The War on Cannabis claims a new victim: U.S. Marshalls, the DEA and the IRS have raided Oaksterdam University - a school that teaches students to comply with its state’s medical cannabis law. The school’s founder Richard Lee is a patient confined to a wheelchair and is one of the most prominent and effective cannabis activists in the country. Mr. Lee put $1 million of his own money into Proposition 19, California’s 2010 cannabis legalization attempt.
According to the Bay Citizen, Richard Lee and a few of his employees were detained as other properties owned by Mr. Lee were also raided by federal agents. Our nation’s dubious asset forfeiture laws make such properties a prime target by law enforcement officials who can easily seize property from citizens, but make it extremely difficult for citizens to fight such forfeiture, even if there is not a conviction of any wrongdoing in court.
The federal government’s War on Cannabis seems to be escalating despite the campaign promises of President Barack Obama to respect state law and base policies upon science instead of propaganda. All across California, dispensaries have been raided, landlords have been threatened and even the free speech of news publications has been under repeated attack.
Tragically (and ironically), while law enforcement time and resources were being utilized to raid a medical cannabis university, operating legally within the confines of California’s medical cannabis law, a gunman entered a classroom at a religious school and opened fire – shooting multiple victims. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the shooting occurred at Oikus University at 780 Edgewater Road at about 10:40 am - less than 8 miles away from the federal raid on Oaksterdam University.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan questioned the federal raid of Oaksterdam University and other cannabis businesses that provide jobs and tax revenue to the city. Ms. Kaplan noted that Oakland was forced to cut its police force due to budget cuts and is struggling with rising gun violence, including the shooting Monday at Oikos University that harmed several victims.
“It’s so unfortunate. I mean, we have got in Oakland a real need for law enforcement resources on real crime that’s a threat to people,” Kaplan was quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “If there’s extra law enforcement resources available, it would be nice if it would be devoted to illegal gun crime and stopping illegal gun dealers.”
Due to the lobbying of the prison-industrial-complex, with a huge financial stake in the Drug War, supporters of prohibition seem to be lashing out at a time when the tide of public opinion is turning toward the acceptance of more sensible cannabis laws. With medical cannabis laws now on the books in 16 states and our nation’s capitol, at least two states voting on legalizing cannabis for all adults this November and 50% of Americans supporting the legal use of cannabis, hopefully the federal war being waged on non-violent citizens will end and more law enforcement resources will be available to combat real crimes, such as gunmen opening fire on unarmed students.
UPDATE: On April 18, Lucia Graves published an interview with Richard Lee in the Huffington Post:
In an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post, his first since the raid, Lee, 49, blasted the federal crackdown as a senseless act of intimidation. “This is one battle of a big war,” said Lee, “and there’s thousands of battles going on all over.”
“Before he was elected, [President Barack Obama] promised to support medical marijuana and not waste federal resources on this,” Lee said. “About a year and a half ago, the policy seemed to change. They’ve been attacking many states, threatening governors of states to prevent them from signing legislation to allow medical marijuana. They’ve been attacking on many fronts.”
This federal assault upon his livelihood has forced Mr. Lee out of his businesses, but he still continues to advocate for cannabis legalization:
Lee, for his part, is largely stepping away from Oaksterdam and is planning to focus his efforts on campaigns in Colorado and Washington state, where legalization initiatives are on the ballot this year.
As for the administration’s murky position on drug legalization, Lee takes a dim view. “They can’t have their cake and eat it, too,” he said. “They can’t keep it illegal and tax it. No more taxation without legalization.”