Federal Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case Against John Ashcroft and the DEA on Monday July 7th at 9am

Press Release July 1, 2003
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-812-3126 or Shayna Samuels at 212-613-8037

(San Jose, CA ) — On Monday, July 7, Federal District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel will hear oral arguments in the case Santa Cruz v. Ashcroft, in which the City and County of Santa Cruz and patients from the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) seek to enjoin the federal government from raiding medical marijuana collectives like WAMM. The suit was prompted by a raid that received national attention last September in which armed agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration stormed WAMM, terrorizing residents and patients. The suit marks the first time a public entity is suing the federal government on behalf of patients who need medical marijuana.

The case focuses on the constitutional right of terminally and chronically ill patients to control the circumstances of their own pain relief and ultimately their deaths — a right recognized by the United States Supreme Court.

“The rights of sick and dying patients should not be circumvented by John Ashcroft or the DEA,” said the Drug Policy Alliance’s Judy Appel, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “These patients have a right to say ‘no’ to this unwarranted intrusion on their ability to alleviate pain and suffering.”

Drug Policy Alliance, along with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, LLP, Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelmen, City Attorney John Barisone and Santa Cruz attorney Benjamin Rice, has been instrumental in developing this case.

The suit is being filed against Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Administrator of the DEA, William Simpkins, and Drug Czar John Walters, and challenges the federal government’s right to raid WAMM’s medical marijuana garden. Other plaintiffs include seven patients representing more than 200 patients that WAMM serves. They suffer from HIV/AIDS, cancer, post-polio syndrome, epilepsy, and chronic pain. They use medical marijuana to relieve such symptoms as nausea and vomiting, wasting syndrome, neuropathy and severe and chronic pain.

WAMM was shut down and several members were detained after the September raid. WAMM is unique in that it doubles as a hospice, and does not charge money for its medical marijuana. WAMM provides medicine to patients who suffer from terminal illnesses and chronic pain under California’s Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215) — a state medical marijuana law which passed in 1996.

“The federal government has come into California and said: ‘we know better and we’re not going to let you do it.’ That position is contrary to our system of dual sovereignty and ignores the power of the State and the County and City of Santa Cruz to care for the health and welfare of their most vulnerable citizens,” said Neha Shah Nissen, an attorney with Bingham McCutchen.

County of Santa Cruz et. al. v. Ashcroft et. al. was filed in federal district court in San Jose in April 2003. WAMM patients, caregivers, and Santa Cruz city and county officials held a press conference at the Santa Cruz County Courthouse to announce the filing of the lawsuit.

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Plaintiff Biographies – County of Santa Cruz et. al. v. Ashcroft et. al.

Eladio Acosta suffers from throat cancer. Medical marijuana is the only medication that stimulates his suppressed appetite and alleviates his chronic and severe pain — all symptoms of his cancer and side effects of his conventional treatment. Eladio is a 54 year old native of the Phillipines, who never smoked marijuana before using it for medical purposes.

Michael Cheslosky was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1983, and since then has suffered from debilitating side-effects as well as several other chronic medical conditions, including Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Hepatitis C. Michael experiences recurrent pneumonia, chronic pain and wasting syndrome as a result of his illness. Michael started using medical marijuana to help treat his nausea, and chronic pain and has found it to be more effective than any of the other treatments he has tried. Additionally, Michael speaks throughout Santa Cruz about his experience with HIV/AIDS, and has found that his use of medical marijuana has had a positive impact on his ability to serve the community.

Valerie Corral was in an automobile accident at the age of 20 suffering a severe closed head trauma and subsequent grand mal seizures. Doctors prescribed a myriad of anticonvulsants and pain medications which were unsuccessful in preventing seizures and were only minimally successful in reducing her pain. The medications also sedated Valerie to a near vegetative state. Valerie’s use of medical marijuana has controlled her seizures and restored normalcy to her life; she can now do virtually everything that she did before her accident. Valerie started WAMM with her husband, Michael, in the mid 1990’s to help other low-income patients be able to access medical marijuana in a safe and supportive environment.

Dorothy Gibbs is the oldest member of WAMM, at age 93. Dorothy suffers from Post-Polio Syndrome, which has caused permanent damage in her legs, spine, and back. She has been in nearly constant pain for decades and homebound for several years. Her physician has prescribed various medications for her over the years, but they either did not work or caused harmful and debilitating side effects. When Dorothy began using medical marijuana at the age of 86, she almost immediately experienced its positive effects on her pain and nausea. Dorothy believes that she should have the right to use anything that may help to relieve her pain, and that her last years, months and days should not be spent suffering.

Jennifer Lee Hentz is 37 years old and was diagnosed with Stage IV colon and lymph node cancer one and a half years ago. She suffers intense pain from the cancer, and every round of chemotherapy brings on waves of nausea that leave her doubling over with pain. Jennifer uses medical marijuana to relieve these symptoms as well as to keep down the other traditional medicines that she must take.

Harold Margolin developed a massive edema after a double cervical fusion operation, and was later diagnosed with chronic peripheral neuropathy. Harold experienced a loss of muscle control after using the conventional medication Neurontin to control his pain. When he does not use Medical Marijuana, Harold suffers from debilitating pain that prevents him from being active. With Medical Marijuana, Harold is able to live a very active life, walking, exercising and volunteering for the community.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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