Unable to find Osama bin Laden or dismantle al Qaeda, the Bush administration has attacked an easier target — the 960 mostly AIDS and cancer patients of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center.

Thirty agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided the West Hollywood center last Thursday. They detained eight patientstaffers for six hours and seized 400 plants, bagged marijuana and brownies, patient and doctors’ records, computers, and growing equipment. “The effect on people‘s health will be devastating,” said center president Scott Imler, who has epilepsy. “I don’t understand why America is declaring war on its own.”

No arrests were made. The center remains open, but the dispensary is closed, forcing members onto the black market to receive their medicine.

The basis for the raid is the long-standing state-vs.–federal government dispute over who has say over drug laws. In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, which gave patients the right to possess medical marijuana. The federal government has refused to recognize the law in California and eight other states and Washington, D.C., which have passed similar medical-marijuana measures. Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the reopening of an Oakland club, a decision cited in last week‘s search warrant.

The center’s leadership has yet to announce its legal strategy, or if it will try to restore its operation, which serves 960 members, 80 percent of whom have AIDS and use marijuana to combat wasting syndrome and the nausea from multiple medications. Another 10 percent have cancer, for which cannabis is a time-honored treatment during chemotherapy. The remainder suffer from assorted ailments, including glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

The center opened in 1996 with the help of the West Hollywood City Council and the L.A. County Sheriff‘s Department. “I stand up in support of what Scott has been doing,” Sheriff Lee Baca told the Weekly in 1999. “He’s done an excellent job.” The West Hollywood City Council held a news conference denouncing the raid. Asked West Hollywood Sheriff‘s Station Captain Lynda Castro: “Where’s the sensitivity level?”

The center‘s supporters say the raid points up the folly of America’s drug war, and its lack of compassion. Other countries are setting more progressive examples. Four months ago, Canada became the first country to legalize medical marijuana. The Dutch, who‘ve already decriminalized recreational use, announced this month that cannabis will be available by prescription. And the British are reclassifying pot in their least restrictive class with antidepressants and steroids.

“While the rest of the world moves steadily into the 21st century, the Bush administration is dragging its knuckles and America back into the Dark Ages,” said Imler.

A candlelight vigil will be held across the street from the center, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Gardner Street, at 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 6, the fifth anniversary of the passage of Proposition 215.

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