Oaksterdam University, a center that offers training for workers in the marijuana industry, and several of the organization’s related buildings were raided Monday morning by federal agents.
According to Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam University’s executive chancellor, federal agents raided five Oaksterdam-related locations around 8 am, including the home of founder Richard Lee and the organization’s downtown dispensary, storage unit, school, and the former site of the Blue Sky coffee shop, the last four of which are located on Broadway in between 19th and 15th Streets.
Lee was briefly detained and then released, Jones said, but as of approximately 11:30 am four employees were still detained inside the other Oaksterdam facilities, which were roped off with police tape. US Marshalls, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Department of the Treasury agents as well as Oakland Police Department officers were visible outside of the buildings.
“It’s not only an attack on Richard, it’s an attack on the voters of California,” said Jones. “Richard was permitted. We teach people safety and responsibility under state law. We’re wasting our federal resources going after the regulators.”
As the raid continued throughout the morning, a noisy crowd of at least 100 people gathered up and down the block chanting “DEA, go away!” and carrying signs that read “Respect our state’s rights” and “Cannabis is medicine.” Pipes and joints were visible as people openly smoked marijuana in the streets.
“We’re here because we need access to our medicine in a safe and responsible way,” said protester Roger LaChance as he stood in front of the 15th Street storage unit.
At around noon, DEA agents were seen carrying black trash bags out of the university building and putting them inside a white semi truck, on which someone had painted “DEA, go away!”
The crowd around the truck shouted “Shame on you!” and a few protesters sat in front of the truck in the intersection of 17th Street and Broadway.
As of noon police had stopped northbound traffic on Broadway between 14th and 17th Streets. Earlier this morning 15 Street had been closed off at Franklin, but the road has been reopened and cars passing by honked in support of the crowd.
Oakland city councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at large) rode up on her bike around 11 am and told the press that Oakland officials had not been briefed in advance about the raid, and did not know what crime had allegedly been committed and who might be charged with that crime. “If there was a crime, we’re not sure who the victim is,” she said.
Kaplan said that the federal government should be focusing more on getting illegal guns off the street than on cracking down on marijuana. “If we have extra law enforcement resources available we need them to be fighting illegal guns,” she said. “We have a crisis. We struggle in this economy to find resources to have enough law enforcement to go after illegal guns, go after murderers.”
In recent years, Oakland’s city government has encouraged the medical marijuana industry to take root in the city, including approving the permitting of large-scale marijuana farms and increasing the number of dispensaries permitted in the city. In September, the city was also the site of a marijuana street festival.
But state and federal authorities have taken a tougher stance on the sale of marijuana. In 2010, California voters gave the thumbs down to Proposition 19, which would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. (Medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 1996 after the passage of Proposition 215.)
Last autumn the US Department of Justice began a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, including sending eviction notices to several in the Bay Area.
As of noon, a crowd remained outside of the Oaksterdam locations and the raid appeared to still be underway.
Update 1:15 pm: Shortly after 12:30 pm, about 50 officers exited Oaksterdam University, some carrying white boxes which were placed into law enforcement vehicles in a nearby parking lot. Protesters surrounded the vehicles to try to keep them from leaving. “You’re stealing our medicine!” someone shouted.
About a dozen Oakland police officers moved the crowd back, allowing the vehicles to depart. The movement of the crowd was conducted peacefully.
As the white semi truck and other vehicles left, about 30 people took to the street, some chanting “They take O.U. [Oaksterdam University], we take Broadway.”
By 1 p.m., police had peacefully cleared the street again and most of the federal agents had left, although some crowd members continued to follow departing police officers to their cars while chanting at them.
Broadway had been re-opened in both directions, as had the intersection at 15th Street and Franklin.
You can find Oakland North’s complete coverage of marijuana-related issues here, including a history of how Oakland became ground zero for the legal cannabis argument, and this 2010 audio interview with Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee.