Pubdate: Thu, 19 Apr 2012
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Matthai Kuruvila


The future of Oaksterdam University, a school offering classes in the
cannabis industry, appears shaky in the wake of a federal raid two
weeks ago.

Money is tight, Oaksterdam cannot afford to pay the $30,000-a-month
rent on its leased building, 45 employees have lost their jobs, and
the school's computers, records and even the curriculum are now in the
hands of federal agents.

On April 2, agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug
Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service raided
Oaksterdam and various affiliated businesses and at least one home,
all of which were controlled by marijuana legalization advocate
Richard Lee. The reasons for the raid remain unclear.

"The court documents are still under seal, so we are unable to provide
any additional details," said Casey Rettig, a special agent for the

Prior to the raid, Oaksterdam was supported financially by income from
tuition as well as the other businesses, including the city-permitted
dispensary. But now, the for-profit school is seeking to operate
independently of those organizations and must rely on tuition to survive.

"In the short term, we can only survive through new enrollments," said
Dale Sky Jones, the school's executive chancellor and new leader.

But there is concern that the federal crackdown on California's
medical marijuana dispensaries may scare off future students.

Jones said enrollment began to decline in October, when the state's
four U.S. attorneys announced that they would be targeting what they
deemed illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking.

The school averaged about 60 students for its once-a-month weekend
course this year. Two years earlier, the school averaged about 90
students per weekend course and had two of those courses a month.

Jones said the crackdown "is scaring students" even though, as she
noted, "the curriculum itself is not illegal."

Students are taught everything from the history, law and politics of
marijuana as well as methods of ingesting, cooking and vaporizing pot.

The 5-year-old school claims it has had some 15,000 students to date.
Its busiest time was in early 2010, the peak of what many termed "a
gold rush" for pot. Lee, Oaksterdam's founder, was sponsoring
Proposition 19, a statewide measure to legalize adult recreational use
of marijuana. Oakland officials, at the urging of Lee and others, were
considering building marijuana farms the size of multiple football
fields. The measure ultimately failed and the city backed off the idea
of opening farms.

At that time, the school had hundreds of students a month. There were
twice-a-month, weekend-only classes as well as people enrolled in 10-
and 13-week courses.

The school was an attempt to transform part of Oakland into the
Amsterdam for the Americas, a haven for legal drug use. Tourists came
to see the school, particularly for its monthly tours, and guidebooks
noted it.

Lee has described Oaksterdam as a "political institution" whose
mission "is to legitimize the business and work to change the law to
make cannabis legal."

Since the April 2 raid, Lee has stepped aside, believing that the
federal government's interest in him makes the school a target. As
with alcohol prohibition, Lee says many have seen their cannabis
fortunes crumble due to the federal government's prosecution. But in
the 16 years since California voters legalized medical marijuana, an
industry has grown. There are thousands of medical marijuana patients
and hundreds of dispensaries. Colorado and Washington are considering
legalization initiatives.

The momentum can't be stopped, Lee said.

"While the war isn't over," he said, "we have an army to fight it
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