© 2021 KALW
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Is this the beginning of the end for medical cannabis in California?


The traditional weather prediction for March is that if it comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. This year the aphorism may also apply to April for the Bay Area medical cannabis community. 

It’s become a bit of a tradition for the US Drug Enforcement Agency to undertake highly-publicized raids or other actions near the calendar date of April 20 – that’s 4/20,a slang term denoting a time to smoke marijuana.  But this year they came early, raiding Oaksterdam University in Oakland on April 3.

The DEA has been forcing the closure of certain dispensaries in the Bay Area, and around the state, since last October. But Oaksterdam is a trade school, not a dispensary. Following the raid, founder and president Richard Lee announced that he is getting out of the business. The school still plans a seminar this weekend (April 21 & 22), but an announcement on their website says, “Unfortunately we do not feel we can offer our Advanced Seminar in April, or specialty electives at this time.”

What were the reasons for the raid? All the DEA says is, “The court documents are still under seal, so we are unable to provide any additional details,” leaving observers to speculate.

It has not gone unnoticed that Oaksterdam’s Lee was the main funder of Prop. 19, officially called the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, which voters rejected last election. Three new ballot measures proposing changes in cannabis law were planned for this November’s ballot, but none has found the necessary financial backing. Organizers have decided to wait until another election cycle to reintroduce new reform measures. As The Medical Marijuana Business Daily cautiously summed up the situation: “Now, it seems, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.”

 It’s also possible that the DEA raid on Oaksterdam was a warning to the City of Oakland, which last month approved four new cannabis dispensaries. If so, City Council member Rebecca Kaplan didn’t get the message. She said after the raid that if federal law enforcement wants to do something in Oakland, there are much bigger problems they can work on – such as homicide prevention.

In San Francisco, David Chiu and five other members of the Board of Supervisors either spoke or were represented at a protest in front of City Hall the day after that raid, expressing similar views.

“One of the things that is beautiful about our city is that we are the City of Saint Francis,” said Board President Chiu. “We are a city that stands for compassion.

Yet another theory is that the whole thing is part of a plan to make President Obama look tough on drugs before November. Robert MacCoun, in UC-Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, predicted last winter when I interviewed him that the Obama Administration would put on a show of force as the election approached.

"Every four years we enter a Presidential ‘silly season,’ where candidates make pronouncements about law and order that are ill-considered,” he said. “It’s usually not a good time to discuss rational drug policy.”

Will things calm down by the end of the month, so April can go out like a lamb for cannabis advocates?  Only the DEA can answer that. And they’re not talking.


Here are two events marking the 4/20 “holiday.”

Friday, April 20:  Protest at the Federal Building, Oakland, beginning at 11:30am, followed by a march.

Saturday, April 21: Deep Green Fest, Richmond, CA