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Medical Pot Dispute Boiling Over

By Hempology | September 18, 2002

From the Sacremento Bee, September 18th, 2002

By Claire Cooper

With a helicopter circling tightly overhead and a dozen local officials applauding from a distance of 15 feet, medical marijuana patients approached a table outside City Hall on Tuesday and chose from an array of pot products-to-go — muffins, tinctures and small baggies of the weed itself.

The dramatic demonstration came in response to an apparent federal crackdown on medical pot in California that is starting to draw protests from public officials from across the state.

“When our government becomes the aggressor against powerless people, I feel I have a higher moral obligation to stand with the powerless,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt. “That’s why I’m here today.”

None of the officials who gathered on City Hall Plaza touched the pot, though, and none of the recipients consumed it at the event, which was provoked by the arrest two weeks ago of Valerie and Michael Corral, founders of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. The couple, who helped write Proposition 215, the medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1996, have not been charged.

Federal agents destroyed the collective’s farm. A week later, federal agents raided a pot collective in Sebastopol, confiscating 3,454 plants. Robert Schmidt faces federal charges of manufacturing and intending to distribute pot and assaulting a federal officer in connection with the Sebastopol raid.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws counts 23 federal raids in the state in the past year against large and small pot suppliers, sometimes after they’ve been acquitted by local juries.

Richard Meyer, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in San Francisco, refused to confirm or deny the presence of federal agents at or above the hourlong Santa Cruz event Tuesday, which was attended by about 30 gaunt WAMM members, at least 100 pot patients bused in from around the state and almost as many media representatives. Meyer also declined to comment on possible DEA reprisals but said he was “shocked and appalled that elected city officials would choose to just flaunt federal law.”

The crowd on City Hall Plaza didn’t see it that way. They waved signs calling for “state’s rights” and “health, not war.”

Although the state Supreme Court has recognized Proposition 215 and local officials have worked to implement it in Santa Cruz, Sonoma and some other counties, the drug remains illegal under federal law and a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

That conflict has produced some tense relationships between federal and California authorities.

“I don’t want any DEA people in my county,” Norman Vroman, the district attorney in Mendocino County, said in an interview. “I will not cooperate with any DEA people in my county.”

After the DEA raided a cooperative in San Francisco last year, District Attorney Terence Hallinan and three county supervisors joined pickets outside a luncheon speech by DEA Chief Asa Hutchinson.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision, DEA agents have been swooping in all over California — slashing crops, making arrests or threatening forfeiture proceedings against property.

The raids usually have been undertaken without informing local authorities and in some cases over their strong objections.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer this month wrote to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Hutchinson, asking for a meeting of federal, state and local officials to discuss what he called the DEA’s “punitive expeditions” against growers who are following state law. Federal-state cooperation in crime-fighting was in jeopardy, Lockyer warned.

At the Santa Cruz demonstration, a statement was read from Lockyer criticizing the federal government for “targeting people who were acting consistently with the direction of California voters.”

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Mark Tracy, who stayed away from the event Tuesday, said in an interview: “I think there’s been a very uniform frustration at the local law-enforcement level, no matter who you talk to in the state, about the lack of movement to put together coherent law that separates this medical issue from criminal use.”

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