Medical pot advocate Richard Lee forced aside

He put marijuana legalization on the ballot. He convinced the city of Oakland to lower marijuana-related arrests on its list of priorities. And now, Richard Lee, founder of the famous Oaksterdam University, is stepping down.

Lee’s “university” was raided by the Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals last Monday. Oaksterdam sold medical cannabis and offered informational classes on marijuana for years until the raid.

Lee says stepping down would be the best thing for his current legal battle, but business will continue as normal with volunteers instead of employees. Lee will retain ownership in his businesses, but is allowing others to take the helm:

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I kind of feel like I’ve done my time and it’s time for others to take over.”

All employees at Oaksterdam and Coffeeshop Blue Sky dispensary were laid off Thursday as Lee no longer has the funds to pay them:

“Pretty much, I was put out of business on Monday.”

Volunteers will now take over until the dispensaries are able to officially reopen.

Any business classified by the federal government as trafficking controlled substances is not allowed to deduct many of its expenses. This rule hurt Lee’s businesses dramatically. This tactic is a common way the IRS makes life difficult for dispensaries before shutting them down.

Matt Kumin, a San Francisco attorney who helped litigate cases involving medical cannabis, said this does not necessarily mean the end for Oaksterdam:

“You can actually survive this, if you operate correctly. It can be a tax hit … But it doesn’t have to be fatal.”