Richard Lee, who brought California its first university of cannabis and bankrolled a pot legalization initiative, said Monday's federal raids have persuaded him to give up his Oakland marijuana businesses but not his cause.
Lee confirmed Friday he will leave his famed Oaksterdam University and let others take over his Oaksterdam Blue Sky dispensary.
Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Monday raided Lee's apartment, university, dispensary and marijuana nursery, confiscating his plant inventory, a safe and other items.
Lee was neither charged nor arrested. But he said the federal raids, on top of an ongoing battle with the IRS, left him financially decimated.
"The nursery is bankrupt," Lee said. "All the stock was destroyed, all the assets seized."
Lee said his businesses were audited by the IRS in 2010 and he agreed to payments for taxes and interest. He said the agency sought more money and back taxes under an anti-drug trafficking code it cited in banning his deductions for payroll and business expenses because marijuana is illegal under federal law.
By Friday, Lee had collected more than 18,000 signatures on a online petition calling for an end to federal raids in states permitting medical marijuana and declaring his businesses were targeted in "a senseless act of intimidation."
Lee said a group is preparing to apply for a city permit to take over his dispensary.
Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam's executive vice chancellor, said Friday she will replace Lee as its president.
Jones said classes resumed Wednesday with a pre-scheduled civics session on "raid preparations and successful law enforcement encounters."
Lee cited "the stress and the pressure" for his decision to step aside and said he is hopeful he will avoid federal prosecution. "Hopefully, our misfortune will end cannabis prohibition sooner," he said.
A former concert stagehand, Lee found the marijuana cause after he was paralyzed in a fall at a New Jersey warehouse while working on lighting fixtures for an Aerosmith show. He went on to open a Houston hemp products store, then was drawn to California by the medical marijuana movement.
He became known as "the mayor of Oaksterdam" as he scooted in his wheelchair between his pot businesses and the school, which trained 15,000 people in cannabis cultivation and careers. He contributed $1.6 million to bankroll the unsuccessful Proposition 19, which sought to legalize marijuana beyond medical use.
Lee says he hopes to volunteer for pot legalization measures on November ballots in Colorado and Washington and work on a film project.
"We're looking at Oaksterdam, the movie," he said. "Hopefully, by the time we start doing it, we're going to have a happy ending."