On October 25, 30 Drug Enforcement Agency troops stormed the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center (LACRC) in West Hollywood, California. With a warrant signed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in hand, the agents frisked eight medical-marijuana patients who worked at the center and spent nearly five hours loading two trucks with more than 400 marijuana plants, hydroponic growing equipment, computers -- and the medical records of the 960 LACRC members, 80 percent of whom are HIVers. "They were as polite as rapists could be," said club prez Scott Imler.
Carried out amidst a nationwide anthrax panic, the raid stunned advocates. "Because everyone was so busy saluting, no one was looking." Imler said. "We were an easy target in the so-called War on Drugs. We were operating out in the open, and [Ashcroft] probably figured, 'Who would care about a bunch of homos with AIDS in West Hollywood?'" What's more, the feds froze the club's assets. While there were no arrests at press time, Imler and his lawyer, West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, said that criminal charges are imminent.
Imler also reports having received frantic phone calls from cancer and AIDS patients who are having difficulty sleeping, eating, keeping their meds down and their weight up. PWA and LACRC volunteer Steven Salveta lamented that he has lost a trustworthy source of the medicine. "I know the marijuana I get here is free of fungus and pesticides, and that's the most important thing. Those are things my system does not need." And HIVer Mike Mendizabal said, "The thought of going on the street to get marijuana is too much for me. I now have to force myself to eat."
LACRC would have celebrated its fifth anniversary last November. The club has been a model dispenser of pot for pain: Not only has LACRC strictly adhered to the guidelines outlined in California's voter-mandated medical-marijuana Proposition 215, it has also operated with the blessing of the city council and sheriff's department.
Attorney General Ashcroft, apparently emboldened by his high-profile role in the "War on Terrorism," has increasingly promoted a radical-right domestic agenda. Last May's Supreme Court decision in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative that distribution of marijuana still constitutes a federal crime also influenced his cannabis crackdown. In the weeks leading up to the LACRC raid, the feds closed down a marijuana farm run by patients and seized files from a doctor and a lawyer who help sick patients gain access to the herb. But the highest court has yet to address the conflict between state and federal law. "I doubt we'll ever be able to grow marijuana again in this building," Imler said. "Now we have go back to fighting the political battles instead of caring for our patients."