By Peter Hecht and Bill Lindelof
OAKLAND -- Federal agents are conducting a search of Oakland's Oaksterdam University, a training school for the medical marijuana industry.
Agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration arrived with a search warrant this morning at the school, variously called the Princeton of Pot and the Harvard of Hemp.
Arlette Lee, an IRS spokeswoman, said the agents are at the school as part of an ongoing investigation.
California's four U.S. attorneys announced in the fall that they would target for prosecution medical marijuana businesses that they believed were operating as for-profit enterprises in violation of the 1996 state ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in California.
Since then, enrollement at Oaksterdam University has been on the decline, thought 15,000 students have studied cannabis cultivation and related careers at the school since 2007.
Richard Lee, who founded Oaksterdam and bankrolled the unsuccessful 2010 ballot measure to legalize pot for adult recreational use in California, said he could not offer much insight into why his facility has been targeted by the government.
The raid drew hundreds medical marijuana users and Oaksterdam supporters to the school at 1600 Broadway. Some blocked law enforcement vehicles.
"This is a calculated attack ... on everybody who was trying to bring the cannabis industry into the light, and they're going after the leaders of this industry one by one," said Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam's executive chancellor.
Steve DeAngelo, whose Oakland Harborside Heatlh Center is billed as the world's largest dispensary, said he believed the federal government is directly targeting Lee.
"We're seeing American agents gong in and raiding a university," DeAngelo said. "They didn't distribute cannabis. They were distributing knowledge. It's not a coincidence they went after Richard Lee. They are trying to silence him."
More than 100 protesters crowded around U.S. marshals, DEA agents and Oakland police outside of Oaksterdam's main buildng. They shouted, "Shame!" and "DEA go away!"
Some laid down in front of a caravan of federal vehicles, including SUV's and and a rental truck.
Mira Ingram, 44, moved her motorized wheelchair in front of a large government truck to block it. "We need to stop them from leaving," said Ingram who uses marijuana to treat nerve damage from diabetes. "If they're gong to take all of our medicine, we need to stop them."
Police officers nudged her away from another vehicles twice. "I don't think they want to see the face of sick people."
Dan Rush, director of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division for the United Food and Commercial Workers, said the union represents about 100 employees working at Oaksterdam University, Lee's Oaksterdam Blue Sky marijuana dispensary and related businesses.
He said the raid threatens the livelihood of the employees who earn up to $60,000, plus health insurance and other benefits.
"Oaksterdam is a partner with the city of Oakland, and Richard Lee is permitted and compliant and we're here to stand by our members," Rush said.