Earlier this month, the federal government came into Oakland, Calif., against the will of the voters, local government and the police department to raid a gift shop, museum, school and a fully compliant medical marijuana dispensary. Federal agencies used a sealed warrant and did not reveal the purpose of the raid. As the raid occurred at Oaksterdam University, a non-accredited educational facility that offers training for the cannabis industry, city officials and hundreds of locals protested. The local police department refused to escort the federal agents out, and shortly after, the county executive issued a statement condemning the raids. Federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service took computers, documents and plants.
The U.S. government targeted the man who owns these businesses — the same man whom city officials credit with revitalizing downtown Oakland — Richard Lee. Why would the federal government, after agreeing to respect states’ medical marijuana laws, knowing it would hurt the City of Oakland, go out of its way to target him and try to shut down his business, Oaksterdam University? Because of political oppression and intimidation.
Lee spent more than $1 million dollars to put Proposition 19 on the ballot. Prop 19 was the 2010 campaign that almost legalized marijuana in California and brought the issue to the mainstream culture. If the federal government could bring Lee and Oaksterdam University down, it would reduce the chance of other future efforts by him.
I got to know Richard personally when I took a semester off to work on the Prop 19 campaign. I worked out of one of the buildings that was raided this month. I often personally worked with Richard and much of the Oaksterdam staff. They’re not dangerous, and they cause no harm. This raid did not protect public safety in any way. Oaksterdam was targeted because in 2010 we stood up for a stance that the federal government didn’t agree with, and it doesn’t want that to happen again.
Raiding a school to oppress political and ideological views should be alarming to any student, professor, academic or proponent of free thought. The only way to respond to an act as political as this is by bringing this issue to where they don’t want it: the local U.S. House of Representatives races around the country, particularly in districts that are close. The Democrats need 25 seats to take control of the House, so both parties will be aggressively fighting over the close districts.
These Congressional campaigns give us a perfect opportunity to push the issue. If you want to join our effort, there are a number of effective ways you could help. You can write an op-ed or letter to the editor to promote awareness of the issue. You can also attend town halls and debates during your local U.S. House races to ask questions relating to this issue to get your representatives’ stances on the record. You can also take advantage of social media by creating an online email system that lets people you know automatically send a prewritten email to each candidate in your district asking their stance on this issue. You and your friends can even canvass the 4th of July or Memorial Day Parade that the candidates are attending. Or, you can contact me directly, and I’d be happy to help you get started.
Evan Nison is a senior business administration major and president of the college’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.