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Los Angeles

Activists Launch Hunger Strike

Fast: Protesters oppose federal seizure of West Hollywood facility that supplied medical marijuana.

June 06, 2002|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five supporters of the sale of marijuana for medical purposes at a West Hollywood building launched an "open-ended hunger strike and encampment" Wednesday against federal authorities who last week filed a forfeiture action against the property.

They will be joined each day by a number of sympathizers who will fast for 24 hours, said Scott Imler, executive director of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resources Center. The center, at 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., was shut down in October when federal agents seized files, plants and other assets.

Under the forfeiture action filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the federal government said the 1996 state ballot proposition that allows the sale of marijuana for medical purposes is invalidated by federal prohibitions on the use of controlled substances. A federal jury will decide whether the government can seize the $780,000 property where marijuana was grown and distributed.

The strike and encampment will take place in a parking lot across the street from the main property, which is also owned by the Cannabis Resources Center.

The city of West Hollywood authorized a loan of $350,000 in redevelopment funds to the center, which would not be repaid in the event of government forfeiture.

Mary Lucey, one of those on hunger strike, said she and the others will consume only water, juice and perhaps a little milk so they can take their regular AIDS medication. She said the strike will last until the federal action is dropped.

Protesters said they may file a civil action against the government for allegedly violating their civil rights, as well as for wrongful death should any of those on hunger strike die.

Imler, Lucey, Myron Willis and others who spoke at a news conference Wednesday said the federal government is violating states' rights by challenging laws in California and other states that use marijuana as a medical treatment.

A copy of the federal complaint said more than 1,000 marijuana plants were seized from the property, as well as other plants in Ventura County. Financial records indicated as much as $20,000 a week in marijuana was being sold by the nonprofit center.

Many of those buying marijuana suffer from AIDS. They say marijuana reduces the side effects of AIDS medicines.

The government has not yet brought a direct action to invalidate California's Proposition 215, which was approved by voters.

Protesters said Wednesday that last week's forfeiture was intended by the government to harass marijuana supporters without risking a definitive setback in court.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said he was not prepared to discuss the government's strategy. He referred inquiries to officials in Washington, D.C., who were not immediately available for comment.

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