Pubdate: Fri, 06 Apr 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Author: John Hoeffe


Richard Lee plans to transfer Oaksterdam University and a pot
dispensary to others but vows to remain an advocate for legalization.

Richard Lee says: "I've been doing this for a long time. Over 20
years.... I kind of feel like I've done my time. It's time for others
to take over."

Richard Lee, whose bid to legalize marijuana in California brought
him international attention, plans to give up ownership of his
Oakland-based marijuana businesses after a federal raid this week
seized many of their assets, including plants, bank accounts,
records and computers.

"I've been doing this for a long time. Over 20 years.... I kind of
feel like I've done my time," Lee said Thursday. "It's time for others
to take over."

Lee said he would remain an outspoken marijuana advocate. "I believe
that cannabis prohibition is unjust and counterproductive," he said.
"What I've done is ethical, and I tried to use the resources that I
had to do everything I could to change the laws."

In some of his most extensive comments since the raid, Lee
acknowledged that he was worried he could face major federal drug
charges. It's a risk he has lived with for many years, first as an
underground pot grower and then as the leader of a serious
legalization effort, which drew vigorous opposition from the federal

"I never wanted to be the quote unquote leader of the legalization
movement," he said in a telephone interview. "I saw myself as just one
small soldier in a big war. But I look at it as a battlefield promotion."

Lee's Oaksterdam University, the first marijuana trade school in the
nation, remains open, although its classes have been scaled back.
Lee's dispensary is also open. He plans to transfer the businesses to
new operators. But he will shut down his marijuana nursery because his
stock of mother plants, which he had nurtured for years, was

The former rock-band roadie is one of the highest-profile marijuana
activists in the nation, if not the world. His school drew wide-eyed
media coverage after it opened in 2007, helping him promote his vision
that marijuana could be a legitimate business.

A paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, Lee, 49, became the telegenic
spokesman for ending pot prohibition after he spent more than $1.5
million trying to pass Proposition 19 to legalize the drug in 2010.

He is a well-known and highly regarded figure in Oakland, where city
officials praise his businesses for resuscitating a shabby downtown
area embarrassingly close to City Hall.

Lee was detained during Monday's raid by the Internal Revenue Service
and the Drug Enforcement Administration, but not arrested. His allies
had feared he would be arrested in 2010, when he spoke frequently,
candidly and enthusiastically about his pot ventures.

On Thursday, Lee suggested that, if he is charged, it could become
another watershed event in the march toward legalization by turning
more Americans against the drug war. "In some ways, I see the possible
prosecution of myself as another Proposition 19," he said.

Federal penalties for growing marijuana increase with the number of
plants. More than 60,000 can bring the death penalty, Lee noted. He
said he did not know how many plants were seized. "We didn't have
60,000 plants on site, but they can add up the 13 years," he said.

Lee said his operations had been audited by the IRS, but he did not
know what triggered the raid and seizures. "The company is bankrupt,"
he said, suggesting that employees, who could lose jobs, and Oakland,
which could lose revenues from taxes on marijuana, were also victims.

Until he knows whether he has to mount a legal defense, Lee said, he
plans to work on a book and a television series about his career. "I
think the nationwide coverage of the raid shows that there is a story
here that a lot of people would like to see and like to hear about,"
he said.

Lee also said he would consider helping legalization efforts in other
states: "This may free me up to be able to go campaign."

He noted that Oaksterdam University has trained about 15,000 marijuana
experts and activists who are now at work around the country,
suggesting that he has marshaled an army for the legalization fight.
"We are getting very close to a tipping point on this issue," he said.
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