Oaksterdam University, which calls itself the first marijuana “college” in the U.S., was raided by the Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Federal agents raided the Oakland, California-based school today to serve a search warrant as part of a continuing investigation, said Arlette Lee, a spokeswoman for the IRS. The warrant was filed under seal in federal court, she said, declining to comment further. Jack Gillund, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco, also confirmed the raid and declined to comment.
The school was founded in 2007. It offers classes in the chemistry and growing of marijuana, methods of ingestion, and a class on the legal issues concerning cannabis, including an introduction on the conflict between state and federal laws over the drug, according to its website.
“Agents with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division are searching the university, owned by Richard Lee, at the corner of 16th Street and Broadway,” the school said on its website.
The conflict between California and federal authorities over the enforcement of marijuana sales has increased since last year, when a Justice Department memo to U.S. attorneys said large-scale growers, sellers and distributors of marijuana may be prosecuted in states that have passed laws permitting medical use of the drug.
California was the first state to permit marijuana consumption for medical purposes when voters approved a 1996 ballot measure. The dispensaries generate sales of as much as $1.3 billion a year and sales taxes of as much as $105 million annually, according to the Board of Equalization, the state’s tax administrator.
Last year’s Justice Department memo supplemented a 2009 letter advising prosecutors that enforcement efforts against people using marijuana to treat cancer or other serious illnesses in accordance with state laws may not be “an efficient use of federal resources.” The 2009 letter was “never intended to shield” larger scale cultivation, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote in last year’s memo.
State laws or local ordinances are “not a defense” to civil or criminal prosecution of such cultivation, according to the memo.
Lee didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Some San Francisco supervisors and state politicians planned a demonstration in the city tomorrow to protest federal crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Oaksterdam University sponsored a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in California. The measure failed in a statewide vote.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at email@example.com