Pubdate: Tue, 03 Apr 2012
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


OAKLAND  Multiple federal agencies unleashed raids Monday on the home 
and businesses of one of California's most famous marijuana 
advocates, Richard Lee, founder of the renowned cannabis industry 
trade school known as Oaksterdam University.

Lee, who spent $1.6 million to bankroll Proposition 19, an 
unsuccessful 2010 measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use, 
was neither arrested nor charged.

But federal authorities from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the 
Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Marshals Service swooped in 
early Monday, targeting five locations, including the school on this 
city's Broadway that has trained 15,000 people in marijuana 
cultivation and careers since opening in 2007.

Other locations raided were Lee's Oaksterdam Blue Sky marijuana 
dispensary, his home and two downtown storefronts he leased.

Amid a continuing federal crackdown on medical marijuana businesses 
in California, Monday's raids touched a nerve in downtown Oakland, 
where the Oaksterdam district serves as the activist heart for one of 
America's most marijuana-friendly cities. As word of the raids 
spread, scores of people descended upon the streets outside 
Oaksterdam to protest the government's actions.

Lee, dubbed "the mayor of Oaksterdam" as he became a familiar sight 
propelling his wheelchair between his cannabis school and other 
businesses, said he couldn't comment on the raids. But others spoke 
out angrily as federal agents hauled out trash bags, containing what 
looked like marijuana plants grown at the university.

"What a sad day it is to see American agents going in and raiding a 
university," said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of the 
Harborside Health Center, an Oakland dispensary that bills itself as 
the largest medical marijuana outlet in the world. "They didn't 
distribute cannabis at this university. They distributed knowledge.

"It's not a coincidence they went after Richard Lee," DeAngelo added. 
"They are trying to silence him."

Special Agent Joycelin Barnes, from the DEA's San Francisco office, 
said she couldn't comment on the government's actions or the nature 
of the probe. "Everything is under seal. There is no information that 
I can give out," Barnes said.

Arlette Lee, an IRS spokeswoman for Northern California, confirmed 
agents were at Oaksterdam as part of an investigation but also 
declined to offer details.

Protesters crowded around federal agents and Oakland police, blocking 
the entrance of Oaksterdam's 30,000- square-foot campus as handcuffed 
employees were detained inside. The employees were released later Monday.

"Shame! Shame!" and "DEA, go away!" the crowd chanted.

Some protesters laid down before a caravan of federal vehicles, 
including SUVs and a rental truck used to load confiscated items. 
Some lit up marijuana joints. Mira Ingram, 44, moved her motorized 
wheelchair to block a government pickup.

"We need to stop them from leaving," said Ingram, who said she uses 
marijuana to treat nerve damage from diabetes.

Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam's executive chancellor, said the raids 
represented "a calculated attack on everybody who was trying to bring 
the cannabis industry into the light."

"They're going after the leaders of this industry, one by one," she said.

Lee has deep roots in the history of medical marijuana in California. 
Before opening Oaksterdam and his own dispensary, he worked for the 
Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which was charged with growing 
and dispensing pot in violation of federal law in 1998.

The club's former operator, Jeff Jones, took the case to the U.S. 
Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 that "no medical necessity 
exemption" exists for marijuana. Lee called Jones as the federal 
raids erupted Monday.

"He said 'I'm not arrested, but I don't know what I'm going to do 
now,' " said Jones, who is married to Dale Sky Jones.

Dan Rush, director of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division of the 
United Food and Commercial Workers, said the union represents about 
100 employees at Oaksterdam University, Lee's Blue Sky marijuana 
dispensary and related businesses. He said the raids threaten the 
livelihood of workers who earn up to $60,000 a year, plus health 
insurance and other benefits.

"We're here to stand by our members," Rush said.

Recently, Lee moved his Blue Sky dispensary after San Francisco-based 
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag threatened to seize the property on the 
grounds it was distributing marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. 
He reopened the business at a former Oaksterdam University site that 
now houses a hemp and cannabis museum, including exhibits on the 
history of "the drug war."

"He didn't get in this to be a pot dealer," Jeff Jones said of Lee. 
"He's in this to change the law. ... He's not going to back down."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom