Major backer of Calif. pot legalization calls it quits

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, April 6, 2012 15:55 EDT
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California marijuana activist Richard Lee. Photo: Screengrab via YouTube.
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The man who funded a large swath of the marijuana legalization campaign activities during California’s 2010 election season has called it quits following a federal raid earlier this week on his business in Oakland.

Richard Lee, who ran Oaksterdam University, said Friday he’s wrapping it up — and he didn’t mean a blunt. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “Over 20 years…. I kind of feel like I’ve done my time. It’s time for others to take over.”

The prolific marijuana activist, at 49-years-old, has done more for cannabis legalization than almost any other person in the United States. During California’s debate over Prop. 19 in 2010, Lee donated more than $1.5 million to further the cause, using his cash-flush medical marijuana training facility as a base of operations.

Though bound to a wheelchair due to his non-functioning legs, Lee says he will continue to be a crusader for cannabis, but not at the level he once was. Oaksterdam University, however, remains open, but its marijuana nursery has been shut down. Lee also owns a dispensary, which remained open following the raid.

Prior to the raid, Lee had claimed he would again pursue his legalization agenda for the 2012 election season. It’s not clear what he plans to do now, if anything.

It’s also not clear if he will face federal drug charges stemming from Monday’s raid, but federal prosecutors normally do not go after individuals if they cannot show them to be cultivating 100 plants or more — a key threshold for mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Authorities said they were acting under a sealed order in Monday’s raid, and they were accompanied by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

U.S. Attorneys have been using the IRS and DEA in conjunction of late, needling many shops into closing by peering into their finances, and pulling out the bulletproof vests and shotguns when that’s not enough.

Marijuana for medical use has been legal in California since 1996. Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have also legalized the drug for medical use. Despite this advancing trend, the DEA still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I drug: the most restrictive classification available, reserved for substances with no medical value.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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