One day in 1968, I looked through a crack in a door at St.
Mary’s Hospital in Reno and caught my last glimpse of my mother.
The skin was stretched tightly over her skull, the result of the cancer
that had eaten her away during the months and years that her appetite
and body wasted away.
Five years later, on March 24, 1973, Valerie Leveroni Corral was
driving through Washoe Valley when the pilot of a plane recklessly
buzzed her Volkswagen. The plane came within a few feet of her car. The
air currents generated by the plane caused the car to swerve off the
road and down a slope. According to Corral, “The car rolled three
times across a distance of 362 feet. I was thrown from the car and
knocked unconscious.” She was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital
and hospitalized for severe head trauma.
Her doctors first prescribed unproductive anticonvulsant drugs. At
St. Mary’s she was observed in seizures soon after taking the
drugs. A St. Mary’s document described “a very hard
blackout spell, at which time she was rendered unconscious and
unresponsive for about 20 or 30 minutes …” Moreover, the
medicines put her in a “vegetable-like” state. She later
wrote, “Shortly after my release from the hospital, I suffered my
first grand mal seizure. … One moment I would be doing something,
the next moment I would be waking up … covered with cuts and
She moved in with her parents, who were shocked at her seizures.
“My parents … held me on the floor while I foamed at the
mouth and lost control of my bladder, urinating all over myself,”
she said. There were days when she had five seizures.
Then her husband, who had been reading medical journals for anything
that might help, read about a study—one of those studies
prosecutors and police say do not exist—of marijuana’s
power to control seizures in lab animals. Soon, under a marijuana
regimen, which replaced a 15-pill prescription regimen, Valerie Corral
had her life back.
After learning that marijuana’s anticonvulsant properties have
been known to modern medicine since the 19th century, Corral devoted
her life to the fight to regain access to the plant for the public. Her
home state of California voted 13 years ago to make health-care use of
marijuana legal, and she and her husband have operated a charity
marijuana farm and hospice—the Wo/men’s Association for
Medical Marijuana (WAMM). It serves sick and dying patients suffering
from numerous maladies who have physicians’ recommendations for
marijuana, though the hospice is vulnerable to legal harassment. In
2002 it was raided, and the Corrals were arrested, an act so callous
that conservative municipal officials in Santa Cruz protested by
turning city hall plaza over to Corral’s charitable organization
for the distribution of marijuana. This is just one of innumerable
horror stories about marijuana and law enforcement.
Loss of marijuana to the public is a relatively recent development.
My mother and her generation and all preceding generations could
legally smoke it until 1937. That was the year marijuana was made
illegal, not because it was dangerous but because it was a competitive
threat to the alcohol and timber industries, which lobbied the ban
through Congress over the objections of the American Medical
The law permitted my mother to smoke a plant that killed her, but
not a plant that would have augmented her appetite and eased her
misery. Tobacco is still killing people, but marijuana is still
illegal—even though it has become more useful to tobacco victims.
Chemotherapy did not exist for my mother, but it does now, and
marijuana makes it easier to endure. Marijuana keeps up with the
technology, becoming more useful the more we learn about it and as new
medical treatments are found.
Prosecutors, police officers, and federal drug officials want
patients like Corral and my mother to endure misery and pain if the
alternative is a loss of power or money for the drug bureaucracy. They
are like the Anti-Saloon League’s Wayne Wheeler, who in 1920 said
of alcohol prohibition, “If it comes to the point where it must
be a choice between medicaments for medicinal preparation and
enforcement of the law, I think we must choose law
Congress, acting in periods of anti-drug hysteria, has stripped
health-care officials of authority over marijuana and other drugs,
turning it over to the Drug Enforcement Administration and other
non-health officials, who have suppressed useful, therapeutic
drugs—and not just marijuana—because they might be
abused. Law enforcement officials have not proven to be worthy of trust
as custodians of health-care decisions, and it is time to remove their
power to make those decisions and put health-care professionals back in