Pot Group Wins Legal Round
April 21, 2004
Eric Bailey, Los Angeles TimesA federal court ruling Wednesday will allow the patients of a Santa Cruz medical marijuana collective to at least temporarily begin cultivating and using cannabis without fear of raids by drug agents. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel granted a preliminary injunction to the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and denied a Bush administration attempt to dismiss a civil case brought by the collective to halt federal interference in their operations
Though the decision does little to shield other medical marijuana dispensaries, Fogel's ruling protects the more than 200 alliance members as their case winds toward trial.
The group can begin cultivating a pot garden on the Santa Cruz coast that was shut down 18 months ago in a raid by U.S. drug agents.
The raid prompted outrage in the liberal bastion and drew nationwide media attention after local officials allowed the alliance to ceremoniously distribute pot to its patients on the steps of City Hall.
Valerie Corral, the group's founder, called the decision an incredible victory that lifts a shroud of fear from the collective's patients, three-quarters of whom are terminally ill.
'It allows us to work with healing and with facing death without fear of federal government creating more hardship in our lives,' said Corral, noting that 22 patients have died since the case was filed a year ago.
Judy Appel, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said the decision marked the first step by a federal court to provide a blueprint of how patients and caregivers may be able to join forces to cultivate medical marijuana.
U.S. officials were taking a cautious approach. Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said federal attorneys wanted to review the ruling before making any comments.
Although the federal government strictly outlaws the use of cannabis, California and eight other states have passed laws legalizing pot as medicine with a doctor's recommendation.
In August, Fogel denied an attempt by the alliance to block raids while it awaits trial.
But the collective approached the judge again earlier this year, citing as precedent a December 2003 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of two medical marijuana patients in Northern California.
In that case, the appeals court ruled that the federal government lacked jurisdiction over the patients. Because they used medical marijuana grown in California and donated by sympathetic cultivators, the court ruled, they had had not engaged in interstate commerce.
The circumstances of the alliance's case are virtually identical, but the scale is broader. The collective does not sell the marijuana it cultivates, subsisting instead on donations and labor provided by its members and volunteers. In addition, all of the pot is grown on the coast north of Santa Cruz.