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A new class is in session at Oaksterdam, a how-to about opening and running medical-marijuana dispensaries. Dark-haired, bespectacled lecturer Don Duncan, a prominent pot man due to his lobbying efforts at L.A. City Hall and his ownership of a busy outlet in West Hollywood, warns a room of rapt students to be mindful of the rules. After federal agents raided his business in 2007, Duncan says, the state Board of Equalization slapped a lien on his house for nonpayment of taxes.
"Don't mess with those guys," Duncan says. Pay your taxes. Pay your rent on time. Don't drive a Bentley and take 'round-the-world vacations if you're running a nonprofit collective.
"But if you earn a healthy salary because you work hard, that's okay," Duncan says. "That's actually a very patriotic and American way of life."
Next to speak is Robert A. Raich, a leading marijuana attorney most remarkable for his halolike crown of white hair. Raich gets down to the nitty-gritty of applying for business licenses. Medical marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, even if the Obama administration is backing away from enforcement. So be creative when you have to fill out forms describing what you plan to sell, Raich says.
"Let me give you some truthful euphemisms," offers Raich, who seems to delight in presenting them: medicinal herbs, Chinese herbs, cut flowers, dried flowers..."You don't want to lie to the government," he says cheerfully. "You just don't want to give them too much information."
Mike Giglio and Mark Donald contributed to this story.