By April Short
Buddhist prayer flags lined the walls and a German shepherd slept at the foot of a mint-green couch as Valerie Leveroni Corral considered life and loss from her office chair.
She spoke about the impending loss of a home and garden that has provided medicine to the sick for over 15 years as she discussed the impact her work as co-founder of Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) has had on her life.
“The best thing about WAMM is this community of heroes. We are courageous and generous and wacky,” Corral said. “We’re everything. We see each other’s frailties and each other’s strengths. And during the hardships, and the hardest thing of all — death and illness — we still manage to find the way to survive.”
WAMM, a local nonprofit organization that has provided free medical marijuana to the terminally ill since 1993, faces possible extinction. Corral, and separated husband and WAMM co-founder Michael Corral, face the loss of the land on which WAMM’s marijuana plants grow.
Due to a combination of legal blows, the Corrals are fighting to keep WAMM afloat. A lawsuit following federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids on WAMM’s garden, complications with inheritance of the property upon the death of their land partner, and the inability to qualify for a loan may seal the fate of WAMM.
“We are constantly chasing money instead of chasing the integrity of our efforts. It turns into this kind of financial dance,” Corral said.
She said that because of generous checks that arrived by mail from WAMM supporters, the organization will be able to survive December.
Corral continues to hope for a miracle.
“I’m still hoping that there might be an investor or a philanthropist who might see a possibility — something that we could build on.”
Ben Rice has been WAMM’s lawyer for 15 years and a friend of the Corrals for more than 20.
Rice says that what crippled WAMM financially was the raid on its plants and property in 2002 by the federal government.
“Because the government did that to WAMM, they have never been able to regain their financial footing,” Rice said. “It’s always hard for a nonprofit collection that’s based on the goodness and passion of people like Val and Mike to sustain itself, but WAMM had been able to do it for a number of years. It was [the DEA] taking that much of their medicine — roughly a year to two-year supply — which forced WAMM to turn to other methods of getting their medicine to people. It really set them back and also caused a lot of health issues for people.”
In response to the DEA raid, WAMM filed a lawsuit against the federal government. Six years later, the lawsuit has yet to be resolved.
Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana to seriously ill patients, was passed in California in 1996 by a 56-percent yes vote.
Emily Reilly, a former mayor of Santa Cruz and member of the Santa Cruz City Council, expressed her sadness.
“The loss of the WAMM land is really a sad day for this community,” Reilly said. “It’s sad for WAMM but especially for this community, and this country really. The fact that we’re just not able to have some logic and compassion over this issue is really shameful. Medical marijuana has never been about the illegal use of recreational drugs — it’s about having compassion for sick and dying people. That’s all Mike and Val have ever been focused on and it’s a loss for us all.”
Corral acknowledged the support Santa Cruz has provided WAMM over the years.
“We live in the most amazing community,” she said. “We have really been alive and survived this long because of Santa Cruz and the people that live here. Because of our City Council, our Board of Supervisors and also because of community members, our attorneys … the support has been just overwhelming and amazing.”
Corral and WAMM recently became involved with a nonprofit program called Raha Kudo, the Design for Dying Program.
“It is designed to take care of people when they are dying and to keep people at home — whatever they choose, however they choose it,” Corral said.
Regardless of the situation regarding WAMM’s garden, Corral said Raha Kudo (Persian for “the pathway to heaven”) would continue.
Corral recently wrote an article about a Raha Kudo patient and friend named Laura Huxley in which she described Raha Kudo.
“[The article is] a snapshot into the way a person designs their own death,” Corral said. “I talk with a lot of people about dancing with death — about kind of entering into a courtship with death, so that people are not so afraid of this ‘grim reaper’ thing.”
“Death is so natural,” she continued. “It’s what happens to everybody. We’re talking about it differently. What’s important about [Raha Kudo] is that we can engage with one another, be there at people’s deaths. And I’m often at people’s bedsides.”
Corral said her work with WAMM has provided her a perspective on life.
“A great thing about WAMM is living with a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life, because it’s so uncertain,” Corral said. “I’ve learned so much to trust that in the unfolding of our lives, the most remarkable things can happen if we don’t stay fixed on some single notion.”