In the world of medical marijuana, to my knowledge no dispensaries have garnered the amount of respect or admiration as the Wo/men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana Center in Santa Cruz, California. This is a true medical setting that helps some of the sickest patients in the state. WAMM co-founder and director Valerie Corral administers medical marijuana in a variety of forms to patients facing medical issues like cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, and a slew of other life-threatening diseases. They also bring comfort to many patients by offering an alternative treatment to ease their suffering during the final phase of their lives.

With the use of their renowned Milagro Oil, WAMM has often been able to halt their patients’ diseases and bring on remission periods to many who had already lost hope. They are truly the saints of this industry. Sadly, the US government has rewarded their service to the community with multiple raids and lawsuits to punish and destroy this bastion of hope for the sick and dying. Fortunately due to the support they have received from the community around them, as well as the medical marijuana community, WAMM has endured these attempts to extinguish them and through multiple lawsuits have made them invulnerable to these actions.

This week, in my interview with Corral I focus on the men and women of WAMM, who for little or no financial gain have brought medical marijuana to the people who need it the most and who were instrumental in turning the tides toward legalization.

What events drew you into the creation of WAMM?
I started using medical marijuana in the ’70s following a rather unusual car accident I was involved in with an airplane in the desert. The accident left me with a brain trauma condition that gave me multiple seizures, up to five daily. No treatment I could find helped alleviate the seizure activity that was destroying my life. This is not unusual, as many epileptics often don’t respond well to traditional treatments to control their seizures. Then my husband read a Tashkent study in a journal of medicine about the positive results a mouse had from the exposure to high levels of marijuana in reducing seizure activity. We had access to marijuana seeds so we started growing some landrace strains, and I started a rather rigorous program of intake and use. In about a month’s time, I found it to be quite remarkable in the combat of these seizures and the neurological issues that accompanied them. That’s how it started for me.

In the years following, we had many run-ins with law enforcement trying to take away our medicine and attempt to deter us from using it again. We did not obey them. We kept it up, and then in 1992 a measure came up on the Santa Cruz ballot that would drop medical marijuana to the lowest priority for policing. When that passed, we started WAMM.

We decided to start it after I began to be contacted by patients with cancer and HIV who read about the success I had with the use of medical marijuana and they wanted to see if it could help them too. Shortly thereafter many more patents with a variety of diseases started reaching out to us in hopes we could help them as well. This was the true start of the real WAMM, and with very slow growth we grew into what we are today: a true collective of workers and growers providing relief to other members who are not in a position medically to help themselves get better or at least find relief in the final stages of their life. This was the idea behind our Design for Dying Project that we started to help patients design what they need and the way they would like to perceive facing death. This included changing sheets or holding the hands or administering medication—anything that makes their final transition an easier one. Many of our patients have died, but many have also found a remission from their diseases from our treatment and use of marijuana in its many forms as medicine.

Can you tell me a little about the DEA raid in 2002?
The DEA raided our garden in September of 2002. My husband and I were both arrested and brought to holding in San Francisco while the DEA destroyed our crop meant for terminally ill patients. While the DEA was on our property, our patients rallied together at our garden and actually locked the gate behind the DEA, locking them inside. We then spoke to them on the phone negotiating both our and their release.

The raid was perceived as an atrocity and due to widespread coverage on the internet, an outpouring of support came from angry citizens around the world. Their anger was aimed at the DEA for attacking seriously ill patients in the final stages of their life. Since then we have had few problems with them.

It is important to mention the raid had little effect on us. We never missed a day of providing relief to our patients even following this setback. Many courageous people took part in that day besides my husband and me. Our members really showed who they were by their courageous actions. This also included our community, who in response sued the federal government. This included our city and state that were on our sides in this legal matter. This led to a settlement between us. While it wasn’t exactly a win, it probably would have went to the Supreme Court and we probably would have lost there due to marijuana being federally illegal.

Brian Kaiser is Philly, born and raised. After attending Temple University he moved to California where he works and consults in the burgeoning marijuana industry. Kaiser currently pushes for cannabis legalization on both a state and national level, a process that begins with sharing information.