Shady Pot Dealers No Concern To Law Enforcement


Venice Beach, California

Opinion By Cheri Sicard

Special to Toke of the Town
Like many pro-cannabis activists, I found myself shocked, outraged, and saddened by the recent federal attack on Oaksterdam University and other Richard Lee-owned businesses. Oaksterdam is, after all, my alma mater. The school put me on the path to becoming the activist I am today and changed my life for the better in a profound way.
I have been pondering why, if the feds are going to target anyone, it would be Richard Lee. After all, Richard has built a successful business teaching others how to be as compliant as possible with California’s murky medical marijuana laws. His efforts also resulted in the transformation of a formerly derelict section of downtown Oakland into a safe, thriving community.

Lee’s businesses provide jobs and much-needed taxes to the struggling city, and he is well known for his philanthropic generosity.

Jack Rikess
Richard Lee at Tuesday’s protest in San Francisco of the Oaksterdam University raids

Richard Lee is far from the only poster child of the medical marijuana movement targeted by law enforcement. Earlier this year legal woes led activist and medical marijuana pioneer Lynette Shaw to regrettably close the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. Harborside Health Center’s Stephen D’Angelo has been the victim of IRS harassment.
Even at the state level, legal, compliant, compassionate providers like Joe Grumbine seem to be taking the brunt of the abuse from law enforcement and the courts. I’m sure there are countless other examples (and feel free to talk about them in the comments section).
But while law enforcement seems to be setting their sights on the most legitimate, most compassionate, most professional examples of the medical marijuana industry, their shady, quasi-legal counterparts continue to operate with impunity.
An acquaintance of mine, who happens to own a non-cannabis business on Venice Beach, recently went on an anti-marijuana rant on my Facebook page, despite his acknowledgement of the good that cannabis can do. While his opinions about marijuana and its alleged ills were completely unfounded in any kind of science, I can understand why he and other Venice residents not educated in the truth about this amazing plant might take a negative view.

Venice Beach, California

If you want to see the worst of the “medical” marijuana industry has to offer, visit Venice Beach. You’ll be accosted by endless barkers and barely bikini-clad girls shoving flyers in your face and doing everything in their power to entice you into seeing the doctor to get a recommendation that will allow you to buy weed on the spot at the myriad of nearby “collectives” offering a cornucopia of buds, concentrates, and medicated edibles. I’m not sure what any of this has to do with medicine, but law enforcement doesn’t seem to be bothered by it in the least.
Likewise, the cannabis “conventions” where anybody can wait in line, talk to a doctor for three minutes, then go buy weed, also seem to remain untouched by law enforcement.
Before I go any further, let me state clearly that I have no personal moral objection to any of this. I’m not suggesting law enforcement should start raiding these people. I personally think marijuana should be legal for ANY adult who wants it.
Furthermore, even though I work with an organization — NORML Women’s Alliance — that vehemently decries the sexualization of women in the cannabis industry, I personally don’t have a problem with it. If a girl wants to parade around in a bikini bottom, marijuana leaf pasties, and platform shoes, and somebody wants to pay her to do it, who am I to object? Have a party.

Marin Magazine
Lynette Shaw’s Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana was shut down by the feds — despite the fact, or maybe because of the fact, that she was strictly compliant

But I have to wonder why the federal crackdown, against people they claim are illegal operators breaking state medical marijuana laws, appears to be targeting only the most compliant among our industry.
It almost seems — and this is strictly by my own observations — that the more shady your cannabis business, the more likely you are to be left alone by law enforcement, whether federal or state.
How can this be?
Many believe people like Richard Lee, Lynette Shaw, Stephen D’Angelo, and Joe Grumbine were targeted because they are outspoken, public activists for the cause of legalization. That may be, but I think the answer goes deeper than that, and here it is;
If the only examples of medical marijuana left for the public to observe are the dubious, exploitative, out-to-make-a-quick-buck businesses, the public will turn against us, much like my friend from Venice did. These types of entities actually hurt our cause and help our opponents, so it makes perfect strategic sense for the feds to leave them alone and let them do their thing.
On the other hand, when the public sees legitimate, compassionate, tax-paying collectives like Richard Lee’s Blue Sky Coffee Shop, or Lynette Shaw’s now defunct Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, or Joe Grumbine’s now shuttered 4th and Elm Collective in Long Beach, they are firmly on our side. When the public sees the best of what we can be, they like us. They really, really like us.
This, in my opinion, is the simple reason why law enforcement is targeting our best and brightest. Hopefully these are the last battles of their losing war, but in the meantime, we as the cannabis community need to do everything we possibly can to support our brave soldiers willing to fight for all of our rights.
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Cheri Sicard
Author/activist Cheri Sicard wrote this op/ed.

Editor’s note: Cheri Sicard is author of The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook (2012, Z-Dog Media), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Easy Freezer Meals (2011, Alpha Books), and Everyday American (2008, Bookspan), among others. She is the Los Angeles County Community Leader for the NORML Women’s Alliance. You can read her blog at