ASSOCIATED PRESS: The doors to Oaksterdam University in downtown Oakland were cordoned off by yellow tape and blocked by United States marshals. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration removed trash bags of unknown materials from the school to a waiting van. Arlette Lee, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service, told reporters that agents were serving a federal search warrant but that said she could not otherwise comment on the purpose of the raid. “What we are doing here today is under seal,” Ms. Lee said. About a dozen protesters gathered in front of the multistory building, which is adorned with a large mural that makes the school one of the neighborhood’s most visible landmarks. Some of them smoked marijuana openly. The demonstrators held signs demanding an end to federal crackdowns on medical marijuana. Ryan Hooper, 26, of Oakland, wearing an Oaksterdam hat and sweatshirt, said he had finished taking courses at the school in February. “This is not in the best interest of the city,” Mr. Hooper said. “If they close the dispensaries, all of this stuff is going to go back underground.” MORE
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Federal agents struck at the heart of California’s medical marijuana movement, raiding the nation’s first pot trade school and a popular dispensary, both run by one of the state’s most prominent and provocative activists, Richard Lee. The raids in Oakland by the Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration sent a shudder through the medical cannabis trade and angered the plant’s devotees, who believe the federal government is trampling on California law and the wishes of voters who approved medical marijuana use nearly 16 years ago.
Now they are wondering what message the federal government is trying to send. President Obama promised during his 2008 campaign not to prosecute medical marijuana users who comply with state law, and Deputy Atty. Gen. David Ogden reiterated that position in a 2009 memo that many credit with helping spark the medical pot boom. “For them to go after someone who’s as high profile as Richard Lee likely sends a message that they will go after anyone anywhere in the state over medical marijuana and that Obama’s promises are hollow,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.
The Justice Department has been cracking down on California’s dispensaries and growers since October. But until Monday, agents had not targeted the most visible leaders, or the movement’s cradle in Oakland, where the city issues permits and taxes cannabis establishments and where Lee’s Oaksterdam University looms above Broadway with a giant college seal adorned with marijuana leaves. Monday’s raids included Lee’s apartment, an associate’s home, the university, the dispensary and an adjoining marijuana museum, as well as a property where the dispensary formerly operated. (Lee was forced to move the business in October after the U.S. attorney sent a letter to his landlord threatening to seize the property.)
The search warrants were sealed, so it is unclear what officials retrieved. Witnesses saw agents toting out boxes of documents and bags of plant material. Lee, 49, was briefly detained, as were three workers at his dispensary. A paraplegic who has used a wheelchair since a severe spinal injury in 1990, Lee has said he uses marijuana to treat muscle spasticity. He opened his dispensary Coffeeshop Blue Sky in 1999, worked with city officials to regulate the industry and founded Oaksterdam in 2007 to try to legitimize it. Lee used his marijuana earnings to put the legalization measure Proposition 19 on the ballot in 2010. Although the initiative failed, it is widely credited with raising public acceptance of the idea of legalization nationwide. Colorado and Washington will have similar measures on the ballot in November. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: War Is Over, The Drugs Won