When Dale Sky Jones, the executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, walked into the school’s building at 1600 Broadway on Monday afternoon shortly after a raid by federal agents, one of the first things she saw was an Oaksterdam University banner, she said, “torn down and crumpled on the floor.”
Doors that had been unlocked were open, locked file cabinets were broken and files were missing, Jones said. Drawers were disheveled. The marijuana plants, around 80 in all, had been cut down. The computers were gone. A horticulturist at the school, a center that offers training for workers in the marijuana industry, was upset, Jones said, because agents “used his clippers to cut his plants down.”
“They tried to demoralize us,” Jones said, “but they didn’t.”
Jones and other Oaksterdam employees were able to assess the damage done during the federal raid soon after agents left the offices with boxes and bags of marijuana-related material and documents shortly before 1 pm Monday. By then, four employees who had been detained since the raid began before 8 am while agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Marshall’s office searched the building, had been released.
Joycelyn Barnes, an agent with the San Francisco DEA’s Office, confirmed agents did “execute search warrants” at Oaksterdam locations, but couldn’t comment further about what crimes the agency believed had been committed because the case is “ongoing” and the affidavit is sealed. Barnes said no arrests were made.
For Oaksterdam employees, the question is what comes next. Jones said all of the employees “lost their jobs” when the raid happened because as Jones said, Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee “can’t guarantee any of us have a paycheck.” The former employees now have to volunteer to work at the training center or the dispensary located two blocks north on Broadway, which was also raided. Jones said the dispensary re-opened Tuesday with the help of “local patient cultivators that understood our collective needed to be replenished. And they came through.”
Jones said Lee has been asked by his lawyer to “be cautious” as the case is ongoing. Lee’s home was also raided Monday morning and he was briefly detained. Jones said Oaksterdam leaders are discussing what to do next, a conversation that has involved city officials because Oaksterdam is licensed to operate as a dispensary by the city.
“We’re talking about a permitted dispensary here in Oakland, one of four, and they serve a patient base that is already strained,” Jones said. “We need the ones we have. We’re still underserving our population.”
While medicinal marijuana is legal in California, approved by voters in 1996, and dispensaries are permitted in Oakland, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. How federal law is enforced can also be confusing. Attorney General Eric Holder, in formal guidelines to federal prosecutors in 2009, wrote that the DEA is still “committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act” which bans the use of marijuana but also that “the focus of federal resources should not be on individuals whose actions are in compliance with existing state laws.”
California’s federal attorneys announced in early October 2011 that they would be cracking down on the state’s medical marijuana industry. Lee’s landlord for the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a dispensary that had been operating on 17th Street, then received a letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in late October that ordered Lee’s eviction. The dispensary soon after moved to the site of the Oaksterdam Museum, where it is currently located on Broadway.
Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-large) was quick to come to Lee’s defense on Monday, arriving at Oaksterdam University at 11 am and holding a brief, impromptu press conference with Jones. “The regulation system in Oakland has succeeded,” Kaplan said on Monday. “And what we have here are dispensaries that have been able to be good neighbors, that have been able to act responsibly. Richard Lee, for example, was chair of his neighborhood crime council.”
Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an organization that pushes for the legalization of marijuana, said on Tuesday afternoon that he “wasn’t terribly surprised” when he heard about the raid early Monday morning.
“I’ve know Richard for 17 years, and Richard has always known that unless the federal law changes, and he and others were going to engage in the commercial behavior that they have been for so long,” St. Pierre said. “You’re going to wake up one day and say, ‘Is this the day my number comes up?’ He’s always known that.”
St. Pierre said Lee’s high visibility concerning marijuana issues—Lee spent $1.5 million on the signature drive and campaign for Proposition 19, a 2010 state ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana—may have caused him to be targeted by federal agents.
“A lot of people are thinking this could be it, this could be the high-water mark,” St. Pierre said. “This is a best in breed being taken down, in a way.”
You can read our coverage of Monday’s federal raid here. 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.