Federal agents today raided Oaksterdam University, a trade school for the cannabis industry, and four other sites associated with the university’s president, Richard Lee, according to university executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones. Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman Arlette Lee confirmed that agents from her agency, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service raided Oaksterdam, which opened in November 2007 and is at 1600 Broadway, and several other locations in Oakland but declined to provide specific locations. Jones said federal agents armed with guns came to Lee’s apartment in Oakland before 8 a.m. today.
Jones didn’t disclose the location of Lee’s apartment but Steph Scherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which promotes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, said Lee’s home is on Lakeshore Drive. She said federal agents detained and questioned Lee but didn’t arrest him. Jones said federal agents also raided the former site of the Blue Sky coffee shop, which had been a medical marijuana dispensary, at 377 17th St., the Oaksterdam University Museum at 1776 Broadway, and two locations on 15th Street between Franklin Street and Broadway. Jones said a site at 405 15th St. is a gift shop and a site at 425 15th St. is a storage unit. She said someone other than Lee formerly used the 425 15th St. site for a dispensary for medical marijuana but Lee isn’t using the site for that purpose.
Jones said she doesn’t know what prompted the federal raid today but she thinks it’s because Lee is a leader in the movement to regulate and legalize using marijuana for medical purposes. “It appears that they’re going after the leaders of the movement to regulate cannabis,” Jones said. Roger LaChance, a volunteer with Americans for Safe Access who carried a sign outside the Oaksterdam and 15th Street locations protesting the raids, said he thinks Lee was targeted because he supported a measure on the November 2010 ballot that would have legalized marijuana in California and allowed counties to tax and regulate the plant and its products.
The measure, Proposition 19, lost by a margin of 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent. Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who came to the Oaksterdam site, said she is troubled by the federal raid because she thinks Lee’s “involvement in Oakland has been overwhelmingly positive” and he’s participated in a crime watch program in the area surrounding the university. Kaplan said she and other city officials hadn’t been informed of the raid beforehand and she didn’t know of any complaints against Lee or the university. She said she thinks the federal government should be focused more on getting illegal guns off the street in Oakland than in cracking down on medical marijuana. “My constituents’ top priority is fighting gun violence and illegal guns,” Kaplan said.
A crowd of about 80 people gathered outside Oaksterdam to protest the federal raid, chanting slogans such as “DEA – go away!” and “Shame!” At around noon DEA agents carried black trash bags and other items out of the university’s building and placed them inside a white semi truck and three other smaller trucks. Protesters tried to block the vehicles from leaving but the DEA agents, with help from Oakland police officers in riot gear, eventually were able to drive away. At least one protester was arrested for trying to block a DEA vehicle.
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