Federal agents raided Oaksterdam University -- America's first cannabis college -- Monday, as well as the home of founder Richard Lee, confiscating bags of medical marijuana, cannabis plants and business documents.
Lee, 49, was briefly detained and questioned at his apartment in Oakland, Calif., but not arrested as Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service agents conducted the raid.
Here are five things to know about the medical marijuana entrepreneur:
1. Paralyzed In His Prime
Lee suffered a severe spinal injury at age 27, falling from a catwalk while working as a lighting technician for an Aerosmith concert in New Jersey. He was left paralyzed from the waist down and began using marijuana to ease his back spasms, although use of the drug for medical purposes was not yet legalized by any U.S. state.
2. Finding His Cause
Lee was carjacked in Houston a year after his paralyzing injury, and said he waited more than an hour for police to respond, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He attributed the lapse to what he viewed as the police's preoccupation with going after marijuana dealers, rather than cracking down on violent crime.
I felt like, here was this wonderful medicine of cannabis that had helped me so much, and why were the cops going after people using and selling it instead of the psychos and sociopaths who are out there robbing people? Lee told the Chronicle. I thought I should do something about it.
3. It Started With Hemp
In 1992, Lee opened a hemp-products store in Houston called Legal Marijuana, and began advocating for pot legalization.
Hemp is part of the same plant species as marijuana, although it does not contain significant amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC, and has multiple industrial applications such as in producing textiles, paper or rope. However, hemp has been classified as a controlled substance due to its resemblance to marijuana, thus prohibiting its cultivation in the U.S.
4. Setting Up Shop In Oakland
Lee moved to Oakland in 1997 after use of marijuana for medicinal purposes became decriminalized in California. That same year he co-founded the Hemp Research Center, which provided medical cannabis through the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club and researched horticultural methods of marijuana cultivation.
In 1999, he opened a second medical cannabis dispensary called the Bulldog Coffeeshop, and in 2003 he formed the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, which campaigned for a city measure to make private sales, cultivation and possession of marijuana a low-level priority for police. The measure passed in 2004.
5. America's First Cannabis College
In 2007, Lee established Oaksterdam University, a private trade school that trains people how to start a business in California's medical marijuana industry.
Oaksterdam claims to have over 6,000 alumni on its website.