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. 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. ” Lee was detained during Monday’s raid by the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, but not arrested. His allies had feared he would be arrested in 2010, when he spoke frequently, candidly and enthusiastically about his pot ventures. On Thursday, Lee suggested that, if he is charged, it could become another watershed event in the march toward legalization by turning more Americans against the drug war.
Lee said his operations had been audited by the IRS, but he did not know what triggered the raid and seizures. “The company is bankrupt,” he said, suggesting that employees, who could lose jobs, and Oakland, which could lose revenues from taxes on marijuana, were also victims. Lee said he would remain an outspoken marijuana advocate. “I believe that cannabis prohibition is unjust and counterproductive . . . 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.”
The former rock-band roadie is one of the highest-profile marijuana activists in the nation, if not the world. His school drew wide-eyed media coverage after it opened in 2007, helping him promote his vision that marijuana could be a legitimate business. A paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, Lee, 49, became the telegenic spokesman for ending pot prohibition after he spent more than $1.5 million trying to pass Proposition 19 to legalize the drug in 2010. He is a well-known and highly regarded figure in Oakland, where city officials praise his businesses for resuscitating a shabby downtown area embarrassingly close to City Hall.
As Mr. Lee takes some well earned R & R, do you have the courage to step into his place?
Find this story at The Boston Herald.
[image: google images oaksterdam]
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