* Cultivation school teaches production of high-grade pot
* California, other states have legalized medical marijuana
* Raid dovetails with broad federal crackdown on cultivation
(Adds details, quotes, background throughout)
By Noel Randewich
OAKLAND, Calif., April 2 Federal agents raided a
cannabis cultivation college on Monday in the San Francisco Bay
area widely known as the "Princeton of Pot" and the "Harvard of
Hemp," authorities said, as the U.S. government pressed its
clamp-down on medical marijuana.
The sweep turned the college, which offers courses in the
growing and dispensing of marijuana, into the latest flashpoint
between federal law enforcement and medical cannabis advocates
in California and other states where pot has been decriminalized
for medicinal purposes.
"This is clearly an attack on regulation," Oaksterdam
University Chancellor Dale Sky Jones said. "They just went after
a school that tries to teach people how to do things legally."
Several dozen protesters gathered at the school after the
raid, some of them openly smoking joints as they carried signs
that read "End federal interference" and "Cannabis is medicine."
Oakland police handcuffed at least one demonstrator, but the
reason for the arrest was not immediately clear.
Jones said veteran medical marijuana activist and Oaksterdam
founder Richard Lee was awakened on Monday morning by federal
agents conducting a separate search of his home, but he was not
Federal authorities said raids at Oaksterdam and other
unspecified locations were carried out under a federal search
warrant that was sealed by a judge, and t h ey gave few details.
David McCullick, a faculty member at Oaksterdam, said a
marijuana museum near the school and a medical cannabis
dispensary run by Lee were also raided. He said the school's
"grow lab" contained at most 80 to 90 small cannabis plants,
while the museum contained a single plant encased in glass.
"Here you've got a school that's licensed by the city," he
said. "It's just a school. It's freedom of speech," he said.
Joycelyn Barnes, special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration's San Francisco Division, said DEA officers were
joined by personnel from the Internal Revenue Service and the
U.S. Marshals Service in the operation.
Barnes said no arrests were anticipated from the raids, but
she declined to comment on specifics of the sweep. "This is just
part of the three agencies combining resources to investigate
criminality involving marijuana," she told Reuters.
SCHOOL FACED DECLINING ENROLLMENT
The raid at Oaksterdam, which opened in 2007 and bills
itself as the first cannabis college in the United States,
followed a report in the Sacramento Bee newspaper last month
that enrollment at the school had declined sharply since the
federal government began a broad crackdown on medical marijuana
dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
In California and other states that have legalized marijuana
for medical reasons, the U.S. government has sought in recent
months to shut down storefront medical cannabis shops and
greenhouses deemed by federal investigators to be serving as
drug-trafficking fronts, as well as those that are located close
to schools and parks.
Federal authorities have recently intensified their
crackdown in Colorado and Washington state, where voters will be
deciding in ballot initiatives in November whether to make those
states the first to legalize weed for recreational use.
A total of 16 states and the District of Columbia have
enacted some sort of legalized medical-marijuana statutes,
according to the National Drug Policy Alliance. But cannabis
remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law.
The Obama administration has said it would not single out
individual patients who possess or grow their own marijuana in
states with medical pot statutes. But U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder and various federal prosecutors have said the government
would continue to target operations that support for-profit,
illegal drug dealing under the guise of medical marijuana.
Oaksterdam holds classes on Wednesday mornings and one
weekend every month.
One demonstrator outside the school on Monday, a 50-year-old
laborer on disability with a back injury, said he had taken a
class called "Horticulture 102."
"I tried it (marijuana) and it worked," said Michael Little
Bear. "So the next step was I wanted to make it. There's
goodness here. ... They teach the right way to do things," he
(Additional reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Writing by Steve Gorman;
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Frances Kerry)