Feds Close a School
by Dom Armentano: Is
Gasoline Cheaper Than Water?
In the early
morning hours of April 2, federal agents of the Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA) and the IRS, in full battle gear, swept down on 1600
Broadway in Oakland, CA and did the unthinkable: they closed a school.
When the Feds left later that same day (under the protection of
the local Oakland Police Department), they carted away several office
computers, file cabinets, and dozens of marijuana plants.
University had been operating legally in Oakland since 2007. The
brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Lee, Oaksterdam was a trade school
of sorts whose part-time professional faculty provided educational
services that detailed the science, law, and commercial opportunities
associated with cannabis (marijuana). Over 15,000 students had paid
tuition for such services over the years and the thriving university
community had contributed mightily to the revival of downtown Oakland.
Let's be clear.
Oaksterdam was NOT a drug or marijuana dispensary (there are several
licensed dispensaries in Oakland) and never sold cannabis. The pot
plants that the DEA hauled away were being grown and displayed solely
for educational purposes related directly to the curriculum. The
instructors who taught at Oaksterdam were engaged in a legitimate
educational activity with students who paid tuition for those services.
Nonetheless, the IRS and DEA agents came in with guns (and yet to
be undisclosed federal warrants) and the school, for all practical
purposes, has now been shuttered. Where is the ACLU?
The raid at
Oaksterdam (and the simultaneous raid by the IRS at Richard Lee's
private residence where records and bank accounts were seized) was
not totally unexpected. Indeed, the federal authorities over the
past several months have displayed an increasing hostility to the
public's growing acceptance of the availability of medical marijuana
and to the commerce associated with supplying it to patients.
fact that medical marijuana is legal in 16 states, the DEA has recently
seized or threatened to seize the assets of hundreds of landlords
in California who rent facilities for the dispensing of medical
marijuana. Richard Lee, the owner of Oaksterdam, and an outspoken
advocate and financial "angel" for marijuana law reform
in California, is simply the latest victim of an overall federal
pushback to silence the growing movement to rationalize cannabis
consumption in the U. S.
effect of federal harassment is already working. Lee, who was already
under the gun with a 2010 IRS audit for alleged improper business
deductions, has now severed his relationship with Oaksterdam and
has publicly stated that he is "stepping back" from several
cannabis related activities. And as the fear of asset seizure closes
dozens of cannabis dispensaries in California, the reform mood clearly
has turned gloomy.
legal questions beg to be answered. First, since California had
long ago legalized the "cultivation and possession" of
cannabis for medical purposes (Prop. 215, 1996), under what authority
can the Feds threaten local licensed medical dispensaries that are
operating consistent with the intent of state law? Secondly, why
hasn't California's attorney general Kamala Harris brought immediate
suit against the Feds to halt the asset seizures and general harassment
of local businessmen?
the case of Oaksterdam University, why don't private schools, licensed
by the city, have the right to exist (without federal interference)
and determine their own curriculum and display native plants as
part of a legitimate educational experience? And if they don't have
these basic rights, what sort of country do we really live in?
Armentano is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford (CT)
and the author of Antitrust
(Independent Institute, 1998) and Antitrust:
The Case for Repeal
(Mises Institute, 1999). He has published articles, op/eds and reviews
in The New
York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Financial Times, Financial
Post, Hartford Courant, National Review, Antitrust Bulletin
and many other journals.
© 2012 Dom Armentano
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