Feds raid home of Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee
Federal agents raided the home of longtime pot-legalization advocate and marijuana trade school founder Richard Lee on Monday morning, according to authorities.
Lee, 49, is the founder of Oaksterdam University, which also was raided Monday by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Marshal's Service, using a search warrant. Authorities declined to provide details, saying the case was under seal.
DEA special agent Joycelyn Barnes confirmed that Lee’s one-bedroom apartment overlooking Lake Merritt was searched as part of the raid. Lee was detained for questioning and released, Barnes said.
Lee, who is wheelchair-bound from a severe spinal injury he suffered while working as a lighting technician for bands, has been a visible advocate for the legalization of marijuana and was a driving force behind Proposition 19 in 2010 that would have legalized some marijuana-related activities.
In his Oakland neighborhood, he is recognized and asked to pose for photos. He told a Times reporter in 2010 that he was prepared for the possibility of raids.
After the raids Monday, Lee supporters gathered outside Oaksterdam University, where federal agents stood at the door behind yellow police tape.
Brett Bankson, 30, of Oakland, went to the scene with his dog to show support. A 10-year medical marijuana patient, Bankson recently underwent back surgery and said cannabis is helping him wean off prescription opiates.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," he said of the raids on Lee's businesses. "They're not seizing marijuana here. They're seizing assets so they can do more enforcement. This just shows that no matter how hard we fight, they're going to fight us."
Oakland city officials dealt with an initial proliferation of dispensaries in the district dubbed "Oaksterdam" through strict regulation that limited the facilities to four and captured increasing amounts of tax revenue for the strained municipal budget.
"They found a way to regulate that was a good compromise for everyone," Bankson said. "The whole local economy that has depended on this could collapse.
"Now that they're taking away legal avenues, people are going to pursue illegal avenues," he continued as the smell of cannabis wafted through the crowd. "They're just enhancing the black market."
— Victoria Kim in Los Angeles and Lee Romney in Oakland
Photo: Agents from the DEA and IRS remove a large bag of cannabis and light fixtures from the Oaksterdam gift shop during an early-morning multi-agency raid Monday. Credit: Peter DaSilva / EPA.