Oakland pot activist Richard Lee to turn over schools, store
Richard Lee, owner of an Oakland marijuana business raided by federal agents this week, says that if he's charged, the case could become another watershed event in the march toward pot’s legalization.
Lee said Thursday he plans to give up ownership of his businesses, ending at least one part of his crusade to legalize marijuana in California.
Lee, 49, became the telegenic spokesman for ending pot prohibition after he spent more than $1.5 million trying to pass Proposition 19 to legalize the drug in 2010.
Federal penalties for growing marijuana increase with the number of plants, Lee said, and more than 60,000 can bring the death penalty. Lee said he did not know how many plants were seized from him in Monday's raids, but added “they can add up to 13 years."
If he is charged, Lee said the case could turn even more Americans against the drug war.
"In some ways, I see the possible prosecution of myself as another Proposition 19," he said.
"The company is bankrupt," he said, suggesting that employees, who could lose jobs, and Oakland, which could lose revenue from taxes on marijuana, were also victims.
Until he knows whether he has to mount a legal defense, Lee said, he plans to work on a book and a television series about his career.
"I think the nationwide coverage of the raid shows that there is a story here that a lot of people would like to see and like to hear about," he said.
Lee also said he would consider helping legalization efforts in other states: "This may free me up to be able to go campaign."
He noted that his Oaksterdam University, the first marijuana trade school in the nation, has trained about 15,000 marijuana experts and activists who are now at work around the country, suggesting he has marshaled an army for the legalization fight.
"We are getting very close to a tipping point on this issue," he said.
-- John Hoeffel
Photo: Richard Lee, whose Oaksterdam University and dispensary were raided Monday, says he will give up his businesses. Credit: Peter DaSilva / For The Times.