Setback for legal marijuana? Pot raid rattles top cannabis crusader.
A federal raid on the marijuana businesses of Richard Lee has convinced the legal-marijuana leader to take a step back. It could mark an important moment for the movement.
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
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The man who opened Oaksterdam University, the nation’s first college to teach students about the cannabis industry, and who bankrolled a failed ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana, says a federal raid this week has convinced him it’s time to step aside. The raid seized his assets, plants, bank accounts, records, and computers.
His decision marks an important moment for the medical-marijuana industry. While Mr. Lee says he will continue to be an outspoken advocate of marijuana, his step back threatens to create a void in the leadership of the movement. Moreover, the federal raid that hit his operations Monday is a sign that the Drug Enforcement Administration is ramping up its crackdown on California's medical-marijuana dispensaries.
“This is a clear statement to California that the DEA is becoming more aggressive in this area, despite California’s Compassionate Use Act" – the state's first-in-the-nation ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana in 1996, says Joan Smyth of Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo, a national law firm, via e-mail.
In the past, the DEA has assisted local authorities in shutting down individual dispensaries based on zoning laws. But in Oakland, where the medical-marijuana zoning laws "are virtually nonexistent, and there have not been local efforts to shut the dispensaries down," Ms. Smyth says, the DEA is now taking the lead.
"The raid on Oaksterdam was interesting as it took the DEA’s crackdown on California’s medical-marijuana business to a new level,” she says.
Lee, a former rock-band roadie, says he is not abandoning the cause. His Oaksterdam University, which has graduated about 4,000 students since 2007, remains open, as does his dispensary. But Lee says he will transfer the business to new operators and shut down his own nursery.
“It’s time for others to take over,” he told the Associated Press.
Some observers agree.
“Sometimes the leaders of movements must step aside to ensure they continue to last beyond their own lifetimes. That is the case of Richard Lee," says Sam Singer, who runs a public relations firm in the Bay Area and lives on the border between Oakland and Berkeley. "He is smart to step aside, focus on his own legal issues, and let new leadership come to the forefront.”