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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oaksterdam University Pledges to Re-Open After Federal Raid on Marijuana Leader

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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What many saw as the inevitable hit Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee on Monday, when federal agents came knocking at the home and businesses of the man who has become the marijuana movement's de-facto figurehead.

After Lee revived a moribund part of downtown Oakland with a school dedicated to the pot trade, and used proceeds from the business to try to legalize marijuana with Proposition 19 in 2010, U.S. Marshals and agents from the IRS and DEA raided all of the downtown Oakland businesses connected to "General" Lee: Oaksterdam University, medical marijuana dispensary Coffeeshop Blue Sky, and a plant nursery connected to the dispensary.

"We sort of expected this in 2010 -- not 2012," said Jeff Jones, proprietor of the nearby Patient ID Center and co-proponent of Prop. 19. Following Prop 19's historic defeat, federal prosecutors had forced Blue Sky to relocate once, and IRS agents had audited Lee, who spent over $1 million of his own money to put Prop. 19 on the ballot.

Lee was detained at his home and released. No arrests were made, and federal agents said the search warrant and reasons for the raid are sealed by a judge.

The school will attempt to hold final classes for the semester as scheduled on Wednesday, even though the final project -- a crop of marijuana ready for harvest, intended for an MS patient -- was seized by authorities. Whether Blue Sky will reopen -- and what effect the raids will have on the movement -- is still unclear.

Dozens of federal agents broke down doors in a pre-7 a.m. raid and spent the morning seizing university records, growing equipment, computers, and an unknown amount of marijuana from Oaksterdam's Broadway campus. The feds also snatched the final project for students whose last class is Wednesday, according to Oaksterdam spokeswoman Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of the university.

In prying open gates and doors a the school and the nearby Oaksterdam museum and gift shop, agents caused "tens of thousands" of dollars of damage, said Jones, but did not disturb the museum's collection of vintage hemp products and 19th-century medical cannabis artifacts.

It's not clear if federal authorities plan to charge Lee with crimes. A spokeswoman with the DEA told media on Monday that all details were under a judge's seal.

Lee did not return messages left on his cell phone, and his counsel, San Francisco-based attorney Laurence Lichtor, was traveling and could not be reached.

Lee, a prominent Oakland citizen, had headed up his neighborhood's public safety committee and also sat on the committee that oversaw the implementation of Measure Z, the 2004 Oakland law that made adult use of cannabis the lowest priority for law enforcement. The measure has also led to the opening of several so-called "Measure Z" clubs, which dispense marijuana without requiring a doctor's recommendation.

It was rumored a Measure Z club was connected to Oaksterdam, but it could not be confirmed if it was open on Monday.

Enrollment had fallen at Oaksterdam since the federal government's crackdown began last October, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Speaking on Lee's behalf, Jones predicted Blue Sky, one of Oakland's four registered and taxpaying medical marijuana dispensaries, would also reopen.

"I know Richard's a fighter. If I were a betting woman, I'd bet Blue Sky will reopen," said Jones, who said the raids on Lee are a continuation of federal activity against the movement's visible leaders. Federal activity also shut down a cooperation between county sheriffs and growers in Mendocino County as well as hundreds of dispensaries across the state (five in the Bay Area, but nearly all dispensaries in San Diego and Sacramento counties).

The crop from the pot plants that were to be students' final project was intended for Yvonne Westbrook White, who has multiple sclerosis, Jones said.

"They're going after the people telling everyone to pay their taxes and respect the law," she said. "This is an attack on the leader of the movement."

Despite losing 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent, Prop. 19, the effort to allow adult Californians to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, no doctor's recommendation necessary, still served as a highwater mark for the marijuana legalization movement. Spending a total of $3.4 million -- including over $1 million from Lee -- Prop. 19 won more votes than for GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

Some marijuana advocates had asked Lee to wait until 2012. This year, multiple efforts to put
a successor measure on the ballot appear stalled out for lack of funds.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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