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Pols Push Pot Prop

[whitespace] Valerie Corral Herbal Cure: Valerie Corral, the first medical-marijuana patient to be recognized under California law, is unwilling to bow under new anti-215 pressure.

Locals support medical marijuana use

By Eric Johnson

JEREMY GRIFFEY BELIEVES MARIJUANA saved his life. A 44-year-old AIDS patient, Griffey credits the banned herb with miraculous curative abilities--only some of which have been verified through research. As many AIDS sufferers do, he speaks matter-of-factly about the details of his ailments. Smoking marijuana, he says, controls his nausea and restores his appetite so he can keep food down and take his medications. Eating pot muffins, he says, stops his diarrhea. Laughing, he guiltily admits that it also elevates his mood.

Griffey says he began using pot medicinally while caring for his partner of 21 years, who died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1992. He believes marijuana kept his partner alive for a year and made the last year of his life bearable.

George Hanamoto, another medical-marijuana user, is afflicted with glaucoma, arthritis and low-back pain. The 57-year-old TV repairman says he started smoking marijuana for his glaucoma but found that it also cured his pain. As a bonus, he says, his doctor took him off physically addictive eyedrops after he'd been smoking pot for a few weeks.

A veteran nurse at Dominican Hospital, who asked to remain anonymous, credits the survival of her mother and sister, both of whom have cancer, to marijuana. She says she became a believer when she saw it work for her brother, who died of cancer last year.

"I think it operates on some kind of spiritual level," the nurse said. "I don't want to get all woo-woo, but I think it's powerful."

I spoke to all of these folks at a recent get-together held by the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a collective that meets at the Drop-In Center on Front Street once a month to pass out what they call "medicine" and talk about health and politics. There, I heard the kind of stories I've heard from almost every user of medical marijuana I've ever spoken with--stories about lives turned around for the better. These stories drive Drug War hawks batty.

The Compassionate Use Act, which became law after voters overwhelmingly approved Prop 215, is pure heresy. For the past 30 years, the government has considered marijuana to be unmitigated evil. So have most law enforcement officers, elected officials and doctors.

But here in Santa Cruz and throughout the state, a group of brave health professionals and public officials are standing behind the spirit of 215. Sheriff Mark Tracy, SCPD Chief Steve Belcher and DA Art Danner are among a small contingent from the law enforcement community who are not trying to sabotage 215. Mayor Celia Scott is one of six mayors who are appealing to the Clinton Administration to back off. It is unlikely to affect the heartless hawks in Washington, but it is only one part of a strategy by medi-pot activists and their supporters.

Last week, state Sen. John Vasconcellos convened a task force to find a way to make the Compassionate Use Act work. Valerie Corral, the founder of WAMM, is a member of that task force.

Visiting with Valerie and her husband Mike last week in their hilltop cabin overlooking the Pacific, listening to the story of their 20-year-long crusade to make pot available to sick people who need it, I witnessed compassion and determination.

The Corrals say they discovered marijuana's healing properties 20 years ago, when Valerie found that it eased her epileptic seizures. They've been distributing it free to sick people ever since Valerie's grandmother was diagnosed with leukemia in 1975. And they are unwilling to stop.

Facing sickness and death on one side and the massive power of the government on the other, medical marijuana activists like the Corrals are not going to easily cave in to new legal pressures.

"I've seen my wife writhing in pain on the floor, and I've seen how marijuana helped her," Mike Corral says. "There's no way I'm going to let the government stop us from doing what we need to do."

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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