In an action both stunning and predictable given the current climate of medical marijuana in California, federal agents from the DEA, IRS, and U.S. Marshals Service raided Oaksterdam University on Monday at approximately 7:30 a.m. PST.
Later that morning hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the barricaded school in downtown Oakland going face-to-face with federal agents and cops (agents were aided in the raid by the Oakland Police Department). Dozens more officers were inside Oaksterdam seizing evidence that they later hauled into a waiting semi-trailer truck – including lighting gear, boxes, files, and 30 garbage bags stuffed with medicine and plants in various stages of growth.
Four Oaksterdam employees were inside the facility when federal agents arrived with a search warrant shortly after sunrise. None were reportedly arrested, but only detained and then released by the agents. Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee was at his residence Monday morning when the feds broke down his door (apparently because the wheelchair-bound Lee didn’t answer their pounding quickly enough).
Lee was also allegedly detained but not arrested according to second-hand reports from reputable sources on the scene. Lee was allegedly instructed by personal confidantes to maintain a low profile during the subsequent raid protest and did not appear. The feds reportedly raided other Lee-rented properties in the area and confiscated evidence from those sites as well.
In a scene reminiscent of anti-Iraq War protests in 2003, medical marijuana activists staged their own barricade, blocking the semi-truck as well as other federal vehicles containing confiscated evidence when the feds attempted to drive away from the scene. Nobody was arrested as the feds and cops took turns peeling people off of Broadway Avenue while passing cars honked in solidarity. The semi later managed to back up and exit in a different direction, but a mini-van was so impeded by protesters that the feds had to remove the boxes one by one and carry them away by hand, much to the delight of the cannabis activists.
Most of Northern California’s leading medical marijuana advocates were on the scene, including Prop 215 co-author and Director of California NORML, Dale Gieringer, and professional medi-pot trial witness and author Chris Conrad.
“It’s the drug war police state at work again. It’s a real disgrace that our federal government can’t do anything better than attack legitimate spokespeople for medical marijuana like Richard Lee when you have all these illegal (drug) cartels,” a frustrated Gieringer responded. “Richard’s been a premier advocate for legally regulated medical marijuana.”
Conrad was less delicate in his criticism: “The DEA is the moral equivalent of the Taliban, going after schools that teach what they don’t like. And like the Taliban, the feds are using brute force to impose their will on the people.”
At the City Hall rally held a couple hours after the raid was completed, Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the revved-up gathering “Democracy was attacked today. The voters of California passed Prop 215 and it is the law of the land, so we are standing up for medical cannabis and the rights of voters. We need police resources on fighting violent crimes to stop the shootings.”
Kaplan’s last comment was a reference to the tragic shooting at an East Oakland Christian college Monday that left seven people dead and three others wounded and occurred the very same morning as the Oaksterdam raids.
Councilwoman Kaplan told HIGH TIMES that the Oakland City Council will respond to the federal raids, but that they first want to sort out the entire incident, including determining the specific charges against Lee and Oaksterdam – if there indeed are any.
The only two arrests were the result of protests – and both involved media members. West Coast Leaf assistant Danielle Schumacher was arrested because she was under the mistaken impression that Richard Lee had been arrested and wanted to be in solidarity with Lee. At this time it is uncertain whether or not Schumacher has been released from custody. In the more celebrated incident, half-a-dozen federal agents descended upon progressive Berkeley radio station KPFA-FM host Jose Ruiz following a contentious shoving match between the officers and protesters on nearby 17th Street.
A medical marijuana rally that had previously been scheduled to take place Tuesday in San Francisco and includes a march on the S.F. federal building by activists to demand that U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag end the threats and raids on medical cannabis dispensaries will almost certainly take on an even greater significance in light of the Oaksterdam raid.
Check back for the latest in-depth coverage as this story continues to develop.