September 21, 2002
Why I'm Fighting Federal Drug Laws From City Hall
By CHRISTOPHER KROHN
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.
How did I, a mayor of a small town in California, wind up in a tug of war
with the Drug Enforcement Agency?
This week, I stood in front of Santa Cruz's city hall as a local group that
provides medical marijuana went about its weekly task of distributing the
drug to the sick and dying.
My story begins on the morning of Sept. 5 when approximately 30 men, dressed
in military fatigues and carrying automatic weapons, descended on a small
cooperative farm run by the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in
northern Santa Cruz County, about 65 miles south of San Francisco. They were
pulling up organically grown marijuana plants.
When the Santa Cruz County sheriff's office learned what was going on, it was
at a loss to explain who the intruders were or what type of response was in
order. I didn't hear about the raid until 10 a.m., when I was called by
members of the collective. I then telephoned the Santa Cruz police chief and
other local officials. The chief hadn't heard anything either.
Later it became clear that the D.E.A. was making a raid. Agents collected
more than 130 plants and arrested the founders of the medical marijuana
collective, Valerie and Mike Corral. The Corrals were taken to a federal
detention center in San Jose, but no charges were filed and they were
The D.E.A. was right to release them. But the Corrals shouldn't have been
there in the first place. They had not been breaking the law. They were
growing marijuana specifically for people who had been legally prescribed the
substance to help them with chronic pain brought on by cancer, diabetes and
These weren't new laws, either. Residents in Santa Cruz County had voted in
1992 to legalize the use of medical marijuana. In 1996, Californians approved
Proposition 215, a statewide measure to allow the use of marijuana for
medicinal purposes. Two years ago our city council passed an ordinance to
make it easier to grow and distribute medical marijuana under the new law.
Before the morning raid, Santa Cruz had a good relationship with drug
enforcement officials. Santa Cruz, like many communities, has a problem with
illegal drugs, most notably heroin and methamphetamine. In the last 15
months, the D.E.A. has conducted two operations here; working with the
sheriff's office and the Santa Cruz Police Department, the agency has caught
hundreds of drug dealers and users. According to our police chief, "the
D.E.A. did an excellent job" in these operations.
That was not the case on Sept. 5. The D.E.A. came to town unannounced and
under cover of darkness.
I'm worried that the agency is going to be coming to other towns, too. Since
1996, eight other states â€” Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona,
Hawaii, Colorado and Maine â€” have passed laws allowing for the use of medical
marijuana. At the same time, the Department of Justice has made it clear that
it opposes the use of marijuana under any circumstances.
Clearly, state law and federal law are on a collision course. I would not be
surprised if there are more raids.
And if there are more raids, more mayors and elected officials will find
themselves doing what we did here this week: standing with people like the
Corrals as they deliver medical marijuana to patients who are using the drug
on the advice of a physician.
The government is fighting a losing battle. In the states where medical
marijuana has been on the ballot, it has received overwhelming approval from
voters. Canada and Great Britain recently approved the medical use of
marijuana and plan to have the government grow and distribute it.
As medical costs skyrocket, medical marijuana is a cost-effective way to
treat people with chronic pain. Most of all, making medical marijuana
available is an act of common sense and compassion. The Corrals' collective
lost 40 members this year; many of them left this world with Ms. Corral
holding their hand.
I'm hopeful that this week's events will prompt the federal government to
begin working with state and local governments to determine how far it can go
in regulating activity that has been approved by the states and that has
negligible effects on interstate commerce. There's legislation in Congress,
supported by a bipartisan coalition, that would allow all states to approve
medical marijuana, thus eliminating any conflict with federal law. To me,
that makes sense. But until it passes, I'm standing with the Corrals.
Christopher Krohn, a Democrat, is mayor of Santa Cruz, Calif.
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