Federal agents serving a federal search warrant entered Oakland, California’s Oaksterdam University with power saws and a sledgehammer in a joint raid Monday, April 2nd 2012 and cordoned off the state’s “first cannabis industry training school” with yellow caution tape.
Agents were from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division.
Arlette Lee, an IRS spokeswoman, confirmed that the federal agencies were conducting a joint investigation, but could not give any further details as to why they were there, only noting that the warrant and documents relating to the investigation were under seal, and stating “We’re not able to comment as far as the nature of this ongoing investigation.”
Less than three weeks ago preliminary approvals for four new medical marijuana dispensaries were issued by Oakland city officials despite the fact that federal prosecutors, asserting that federal law supersedes California’s state law legalizing the use of medical marijuana, have forced hundreds of others to close recently, even asserting pressure on landlords who rent spaces to storefront operators of the dispensaries. Officials have cited their concerns over dispensaries getting too large, or too close to schools and parks amongst their reasons, but have also noted their suspicions that the state laws are being used as a front to cover large-scale and large for-profit drug sales and trafficking. However, officials still continue to assert they are not interested in prosecuting seriously ill sick people and those are who are caring for them despite many arrests of individuals and seizures of personal use plants indicating the contrary.
Where do we draw the line between the compassion that wants the seriously sick and those in extreme physical pain to have legal access to medicines that reduce their suffering, and the indifference to a flourishing underground market that barely hides behind the mask of helping the ill? This is the conundrum often associated with the use of cannabis as medicine, that is, the legalization of medical marijuana.
In 1996 California was the first state to make the use of marijuana for legitimate medical purposes legal under state law when Proposition 215 – The Compassionate Use Act – passed with a 56% yes vote. Prop 215 permitted the seriously ill in California the right to personally obtain and use marijuana without criminal prosecution or sanction where it would provide relief as a treatment option or benefit the health of the patient, as long as it was deemed appropriate for their condition, and recommended to them by their doctor. The Proposition further protected doctors from incurring legal or professional sanctions as a result of recommending marijuana to a patient for medical purposes.
Medical marijuana is recommended by doctors to treat a variety of conditions including: cancer, AIDS, arthritis, migraine, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, and many more.
Since then, 15 other states have passed similar initiatives legalizing the use of medicinal cannabis.
Oaksterdam University, founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, proudly totes on its official website that it is America’s first cannabis college:
“Quality Training for the Cannabis Industry
America’s first cannabis college was founded in 2007 to provide students with the highest quality training for the cannabis industry. Our faculty is comprised of the most recognized names in the California cannabis legalization movement. Since opening its doors in November of 2007, thousands of students have taken classes with the hope of entering the budding cannabis job field.”
Wheelchair-bound Richard Lee, 49, suffered from a severe spinal injury while working as a lighting technician and has been a loud voice and active advocate in the legalization movement for many years. His home was also raided Monday by agents using a search warrant during the same day that the same agencies raided the school he founded. Lee was detained for questioning but later released according to DEA special agent Joycelyn Barnes who confirmed that Lee’s apartment was searched.
The news of the raids, both on Lee’s home and the University, sparked protests from dozens of protesters who gathered outside the school to express their outrage and shock over the day’s events.
Given the current political climate and the ongoing power struggle between federal and state government as to the validity of California’s medical marijuana law’s legality, no one, especially not patients who rely on medicinal cannabis to treat their illness, feel safe. Meanwhile, the 15 other states that have passed similar laws are all watching closely to see how things pan out for Californians.
In the end the outcome is unclear, but one thing seems certain, the more difficult it becomes for those with a legitimate medical need to access recommended medicine with health benefits, the larger and stronger – not weaker – the underground market will grow and flourish.
What a vicious cycle.