Richard Lee

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You may have seen him in documentaries on CNBC or in the pages of HIGH TIMES, but for those who are unaware of the California based marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, it’s time you learn of the man behind the now infamous Proposition 19 (California’s bill which would have allowed for the possession, cultivation, sale and taxation of cannabis to adults over 21).

Lee, who spearheaded the effort by donating $1.4 million of his own money/gathering the 700,000 signatures needed to get Prop 19 on the ballot. He began opening a number of commercially viable businesses in Oakland, which include two coffee-shops (one which is doubled as a medical marijuana vendor), a gift shop, a student union, political headquarters, and in 2007, Oaksterdam University. We, here at The Austin420, recently had the opportunity to speak with Richard Lee as he spoke on a few topics, including the philosophy behind the university and his thoughts on Proposition 19. “Oaksterdam University is a trade-school for the Cannabis industry. We teach students the politics and legal issues, which is the most important thing we teach, and also the quality of producing and distributing Cannabis. The most important thing is to give people a solid background, the politics and legal issues, so they can work within Cannabis prohibition and its laws.”

With limited resources, Lee and company, were able to build a powerful coalition of cops, moms, law professionals, liberals, libertarians, conservatives, civil rights leaders, and unions, all sharing the one common goal of being hungry for change. If there is any kind of inspiration we can take from this story, it’s the fact that we as individuals (in the case of medical marijuana) also possess the same power and human right to express ourselves and inevitably, make change occur (non-violently), especially if it’s for something we truly believe in and know is morally right. “You just have to get political. You have to work with your local city council, county supervisors, commissioners, and support good candidates, and work to not elect bad candidates. It takes a lot of courage and sacrifice for people to stand up, at some point. You know, risk their own freedom and everything to make it happen.”

In making people aware of medical marijuana and its benefits, it’s quite important that we as supporters & activists respect and abide within the political process that we’ve been given to make the change we are seeking. In the case of those who are sick and cope with a debilitating condition, those who can benefit from its therapeutic use, it’s up to us to also be that voice and speak on behalf of our own realities. There’s no better proof than real-life testimonials from real people with real conditions. “It helps to put an even face on the issue.” Lee stated. “When you have really compelling patients, and constituents or elected officials talking to them, then that really helps. Starting local organizations, you know, whether it’s a NORML Chapter, or your own organization, but, you can’t do it by yourself, you need to reach out, and find other people who are interested in the issue and want to work on the issue, like-minded individuals.”

The acceptance of medical marijuana today has greatly differed than in years past, in that now, 16 states have signed and passed medical marijuana initiatives into law, setting an example for many other states that have only become more open to the idea. States that include Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Delaware, who all have med-pot bills in the works. With today’s choices in what we listen to, in what we watch, in what we teach, the acceptance of medical marijuana in our culture today is no longer as taboo of a topic as once was. “I guess that just more people are aware as they have more friends and family who have medical conditions that Cannabis helps. You get more and more people who are aware of it on a personal basis, first-hand basis.”

On November 2nd 2010, all eyes were on California as all awaited the outcome of Proposition 19 at the polls. To be honest, marijuana wasn’t any more legal in California (or anywhere in the U.S.) on November 3rd than on November 2nd, and though some may choose to see this vote as a loss, this is actually a victory, as the momentum behind its legalization, will only carry on that much more into 2012. Losing by a 9% margin isn’t defeat, but is mere proof of the power of the legalization movement and how marijuana itself, has evolved into a mainstream political issue, despite the ingrained opposition. “It was a great victory in a lot of ways even though we didn’t win. You know, the issue was taken more seriously than it ever has been before. We learned a lot, which will help us win in 2012!”

As far as what this story could benefit to the movement here in Texas, if anything, it brings a sense of hope and inspiration to the fact that laws can change not just in California, but also throughout the rest of the country. And let’s not forget, that historically, things have started in California, just like the issue of medical marijuana and many other social rights issues. Special thanks to Richard Lee for taking the time to speak with us. For more information about Oaksterdam University go to