OAKLAND -- Peace and Freedom Party presidential nominee Roseanne Barr came to Oaksterdam on Thursday evening to distance herself from President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney and their stance against marijuana.
The comedienne and former television star held her town-hall meeting, "The Political Future of Medical Marijuana," in front a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 at Oaksterdam University. Barr said legalizing marijuana is the "way to end the drug wars and stop the monopoly of the subsidized prison systems."
Barr, along with vice presidential running mate and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, are running a symbolic campaign in that the pair are not on the ballot in enough states to win.
The appearance on Thursday was not only a push for money but a push for voters. Changes to election law make it so the party must nearly double its registration by the end of 2014 to stay on the ballot.
"Thank you for breaking through your mind control programming (and coming to the town-hall meeting) and having some free thought," she told the crowd. "Marijuana really does help you break through that and remember what is important."
The crowd reacted with thunderous applause and chants of "Rosie, Rosie, Rosie."
The 59-year-old Barr said she has glaucoma and has smoked marijuana for several years.
"I have a prescription and I absolutely do smoke marijuana, I have for most of my life," she said. "Marijuana should be totally legal. We live in a free country, so it should be legal to smoke marijuana and drink."
A nut farmer in Hawaii, Barr said that if she could easily grow hemp, she would "employ hundreds of thousands of Americans."
As for her critics, who call her campaign a publicity stunt to push the marijuana agenda, she said, "I'm not doing it for publicity because my political views have ended my career."
In her speech Thursday, she stood with medical marijuana activists who have criticized Obama for backing off on what they believed was a promise to leave dispensaries alone in states where they are legal.
The Barr-Sheehan pair are using their run as a means of boosting the Peace and Freedom Party's voter registration in California; the party needs roughly 43,000 more registrants to maintain its ballot status beyond 2014. She wants people to write her name on the November ballot.
Sheehan is best known for camping outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch in 2005 after her son, U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed by enemy fire in the Iraq War.
That Barr came to Oaksterdam was really a "fluke," said Dale Sky Jones, the university's executive chancellor. Jones said Oaksterdam was a natural place for Barr to hold her town hall meeting and invited her to speak there when they learned she was coming to Oakland a few weeks ago.
"It is remarkable that this issue is more popular than any politician on any ballot," Jones said.
But Barr also said she chose to bring her town-hall meeting to Oakland because of the federal raid on Oaksterdam.
Earlier this year, Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee, one of the nation's foremost medical marijuana advocates, relinquished ownership of his medical marijuana-related businesses, including Oaksterdam University, following a federal raid on his home and his four downtown stores.
On April 2, federal authorities, including agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Internal Revenue Service, raided Lee's home near Lake Merritt and the stores, hauling away computers, files and pot plants, and leaving behind little more than office furniture. The raid was the highest profile move against California's medical marijuana establishment since last October when the state's U.S. attorneys announced new enforcement measures that have resulted in dozens of dispensaries closing statewide.
Oaksterdam was the nation's first cannabis industry trade school when it opened in 2007. It still holds about 10 classes but is only "surviving, not thriving" in the wake of the federal raid, Jones said.
Barr spoke for less than 15 minutes, and at times shouted passionately.
"Without mind control (from the two parties)," she said, "people would demand a representational government that works for the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Contact Kristin J. Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/kjbender. Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.