No charges have been filed against the Corrals. Outraged city officials in the Northern California seaside town, long a hotbed of the medical marijuana movement, threw their support behind the Corrals. The city received national attention when the council hosted a medical marijuana distribution ceremony Sept. 17 on the steps of Santa Cruz City Hall. Federal drug officials say the couple's new status in the eyes of the Santa Cruz council does nothing to change the glaring conflict between U.S. law, which considers marijuana illegal under all circumstances, and California's 1996 approval of pot as medicine. 'If this is being done to circumvent federal law, it certainly won't work,' said Richard Meyer, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in San Francisco. 'The U.S. government hasn't changed the law on marijuana. It's still illegal to cultivate or distribute it.' Though unusual, the deputizing of the Corrals is not unique. One medical marijuana provider has been deputized in Oakland, and two in San Francisco. But the couple, who did not return calls for comment, face greater difficulties because of the Sept. 5 raid on their dispensary. City officials remain concerned that the U.S. attorney could still file charges or attempt to shut down the alliance through the civil courts. Kennedy said the Corrals stand apart from other medical marijuana providers in Santa Cruz because their program has taken greater pains to cater only to the very ill who come bearing recommendations from doctors. 'They're very conscientious, very impressive in terms of their integrity,' he said. 'They enjoy a high level of confidence, both in the medical and law enforcement community, which can't be said about any of the other medical marijuana distributors.' But city officials worry most about the patients, Kennedy said, and the possibility that they would be stripped of needed medicinal relief if the dispensary were shut down. 'While the DEA equates them to a drug cartel, I think they're more comparable to a pharmacy,' Kennedy said. The Corrals are still attempting to retrieve 167 plants that agents seized from their medical marijuana garden near Davenport, a coastal town a few miles northwest of Santa Cruz. The city has agreed to join the couple in a civil suit against the federal government in the aftermath of the raid. With their new status as deputies, the Corrals hope they will be afforded the same sort of protection under federal law that allows a city police officer to legally carry and sell drugs while engaged in a drug sting. Their twist on that U.S. statute is that the couple would be upholding state and local laws that allow for medical marijuana. The legal strategy has not been tested in federal court. Kennedy said the council's decision to deputize the couple is largely symbolic, but it ratchets up the 'contest of wills' between Santa Cruz and the federal government over the fate of the Corrals. 'We're serious about this,' he said. 'I think it raises the ante.'

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