Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

August 12, 2010
Medical marijuana pioneer protests cash cow pot stores

valariewamm[1].JPGOne of protagonists of the modern marijuana movement in California charges that the burgeoning dispensary trade has become a cash cow aloof from the people it is meant to serve.

Valerie Corral filed the state's first known "medical necessity" defense when she challenged her arrest for cultivating five marijuana plants, arguing she had a right to use cannabis to treat seizures resulting from a car accident.

After prosecutors threw out the charges in 1993, Corral co-founded the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz pot-growing collective renowned for serving the terminally ill. She later worked to pass the California's Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act legalizing medical use.

But these days, she is fed up with the growth of California's contemporary marijuana "collectives" - namely pot-distributing dispensaries with thousands of registered members and millions of dollars in annual marijuana transactions.

"Something has happened to our movement, something that is dark and denigrates the issue," Corral said recently at the HempCon medical marijuana convention in San Jose. "It (the movement) did not happen so people can get rich."

Dispensaries under California law must operate as non-profits. But Corral decried an evolution of a massive medical marijuana industry she says is characterized by generous salaries and an entrepreneurial spirit that overshadows the core purpose of helping and comforting people in need.

WAMM members, including AIDS and cancer patients, directly cultivate and share medical marijuana rather than ringing up cash register transactions at a pot shop. Members hold Tuesday night meetings to distribute the marijuana based on medical needs and ability to pay.

After Prop 215's passage in 1996, Corral hoped the WAMM model - with small groups of growers and medical users working together -- would become the standard.

"I thought the WAMM consciousness would take off," she said. "It didn't. The dispensaries did."

Yet WAMM remains a cultural icon in the marijuana movement. In 2002, federal agents stirred a political backlash by raiding the marijuana garden, confiscating the crop and arresting Corral and her husband, WAMM co-founder Mike Corral.

The city and county of Santa Cruz joined in lawsuits against the federal government. In 2004, A U.S. District Judge, Jeremy Fogel, issued an injunction barring future raids of the WAMM site. Last year, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announced he won't target medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Since the WAMM was founded in 1993, 223 members of the collective have died. Seventeen are buried near its marijuana garden. Others are commemorated on painted stones.

"It's difficult to watch your friends die," Corral said. "It's difficult to watch people suffer. It can be very unnerving and put us face to face with our own mortality."

California voters are to decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21. Corral says she has concerns over the measure and isn't endorsing it - but likes the potential market impact of driving the price of marijuana far below what is currently being charged in most dispensaries.

Regardless of the outcome, she said WAMM will continue operating as a purely medical collective.

"I'm in this for the liberty. I'm in it for the social justice," Corral said. "I'm in it not only for the healing but for the profundity of the healing."

Pictured: Corral speaks at HempCon event in San Jose. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com.

About Comments

Reader comments on Sacbee.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.