Richard Lee, whose bid to legalize marijuana in California brought him international attention, plans to give up ownership of his Oakland-based marijuana businesses after a federal raid this week seized many of their assets, including plants, bank accounts, records and computers.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. Over 20 years…. I kind of feel like I’ve done my time,” Lee said Thursday. “It’s time for others to take over.”
Lee said he would remain an outspoken marijuana advocate. “I believe that cannabis prohibition is unjust and counterproductive,” he said. “What I’ve done is ethical, and I tried to use the resources that I had to do everything I could to change the laws.”
In some of his most extensive comments since the raid, Lee acknowledged that he was worried he could face major federal drug charges. It’s a risk he has lived with for many years, first as an underground pot grower and then as the leader of a serious legalization effort, which drew vigorous opposition from the federal government.
“I never wanted to be the quote unquote leader of the legalization movement,” he said in a telephone interview. “I saw myself as just one small soldier in a big war. But I look at it as a battlefield promotion.”
The former rock-band roadie and wheelchair-bound paraplegic, Lee, 49, is one of the highest-profile marijuana activists in the nation, if not the world. He became the telegenic spokesman for ending pot prohibition after he spent more than $1.5 million trying to pass Proposition 19 in 2010.
Lee’s Oaksterdam University, the first marijuana trade school in the nation, remains open, although its classes have been scaled back. Lee’s dispensary is also open. He plans to transfer the businesses to new operators but said he will shut down his marijuana nursery because his stock of mother plants, which he had nurtured for years, was confiscated.
— John Hoeffel
Photo: Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee teaches one of many classes last May in Oakland on cultivation, history and laws for medical marijuana. Credit: Peter DaSilva / For the Los Angeles Times.