Federal Agents Raid Oaksterdam Marijuana School

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Noah Berger / AP

U.S. marshals stand at the entrance of Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, April 2, 2012.

The doors to Oakland’s “higher” education institution known as Oaksterdam University remained blocked off by yellow caution tape Tuesday after the school was targeted in a federal raid Monday afternoon. An army of agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Marshals Service descended on the campus, which is famed for its training in the medical-marijuana industry.

Agents carted out a number of file boxes, safes and trash bags from the downtown campus.  They also targeted the apartment and marijuana dispensary owned by the school’s founder, Richard Lee (who is one of the state’s most vocal marijuana activists), carrying away dozens of marijuana plants concealed in bags. According to Oaksterdam officials, Lee and four other school administrators were temporarily detained. IRS spokeswoman Arlette Lee said that agents were serving a federal search warrant but refused to comment further.

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The school, founded in 2007, has seen more than 17,000 students through its doors for training classes. In a 2011 story, TIME writer Jason Motlagh described an average Oaksterdam classroom: “[T]he sallow-faced hippy-skater types that one expects to find sit beside middle-aged professionals in business attire, united in their zeal for the pungent green leaf.”

Following the raid, while U.S. Marshals ensured the Oaksterdam building was blocked off, a contingent of demonstrators showed up to voice their opposition to the federal action. Many held signs demanding an end to pot crackdowns. Marijuana smoke not so subtly wafted through the air.

The raid is thought to be a direct hit to the heart of California’s bustling medical marijuana movement. Lee was instrumental in funding and rallying support behind Proposition 19, the 2010 ballot initiative in California that would have legalized pot in the state. It was defeated by a narrow 8-point margin, which led to a statewide crackdown on dispensaries. But Oakland had long stood as a safe haven for marijuana dealers, causing many to question the meaning of the Monday raid.

Oakland has four medical marijuana dispensaries open within its city limits and recently issued permits to four more. But with Oaksterdam’s shuttering, many wonder if this will throw those planned dispensaries into jeopardy.

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