It’s been a quarter-century since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, cannabis has evolved significantly. The last decade in particular has seen a dramatic shift with regards to reform; most states have legalized the plant for either medicinal and/or adult use. In fact, the legal cannabis industry is now responsible for more than 300,000 full-time jobs in the U.S.
As the landscape changes and the stigma surrounding cannabis wanes, one thing remains clear: Access to high-quality cannabis education is critical for the industry to thrive. Oaksterdam University (OU), founded in Oakland in 2007, offers an authoritative and cutting-edge curriculum curated by industry pioneers. OU prides itself on setting the gold standard for cannabis academics.
“Our superpower is our students,” says Dale Sky Jones, OU Executive Chancellor.
With deep roots in early advocacy efforts, the nation’s first cannabis college has shaped a generation of professionals from legacy cultivators to up-and-coming operators. The school, with more than 50,000 alumni worldwide, has a network that includes top growers, entrepreneurs and policymakers.
And it’s not just industry professionals who rely on OU to provide the latest cannabis knowledge. Regulators, researchers and government officials all look to the university to help frame tomorrow’s legal marijuana marketplace.
Oaksterdam University was initially formed as a way to strengthen California’s medical cannabis community, back when the notion of adult-use was but a distant fantasy. Drug policy reform activist, Richard Lee, was inspired to establish the school after a visit to Cannabis College in Amsterdam and was so driven by his desire to legitimize the fledgling cannabis industry, he went forward with creating Oaksterdam University.
Jones, Oaksterdam’s current Executive Chancellor, is an advocate in her own right. She fought alongside Dennis Peron on behalf of Prop 215, and she volunteered as an instructor when OU was first founded.
“Early on, Oaksterdam was entirely about the patients’ safe medical cannabis access,” Jones says. “Back then, it was learning about how to become a qualified patient; how to grow your own medicine; how to grow some extra medicine and share it with your collective; or how to potentially pay your mortgage that way.”
Jones eventually made her way through the ranks, taking over as Executive Chancellor in 2012 from Lee after the DEA raided the university along with the affiliated Oaksterdam Museum and Coffeeshop Blue Sky.
With deep roots in early advocacy efforts, the nation’s first cannabis college has shaped a generation of professionals from legacy cultivators to up-and-coming operators.
That same year, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to fully legalize adult-use cannabis. Other states soon followed, and it wasn’t long before Oaksterdam was the premier destination for quality (and highly in-demand) cannabis education. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about teaching people how to grow a little extra medicine — an entire supply chain was being formed.
“The needs of who needed to understand this industry change, and we’ve changed our curriculum over the years to meet those needs,” Jones said.
From benevolent caregivers just trying to avoid prosecution, to commercial facilities trying to remain compliant, Oaksterdam’s core mission of imparting accurate cannabis knowledge has never wavered, particularly now as the federal fight for legalization rages on.
“We’ve always started with a prerequisite of arming students with what they need to know to make sure that they don’t lose it all,” Jones says. “The most expensive mistake is the one you didn’t see coming when you didn’t understand your risk.”
Oaksterdam aims to offer a wide breadth of coursework designed to combine practical knowledge with academic research. Designed by leading industry entrepreneurs and thought leaders, OU’s curriculum changes in tandem with the marketplace. Whether it’s new discoveries in lesser-known cannabinoids or a breakthrough in extraction, students receive the most relevant and up-to-date cannabis expertise available.
As the industry moves toward standardization, the need for institutions such as Oaksterdam is proving to be critical. In its infancy, the school provided a safe space to share early insights into cannabis horticulture and growing techniques. Practices that were at one time found only on message boards or in magazines could be explored in depth and shared with a wider audience in an authoritative yet approachable way. Today, the school covers a vast range of subjects touching every corner of the industry including politics and history, legal rights and responsibilities, research and science of cannabis and more.
Oaksterdam University has cemented a position as the foremost cannabis educational facility in the country. But at its core, it’s a school that puts people first.
“All the way through we remind folks whose shoulders we stand on that this industry began as a movement — it was about helping patients first,” Jones says emphatically. “It was never about legalizing weed. It was about legalizing people.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.