Women of the California Cannabis Revolution

By: Dion Markgraaff

Women have always played a huge and under-reported role in all revolutions, with classic examples in the Paris Commune (1871), Russian (1917), and now with revolutionary changing policies with cannabis.

NUG Magazine recognizes some of the major women advocates fighting for everyone’s rights here in California.

Valerie Corral
Valerie Corral is a patient who, along with her husband Mike, founded the apex of compassion in California, WAMM – Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. She is such a leader that she was fighting for medical cannabis and winning in court years before the Compassionate Use Act became law.

In 1993, Valerie became the first person to successfully argue a medical necessity defense for cannabis use in California. She then helped to pass Measure A, the Santa Cruz County precursor to the statewide Prop 215, calling for the non-prosecution of medical marijuana patients.

What is most unique about their collective is that they GIVE AWAY the medicine. In a July 1997 New York Times article, Valerie was referred to as “the Florence Nightingale and Johnny Appleseed of medical marijuana rolled into one,” and in Santa Cruz, California, Valerie Corral is considered a hero.

Along with the other members of WAMM, Valerie and Mike do research on different strains of cannabis and supply free (or by donation) high quality, organically grown medicine to seriously ill patients who qualify for the collective. WAMM serves a couple hundred members who suffer from terminal (85%) and chronic illnesses.

In September 2002, the DEA raided the Corrals’ home. This crisis prompted the city and county of Santa Cruz to join with WAMM in suing the federal government over the raids. With the Raich v. Ashcroft decision having established that the federal government does not have jurisdiction to interfere with medical marijuana patients and caregivers like the Corrals, they got a preliminary injunction protecting them from any future raids or arrests.

Through Valerie and Michael Corral and other members of WAMM, all of the people of California were represented well against the efforts of the federal government, with whom the Corrals recently reached a settlement of their lawsuit.

Steph Sherer
Steph Sherer is the Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access, the most effective organization in the medical cannabis movement. She has been the leader of this vital group which has fought for our medical cannabis rights.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation, education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy, and services for patients and their caregivers. ASA has over 30,000 active members, with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states.

Steph Sherer being arrested at a protest.

Medical cannabis patients and Steph Sherer founded ASA in 2002 in response to federal raids on patients in California. Ever since then, ASA has been instrumental in shaping the political and legal landscape of medical cannabis. Our successful lobbying, media, and legal campaigns led to positive court precedents, new sentencing standards, more compassionate legislative and administrative policies and procedures, and new legislation. ASA protects the rights of cannabis patients and is working to change federal policy for patients.

Before ASA, Steph lived in San Diego and was the key local organizer for the global justice movement, for which she was nationally recognized as leading local activist efforts to challenge the biotechnology industry, the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas negotiations, and the World Trade Organization ministerial.

Mikki Norris

Mikki Norris is one of the world’s foremost activists and has traveled the globe to fight for justice. She and her husband, Chris Conrad, are the publishers of the West Coast Leaf newspaper. These two are cannabis’ most dynamic duo.

Mikki’s bio is a book itself, filled with numerous accomplishments year after year.

Mikki obtained a BA degree in Sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1974; and a Master’s Degree in Special Education along with teaching credentials in multiple subjects including working with the communication-handicapped from the California State University, Los Angeles in 1979. She is a former teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College.

Mikki Norris has been an activist for drug policy reform since 1989 when she formed the American Hemp Council with her husband, Chris Conrad. In 1993, the couple moved to Amsterdam to design exhibits for and curate the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum, which is where I met them. As community action co-coordinator for Californians for Medical Rights, Mikki helped organize petitions to qualify the medical marijuana initiative (Prop. 215) for the 1996 California ballot.

In 1995, shortly after moving to the San Francisco Bay area, Mikki decided to take on broader Drug War issues and felt compelled to put a human face on its prisoners’ and their families’ plights through the creation and development, with her husband and Virginia Resner, of the photo exhibit project Human Rights and the Drug War. The exhibit debuted on the 50th anniversary of the UN to bring attention to USA human rights violations in the name of the Drug War, and it has since been shown in various forms at events, conferences, universities, government buildings, and libraries throughout the USA and Europe. The three co-authored the book, Shattered Lives: Portraits from America’s Drug War, which is based on their photo exhibit, Human Rights and the Drug War (www.hr95.org).

Mikki is also the director of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign which focuses on dispelling the negative myths and stereotypes associated with cannabis use, upgrading the image of marijuana users, ending discrimination and advocating for equal rights by encouraging people “to come out of the cannabis closet,” and promoting “pot pride” (www.cannabisconsumers.org).

Also, Chris Conrad would not be the best activist in the cannabis world without the constant support of Mikki.

Debbie Goldsberry
Debbie Goldsberry is the founder of the Cannabis Action Network and is the director of the best dispensary in the state of California – Berkeley Patients Group. In addition, she is the co-founder of ASA.

Debbie has been at the forefront of the medical cannabis movement, being a steady and unifying force. From unionizing her local Berkley dispensaries, to helping for years with the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, Debbie has been there for many people in the cannabis movement.

Since 1989, Cannabis Action Network (CAN) has educated the general public about the beneficial uses of cannabis. They also reach out to medical and personal cannabis users to empower them to protect their rights and safety. Their strategies focus on grassroots education and outreach projects, using web-based tools, literature distribution, public events like trainings and conferences, and other forms of communication. They promote a good neighbor and sensible cannabis use campaign, and teach people about their constitutional and juror rights.

Through Debbie, Berkeley Patients Group is the best dispensary in the state of California and a “national model” (even their city council said so). This is because of the high quality standards they have placed on themselves and the leadership they provide to the entire industry in every aspect of operation. From security, top meds, and the most relaxing medication area, this collective is constantly educating and serving the interests of their patient members.

The BPG 8,500 member collective has been serving society for over 10 years and gives away about $300,000 a year to organizations like the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness across the street, summer lunches to kids at the San Pablo Park recreation center, the downtown YMCA, homeless organizations, the school-lunch program at Malcolm X Elementary School and others.

Debbie and the dispensary she runs are so well respected in her own community, the Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to proclaim October 31, 2009 “Berkeley Patients Group Day”.

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