As marijuana continues to be legalized in increasing capacities across America, Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif. has a question: Do you take us seriously yet? Founded in 2007 by medical marijuana activist Richard Lee, Oaksterdam University is an unaccredited trade school that describes itself as America’s “first and premier cannabis college.”
Chancellor Dale Skye Jones says the school, where more than 15,000 have attended, aims to offer “quality training for regulating and protecting the cannabis industry” in order to make legal business transactions safer and more accessible to the public.
“Some people may disagree with cannabis, but the bottom line is that we’re changing, and the American people are speaking,” says Aseem Sappal, the college’s director of operations, in regards to the growing number of states legalizing medical marijuana.”If you’re going to give them the keys to the car, you’re going to have to give them driver’s ed.”
Sappal says people think the college is just stoners hanging out in a dark, smoky room, but it’s the same as any other university — including course work, assignments and deadlines. “I try really hard to make our university just like everyone else’s … Harvard, Cambridge,” Sappal says. “People laugh when I say that, but we try to have the same professionalism as any school. All the professors have graduate degrees.”
Offering semester-long programs as well as weekend seminars, Oaksterdam’s curriculum includes a variety of traditional academic classes, such as horticulture, the science of marijuana, business legality and history of the “marijuana movement.” The student body is diverse, ranging in age from 18 to retirement. Many of the students are entrepreneurs, while others are battling chronic painful diseases such as Crohn’s disease and seek information on how to obtain medical marijuana, Sappal says.
During the recession after the housing market’s collapse, there was also a large influx of real-estate agents who decided to use their sales ability to enter a new market, Jones says. Robert Grove, a 44-year-old graduate of the 13-week “classic semester” program, says the university is filled with “normal people.” “It’s not some mystical, medieval lair,” he says. “Everyone’s interested, intent, quiet, studious and mindful of the education that they’re receiving. They’re dedicated to what they’re doing.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Grove though Oaksterdam was a “novelty thing” until 2009 when he moved out to the Bay area. Grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder after working as a paramedic for 10 years, Grove was unsure of his next step in life. But when he realized the medical marijuana industry was beginning to “emerge,” he says he saw an opportunity.
“Here I am, 44 years old, too late to start a whole new life. There’s no going back and redoing undergrad or grad school … I have to live,” Grove says. “We’ve seen hybrid cars, electric cars and now the face of cannabis is changing, too.” Grove’s completed the college’s 13-week program (currently priced at $1,195), and now aspires to be a grower or perhaps even work on legislation.
His dreams hinge on marijuana’s legality and acceptability. “The world is not the 80s anymore; you’re not sitting on a dumpster smoking a joint,” he says. “There is now a strong need for regulation, for quality assurance and the quality of strains. We need to be able to do that without impunity.”
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