Pot trade school raid questioned by Oakland city councilwoman
Rebecca Kaplan, an Oakland City Council member who has been a long-time advocate for medical marijuana, questioned the federal raid Monday on some of the city’s most recognized pot businesses, including the internationally known Oaksterdam University.
She noted that the budget-strapped city, which had to cut its police force, is struggling with rising gun violence, including a shooting Monday at Oikos University that involved multiple 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,” said Kaplan, who went to the scene of the raid. “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.”
The Oakland city official who oversees its medical marijuana laws declined to comment on the action, which targeted Richard Lee, who put a legalization measure on the ballot in 2010 and who operates a dispensary, a nursery and the nation’s first pot trade school.
Kaplan noted that Oakland has some of the tightest regulations in the country and said it has had no trouble from its four dispensaries.
“We’ve ended up with very well-behaved facilities, and it’s really been a success story in terms of how regulation can work,” she said.
She wondered why the federal government was not focused on unapproved dispensaries or dispensaries that are creating problems in their communities, including those in Los Angeles.
“Why not go after the problem ones? Oakland has had a very strict set of regulations,” she said. “We haven’t had violence. We haven’t had crimes."
Kaplan credited Lee’s operations, which are all within easy walking distance from City Hall, for helping to resurrect a seedy section of downtown. Lee has become a prominent and easily recognized figure in the city.
Kaplan described him as “an exemplary community member,” noting that he just finished a term as the head of his neighborhood crime prevention council.
“It does raise the question: What is the goal? Is it a political goal? Is it about sending a message?” she asked, noting that Lee is an outspoken marijuana legalization activist. “It certainly raises the concern that people may be targeted for their political speech.”
Kaplan suggested that federal officials could find that the move backfires politically.
“The public response has been outrage,” she said. “Even people who don’t care one way or the other about medical cannabis are expressing outrage about the resource waste in these raids.”
She declined to say what the official response might be in the city where every council member supports medical marijuana, saying that she did not have enough information on the raid.
— John Hoeffel
Photo: Agents from the DEA and the IRS load up boxes of evidence removed from the Oaksterdam gift shop during an early-morning, multi-agency raid in Oakland. Credit: Peter DaSilva / EPA