Pubdate: Wed, 04 Apr 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Lee Romney, John Hoeffel and Joe Mozingo


SAN FRANCISCO - Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at City Hall here 
Tuesday to demand federal respect for state and local marijuana laws, 
a day after federal agents raided the state's first pot trade school 
and a related dispensary across the bay in Oakland.

The San Francisco rally and march to a nearby federal building was 
planned before Monday's raid. But the sweep on businesses owned by 
prominent marijuana activist Richard Lee emboldened protesters and 
brought denunciations from local officials and lawmakers in five 
states with medical cannabis laws.

Protesters heaped scorn on Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for Northern California.

"We are going to push back," Stephanie Tucker, asan Francisco 
activist with the Medical Cannabis Task Force, told the whooping 
crowd Tuesday. "We've had enough after the hostile attack yesterday 
in Oakland."

As Tucker led protesters in chants of "Our state. Our medicine. Our 
laws," Lee, a paraplegic, sat quietly in his wheelchair, surrounded 
by well-wishers.

Monday's federal search warrants targeted numerous properties, 
including Lee's dispensary, apartment and Oaksterdam University - 
which since 2007 has taught about the business, cultivation and laws 
of marijuana. No arrests were made as part of a joint investigation 
by the IRS and Drug Enforcement Administration. Both agencies have 
declined to comment, saying records are under seal.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-oakland) said the raids caused her concern.

"After the people of the state of California voted to make medicinal 
cannabis legal, thousands of small businesses have invested millions 
of dollars in building their businesses, created good-paying jobs and 
paid millions in taxes," she said in a statement. "The business 
owners are doing everything they can to comply with the law, and they 
deserve clarification."

She said she was working on several bills that would align federal 
law with state medical marijuana statutes.

Federal prosecutors have frequently targeted dispensaries that make 
profits, arguing that California law requires the stores to run as 
not-for-profit collectives. In practice, many make millions of dollars.

When Richard Lee spearheaded the legalization initiative, Proposition 
19 in 2010, he said Oakland's ordinance and state law were ambiguous 
enough that he could make money. At the time, Oakland allowed 
individuals to own dispensaries but allowed only "reasonable 
compensation," not "excessive profits."

Arturo Sanchez, Oakland deputy city administrator, said he believed 
from a review of Lee's books that the compensation paid to staff and 
management was appropriate.

Lee has said he reinvests the income from his operations in efforts 
to mainstream marijuana. He spent $1.5 million to launch his campaign 
to pass the 2010 legalization measure.

By Tuesday, his Coffeeshop Blue Sky dispensary had reopened, thanks 
to emergency supplies from growers. The university is expected to 
reopen Wednesday.

"One way or another, Oaksterdam will live on," Lee said quietly at the rally.

Lee said the IRS had a heavy presence at the raid, "so I think it was 
about the money."

Lee's attorney, Laurence Jeffrey Lichter, said in a phone interview 
his client is in "complete compliance" with state and local laws. He 
pointed out that federal authorities have made evictions and applied 
economic pressure in California but have yet to issue any indictments.

"I'm hoping what they did yesterday is like the IRS auditing him - 
that it's an attempt to change his behavior, or to demonstrate to 
people surviving on this industry in a terrible economy that it's 
Russian roulette," said Lichter, who serves as Oaksterdam's law dean.

Five members of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and 
representatives of state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-san Francisco), 
state Sen. Mark Leno (D-san Francisco), and state Board of 
Equalization member Betty Yee told the crowd at City Hall that they 
would continue to press the cause with federal officials.

Dispensaries have brought "over $100 million to California's coffers 
every year," Yee's chief deputy, Alan Lofaso, said to cheers.

In and outside of California, the raid riled state lawmakers who have 
worked on medical marijuana laws. Ammiano, who has written 
legislation that would permit and regulate sales statewide, joined 
Assemblyman Chris Norby (R-fullerton) and legislators from 
Washington, New Mexico, Maine and Colorado in signing an open letter 
to federal officials.

"States with medical marijuana laws have chosen to embrace an 
approach that is based on science, reason and compassion," the 
lawmakers wrote. "Unfortunately, these laws face a mounting level of 
federal hostility and confusing mixed messages from the Obama 
administration, the Department of Justice and the various United 
States attorneys.

"We call on the federal government not to interfere with our ability 
to control and regulate how medical marijuana is grown and 
distributed. Let us seek clarity rather than chaos. Don't force 
patients underground, to fuel the illegal drug market."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom