I first met Richard Lee in February of 2007. Ken Locke, a bike rider for Journey for Justice landed in Oakland at the Bulldog Coffee Shop, a small but well known hang out for local medical marijuana activists owned by Richard Lee. Ken had an interesting story. As a former landscaper he had the misfortune of having a tree branch fall 80 feet and hit his head while doing his job. The accident left him in with seizures and other maladies but he used the medicinal powers of cannabis to lift himself off his bed and peddle his bike from Charleston South Carolina to Oakland California, across the entire nation. There was a small group of activists waiting to meet Ken that day including myself and Richard Lee.
Shortly after Ken’s epic bike ride another well know activist I had met that day convinced Richard to allow us the use of the Bulldog Coffee Shop to teach a cannabis grow classes. We were happy to find a venue, and Richard approached us with warmth as we invaded his place of business and provided us a small but comfortable meeting place. The first class only attracted 4 to 6 patients interested in cultivating our own medicine. But using the power of the internet and social marketing we started to gain momentum for class attendance and soon we were blowing grow class up to a full 25 – 30 regulars who attended class monthly. Many of them I am still in contact with today. It was during our growth stage that Richard named my small website a co-sponsor of the grow class. An honor I did not even ask for but gladly accepted. Eventually grow class out grew the Bulldog venue and Richard helped us contact another Oaksterdam business owner at Rico’s Diner. Rico’s had more space (and more food) than the Bulldog location and the grow class continued to grow in student participation.
Grow class enabled me to meet other activists; many like Ed Rosenthal shared my love of cannabis genetics as did Richard. Richard strived to offer the finest genetics in clone form through his dispensary that at the time was called the SR-71. Pressure from Lockheed Martin forced Richard to rename his business from SR-71 to Blue Sky. The development group at Lockheed that designed the SR-71 spy plane was known as ‘Skunk Works’, a name Richard continued using for his cannabis nursery venture. Richard’s compassion for unique cannabis genetics brought Oaksterdam several stand out strains. White Widow which came back after one of Richard’s trips to Amsterdam and Purple Kush that was unveiled at a grow class while it was still at the Bulldog allowed grow class students the first cuts of this prized strain.
I learned a lot about the history of Oaksterdam during that period and even controlled the domain oaksterdam.com for awhile. What I learned about Richard Lee is that he is a devoted activist, shrewd business man and a High Times freedom fighter of the year recipient. Richard was known as the Mayor of Oaksterdam and also Rev. Hemp. He purchased or leased many small shops around the uptown area of Oakland we call Oaksterdam and single handedly revived an area of town that had formerly been down-trodden and forgotten. His revitalization of the area put him in good graces with the Oakland city council and the work he did for the city won’t soon be forgotten.
He was always putting on large and small events like the 4th of July BBQ at the Bulldog and 4-20 events at Lake Merrit. Although the events were well attended I doubt they were profitable ventures but it showed a willingness to give back to the community that persists to this day. He was always happy to show at other events in the area and was always present when another activist needed a hand. He always had bold ideas, one of which was to make Oaksterdam a tourist destination like Amsterdam for cannabis enthusiasts. This bold venture was spearheaded by an Oakland City Council committee called ‘Measure Z’. Measure Z was a voter approved Oakland ordinance that made marijuana the lowest police priority and it set up a model for the cultivation and distribution for everyone over 21, not just patients. Dhar Mann the founder of weGrow still sits as a member of the Measure Z committee. A few Measure Z clubs popped up but were kept pretty hush-hush. Many of the Measure Z clubs saw their demise through the hands of the Oakland Police, who just couldn’t sit idle and let a good thing happen. Some of the clubs were over-taken by the Hell’s Angels, much to everyone’s angst. Measure Z is still alive but it won’t be the same as it was when Richard was active. And the dream of making Oaksterdam a tourist destination never reached full maturity.
I often think of grow class as a precursor to Oaksterdam University which Richard started in 2007. Oaksterdam University graduated 15,000 students, many of whom went on to start their own cannabis businesses of which you can consider weGrow as an example. Moving the university from humble and small beginnings to a 30,000 sq feet facility in which it resides in today took a huge effort on Richard’s part and seemed to be the focus of the raid which shut Richard down just weeks ago. Oaksterdam University will be in the good hands of Dale Sky Jones with Richard’s departure, and I wish them all the best luck.
Richard tried to make marijuana legal to cultivate and use for all Californians in 2010 with Prop 19. An effort Richard put $1.5 million of his own money into. Although Prop 19 was narrowly defeated the effort on Richard’s part was immense, and he often spoke of retirement during the struggle. I don’t think marijuana cultivators knew the real Richard Lee when they denounced Prop 19. The mud slinging towards him was unwarranted and pretty much un-called for by opponents of Prop 19. Even people in the industry failed to support it. Some are facing jail time right now that may have been avoided if they were not so outspoken and Prop 19 had passed voter approval. But it’s important to remember that Richard broke new ground in cannabis freedom and because of him we are closer than ever to seeing the end of the arrest and detention of cannabis users. To that we owe Richard much respect.