In early April 2012, Lee said that he is going to give up his ownership of Oaksterdam University, following a federal raid on the facility. Lee said, "I've been doing this for a long time. Over 20 years.... I kind of feel like I've done my time. It's time for others to take over."
In addition to being the leading force behind the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative (2010), Lee helped lead the campaign to pass Measure Z in Oakland in 2004.
Lee describes the move to legalize marijuana as "...a reverse tax revolt – no taxation without legalization."
Impact and motivation
According to Timm Herdt, chief of the Ventura County Star, Lee has "...a track record of advancing the cause of eliminating marijuana laws."
Lee says that his fight to legalize marijuana is spurred by the belief that it is a civil rights issue: "I put this in the class of a civil rights issue. It's unfair and unjust to lock people up for using cannabis when it's safer than alcohol. ... I got into this because of my support of law enforcement. People are losing respect for the law."
An encounter with violence, and how the police handled it, also spurs Lee's activism. Lee and a friend were assaulted by carjackers with pistols while in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. When the police were called, it took 50 minutes for them to arrive. As he waited for the police to arrive, Lee reflected that the slow response time might be due to the fact that police officers had more things to do than deal with violence predators, because police officers are often tasked with tracking down marijuana use: "It made me think we had no protection...if police were wasting time looking for people like me who weren't sociopaths or predators."
Freedom Fighter of the Year
n 2006, the Cannabis Cup -- a fall festival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands sponsored by High Times magazine -- presented Lee with its "Freedom Fighter of the Year" award. While in Amsterdam to receive the award, Lee was inspired by the cannabis business education opportunities he observed in the city.
In October 2011, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag asked Coffeeshop Blue Sky's landlord to evict the business. Coffeeshop Blue Sky is Lee's main marijuana dispensary.
Lee was born in Houston, Texas, one of five sons of Robert and Ann Lee, who describe themselves as "Goldwater Republicans." In Texas, "his testosterone-charged youth [was] filled with Harley-Davidsons, ultralight aircraft and ski-slope derring-do."
In his 20s, Lee worked as a lighting technician. In 1990, at age 27, while working on stage lights for an Aerosmith concert in New Jersey, Lee fell off the scaffolding, breaking his back. The resulting injury left him paralyzed below the waist.
During a period of rehabilitation in Houston, Lee came across an article that discussed using marijuana to treat pain in paralytic patients. The article contrasted marijuana to what was then the standard treatment: "Before the current research, the standard treatment prescribed lots of Valium. People would be Valium zombies. They'd stay at home all day. When they switched to cannabis, they'd go back to college, get married."
In 1992, Lee opened "Legal Marijuana - The Hemp Store," a clothing store specializing in hemp clothing, in Houston.
- The Man Bankrolling California's Pot Initiative
- Hashing it out with marijuana activist and educator Richard Lee
- San Francisco Chronicle, "Backers of legal pot eye ballot," June 11, 2009
- Counterpunch, "Reconciling Medical Pot Use and Legalization," October 5, 2009
- Los Angeles Times, "Oakland activist to turn over marijuana businesses after raid," April 6, 2012
- CNN, "Drive to legalize marijuana rolls on in California," July 24, 2009
- Sacramento Bee, "As medical marijuana dispensaries proliferate, some argue that the state should get a cut of the action," January 10, 2010
- Ventura County Star, "Herdt: Measure that could stir the political pot," October 7, 2009
- Houston Chronicle, "Houston native a force behind California’s vote to legalize pot," May 17, 2010
- Sacramento Bee, "Man behind California pot initiative is a force in 'Oaksterdam'," May 19, 2010 (dead link)
- Truthout, "One Small Soldier in a Big War," December 16, 2009
- Bay Citizen, "Feds Target Leader of Marijuana Legalization Movement," October 21, 2011
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