Pubdate: Sun, 30 Oct 2011
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2011 The New York Times Company
Author: Zusha Elinson


Richard Lee, the leader of the marijuana legalization movement in 
California, does not appear to be intimidated by the federal 
government's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Mr. Lee closed his Oakland dispensary, Coffeeshop Blue Sky, this week 
after the Department of Justice threatened his landlord with criminal 
prosecution. He then reopened it three doors down, with enormous 
posters of marijuana buds in the windows.

On Thursday morning, an employee was handing out fliers to customers 
at the new locale that read: "Thank you for your support. Together we 
will survive the attack. Long Live Oaksterdam."

Oaksterdam, where the dispensary is located, is an area near downtown 
Oakland that was created largely by Mr. Lee, a soft-spoken 
libertarian and longtime activist in the marijuana reform movement. 
It features Oaksterdam University, a school he founded that offers 
classes in marijuana cultivation and business; a cannabis museum; and 
other marijuana-related businesses.

Last year, Mr. Lee bankrolled Proposition 19, a failed measure that 
would have legalized marijuana in California.

In a letter sent earlier this month, Melinda Haag, United States 
attorney for the Northern District of California, ordered Mr. Lee's 
landlord to evict the dispensary or face criminal prosecution or 
forfeiture of the property, according to officials who spoke on the 
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Ms. Haag declined to comment on Mr. Lee's case.

The move was part of a crackdown by the state's four United States 
attorneys on what they described as widespread criminal activity in 
the rapidly growing $1 billion medical marijuana industry. The effort 
has heightened the tension between California, which legalized 
medical marijuana in 1996, and the federal government, which forbids the drug.

In the Bay Area, Ms. Haag has ordered the closings of several 
dispensaries near schools and parks where children play. Mr. Lee's 
dispensary, one of four licensed by the City of Oakland, is around 
the block from the Envision Academy of Arts & Technology, a charter 
high school.

Ms. Haag said she had received numerous letters from people concerned 
about the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries in their 
communities, particularly near schools.

"I hope these people who believe that marijuana dispensaries should 
operate unfettered can step back and understand that not everyone 
shares their position," Ms. Haag said.

Mr. Lee's supporters say they believe that Mr. Lee is drawing 
attention because he is a pioneer and a leader of the movement to 
legalize marijuana.

"By sending a threat to Richard it seems like they're trying to send 
a message to the movement," said Tom Angell, who was a spokesman for 
the Proposition 19 campaign. "But I really don't know what the 
message is besides 'Be afraid; we know who you are.' "

Mr. Lee declined to comment on the letter and did not return calls 
about the new club, but a manager there said the move had been 
planned before the crackdown.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Lee said he was not afraid of being a target.

"If they do decide to prosecute me criminally," he said, "my defense 
is that juries cannot be punished for their verdicts."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart