Press Release  | 04/23/2003

Santa Cruz City and County Join Sick and Dying AIDS, Cancer Patients in Groundbreaking Lawsuit Against Federal Government for Brutal Medical Marijuana Raid

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Lawsuit Filed Today Regarding Patients

Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly and County Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt joined extremely sick patients who use marijuana as medicine today on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse to announce the filing of a groundbreaking lawsuit against the federal government for raiding a local medical marijuana collective. The suit marks the first time a public entity is suing the federal government on behalf of patients who need medical marijuana. The medical marijuana collective, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), is also unique in that it doubles as a hospice, and does not charge money for its 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 Supreme Court.

"We cannot just stand by and watch the harassment of people who are sick and dying," said the Drug Policy Alliance's Judy Appel, an attorney on behalf of the plaintiffs. "We hope the court will see the injustice and inhumanity of the federal government's actions, and restore these patients' rights to treat their severe pain with the medicine that works best for them." The 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, have been instrumental in developing the legal arguments for this case.

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 collective was shut down, and several members were detained. 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.

"WAMM members are courageous people," said Valerie Corral, who founded the cooperative with her husband, Michael. "Most face incurable illness and the implications that brings -- pain and inevitable death. We can only offer peaceful resistance against DEA attacks. Our hope is that the courts will act as guardians of the law and protect us against such injustice."

The suit is being filed against Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Administrator of the DEA, John Brown, and Drug Czar John Walters, challenging 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. (Bios of plaintiffs are available.)

"Becoming a plaintiff in a lawsuit is not a goal that most people would have who are preparing to meet their death," said Gerald Uelmen, Professor at Santa Clara University Law School. "But these patients want to leave a legacy, and that legacy is that when we prepare to meet our deaths, the uninvited guests will not include agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency."

A week after last year's WAMM raid, which followed a series of raids of other medical marijuana facilities throughout California, the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time, Christopher Krohn, joined several City Council members and two former mayors in front of City Hall for a medical marijuana giveaway in protest.

County of Santa Cruz et. al. v. Ashcroft et. al. was filed in federal district court in San Jose today. It asks the federal court to prohibit the DEA and Federal government from further raids on WAMM.

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

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