Pot bust pits feds against state

By Martha Mendoza The Associated Press
Saturday September 07, 2002

SANTA CRUZ — Medical marijuana advocates outraged by a raid at a local prescription pot supplier protested at federal offices in several cities in Northern California and across the country Friday. 

“Medical marijuana patients and advocates around the country realize what’s happening in California is absolute terror,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, who was heading to the Drug Enforcement Agency office in Oakland to protest. 

DEA spokesman Richard Meyer in San Francisco said his agents simply were doing their job. 

“Federal law says marijuana is illegal,” he said. “We have no choice. We’re enforcing the law.” 

On Thursday, federal agents raided a small pot farm located on a quiet coastal road about 55 miles south of San Francisco, pulling up about 100 plants and arresting the owners — Valerie and Michael Corral. 

The couple, leading activists for medical marijuana, were the latest high-profile advocates to be arrested in a series of sweeps during the past year in California. 

State law in California, as well as Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, allows marijuana to be grown and distributed to people with a doctor’s prescription. Federal law, on the other hand, prohibits marijuana use under any circumstances. 

California medical marijuana growers and distributors work closely with local law enforcement, and are quite open about their programs. In fact, the farm raided Thursday morning by DEA agents had been featured in national media, and the program is listed in the local telephone book. 

But in recent months, federal agents — working strictly without local support — have been busting pot clubs and farms in Northern California. 

News of the Santa Cruz raid spread quickly across the country 

“This is an issue that faces all of us,” said Karen Heikkala, holding a “Arrest Pain, Not Patients and Caregivers” in front of the federal building in Austin, Texas. 

“It’s a sad day in the United States when the federal government goes after the sick and dying in direct violation of states’ rights,” she said. 

In Washington, D.C., 15 people protested in front of the Justice Department. In Northern California, protesters gathered at DEA offices in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. 

“The only way to explain this is in a truly fanatical, inhumane ... spirit that this was carried out,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

Back at the Corrals’ farm, where users had been preparing their annual harvest, a sign “Love Grows Here” still stood but there were only a few large stems and leaves scattered on the ground. 

Prosecutors said the Corrals, who helped write the provision in California’s Proposition 215 that allows patients and their caregivers to cultivate their own medicine, had not been charged by Friday morning. But their attorney said they could be indicted at any time. 

This was not the first arrest for the Corrals. 

Before state and local laws allowed their program, they were arrested in 1992 and 1993. In 1992, Valerie Corral was prosecuted, but was found innocent after being the first person in California to challenge marijuana laws by arguing it was medically necessary. When they were arrested again in 1993, local authorities decided not to prosecute. 

Valerie Corral said Friday she was deeply pained by the raid. 

“They cannot know how many people’s lives they are causing suffering in because, if they did, they would not do this,” she said.