Landmark Judgment Today: Seriously Ill Patients of Santa Cruz Medical Marijuana Collective Protected From Federal DEA Raids

Press Release April 20, 2004
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026

San Jose, CA. Eighteen months after a brutal DEA raid on a medical marijuana collective in Santa Cruz, California, the seriously ill collective members finally got the protection from future raids and harassment they have sought since filing suit against the federal government one year ago. After reconsidering his earlier decision in the high profile case County of Santa Cruz et al. v. Ashcroft, Judge Jeremy Fogel of the Northern District of California has granted Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction and denied the government’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. Today’s ruling will protect the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) while the lawsuit is pending, and allow the collective to resume cultivation.

The Drug Policy Alliance, along with the law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP, the Santa Cruz City Attorney and co-counsel Prof. Gerald Uelmen and Ben Rice, represent Plaintiffs in this case. “In the face of overzealous federal law enforcement, for the first time a court has applied the law in a way that protects the right of a group of sick people to grow and share their medicine without fear,” said Judy Appel, Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Today’s decision affirms the right of WAMM’s members to cultivate and use marijuana for medicinal purposes free from federal interference,” stated Neha Shah Nissen, an attorney with Bingham McCutchen. “The federal government can no longer ignore the will of the people of the State of California and the City and County of Santa Cruz to protect the health and welfare of terminally and chronically ill individuals.”

“We applaud the Court’s decision and we are profoundly pleased as we prepare to replant our garden,” said Valerie Corral, co-founder of WAMM. “But we also steady ourselves for a tug of war with the present administration’s unwillingness to honor the democratic process.”

This case involves the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a collective of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. WAMM was raided by 30 federal DEA agents on September 24, 2002. These agents held the collective’s founders and a patient at gunpoint while they confiscated 167 plants. The founders, Valerie and Mike Corral, were taken into police custody but never charged with a crime. After the raid, the City and County of Santa Cruz joined WAMM and seven patient members in suing the federal government.

County of Santa Cruz, et. al. v. Ashcroft, challenges the authority of the federal government to conduct medical marijuana raids and 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 Supreme Court. On August 28, 2003, Judge Fogel denied Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have protected the collective from future raids while the case was pending, and granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

However, Plaintiffs asked Judge Fogel to reconsider his ruling in the WAMM case earlier this year in light of a landmark December 2003 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Raich v. Ashcroft. In the Raich case, the Court ruled that John Ashcroft and the Bush administration had improperly applied the Commerce Clause to the plaintiffs’ intrastate activity. The Court reasoned that when a patient is growing his or her own marijuana or a caregiver is growing it for the patient, there is no substantial effect on interstate commerce. No marijuana traveled between states in the Raich case, and there was no commercial activity involved. The Court ruled that the federal government lacked jurisdiction under the Controlled Substances Act to interfere with the plaintiffs’ activity.

The facts of the WAMM case are almost identical to those in Raich; the WAMM collective is a group of terminally and chronically ill patients and their caregivers who grow and use their medicine with the recommendation of their physicians in compliance with state law and local ordinances. No one is charged money for the medicine, and therefore there is no effect on interstate commerce. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Raich specifically criticized Judge Fogel’s initial decision in the WAMM case, stating that the Court had erred in its analysis.

The Raich decision and the District Court’s subsequent ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor in the WAMM case have given new hope to the members of the collective, who suffer from cancer, AIDS, chronic pain and other serious illnesses..

Since the 2002 raid on the collective, over 25 WAMM members have died and the supply of medicine for remaining patients has dwindled while the legal battles continue. One of the seven patient plaintiffs in the WAMM case, Dorothy Gibbs, who began using medical marijuana at the age of 86 to ease the pain she suffered as a result of Post-Polio Syndrome, passed away three weeks ago.

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.