SAN FRANCISCO A day after federal agents rousted him from his apartment and raided his famed Oakland cannabis college, a renowned California marijuana advocate said Tuesday he knows "they can indict me any day" and "arrest me any time."
So Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the architect of an unsuccessful 2010 ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California, hid in plain sight Tuesday.
He quietly pushed his wheelchair to the base of San Francisco City Hall, where hundreds of people, waving signs reading "Cannabis is Medicine," barely noticed him as speakers made fiery condemnations of a months-long U.S. government crackdown on medical marijuana businesses in the state.
The rally, scheduled before Monday's raid of Lee's properties, was staged to protest property forfeiture letters targeting landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco. Members of the city's Board of Supervisors promised to expedite permits for marijuana stores seeking to reopen in new locations if they are closed by the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, the crowd, which later marched on the nearby U.S. courthouse here, chanted, "Stop the war on Oakland!"
The reference was to the raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Marshals Service on Lee's cannabis industry trade school, his Oaksterdam Blue Sky marijuana dispensary and three of his other properties.
In a brief interview, Lee said federal agents served him with five search warrants alleging what he described as "cannabis and money crimes."
He said he is considering ways to reopen Oaksterdam, which has brought 15,000 students to downtown Oakland since 2007 to study marijuana cultivation and careers. "One way or another, Oaksterdam will fight on," he said.
Lee neither took the stage nor addressed the crowd at the San Francisco rally as Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam's executive chancellor, told the gathering to spread the word should Lee face charges that federal authorities are trampling on California's 1996 medical marijuana law.
"If Richard Lee goes before a jury," Jones said, "we'd better educate those jury pools."
U.S. authorities, including California spokeswomen for the DEA and IRS, have refused to comment on the raids in Oakland, other than to confirm that warrants had been served on Lee and his businesses.
Lee's attorney, Lawrence Lichter, said the IRS had previously audited his client's federal tax returns, and Lee subsequently paid additional taxes and penalties.
Lichter said he was troubled by the raids.
"I think the reason the (federal) warrants are sealed is because Richard is above-board and open," he said.
In San Francisco, eight of 27 dispensaries have closed amid threats of federal property seizures or charges. Supervisor David Campos said he will seek to streamline rules for establishments wanting to reopen.
"We want to make sure the rights of medical marijuana patients are protected in this city," he said.
Meanwhile, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu blasted the local U.S. attorney, Melinda Haag, and the U.S. Justice Department.
"The state of California has said that cannabis is medicine. And yet there are some confused attorneys in Washington, D.C., and there are some confused attorneys in the federal prosecutors' building around the corner," he said.
Two California Assembly members San Francisco Democrat Tom Ammiano and Fullerton Republican Chris Norby on Monday joined lawmakers from Maine, Colorado, New Mexico and Washington in signing a letter calling on the Justice Department to back off on states allowing medical marijuana.
"We call on the federal government not to interfere with our ability to control and regulate how medical marijuana is grown and distributed. Let us seek clarity rather than chaos," the letter read in part.
Ammiano is due to hold a Capitol hearing April 10 on legislation he has introduced to create a statewide regulatory system for California's cannabis industry.
Sacramento U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner has called California's once- burgeoning dispensary trade "an unregulated free-for-all." But federal authorities have given no indication whether added state oversight would affect their actions.
Editor's note: This article has been changed from the print version to correct the fact that Lee's properties were raided, but not seized. Corrected on April 4, 2012.