Medicial marijuana plants in grow room at Oaksterdam
(Editor's note: This is the second piece in a six-part series on Oakland Local on the business of marijuana.)
After just two years, Oaksterdam University is an institutional heavy-weight, drawing hundreds of students from all over the United States to learn to cultivate marijuana and legally sell the plants. Forty-seven-year-old entrepreneur and Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee started the school after seeing the need for a disciplined, academic approach to cannabis cultivation, and also cannabis law and business. And in the process he wanted to legitimize the marijuana industry.
"This isn't your older brother growing a plant in the garage," said Oaksterdam spokesperson Greg Grimala. "This is a legitimate industry like any other. Everyone here is an entrepreneur."
Oaksterdam's main campus—which keeps expanding--is in downtown Oakland, but it also has campuses in Los Angeles, Sebastopol, and Flint, MI. Hundreds of students take the semester-long course, and many more have taken Oaksterdam's one-day or weekend classes. With an ad like this, announcing $50,000 to $100,000 careers for being a freedom fighter in the cannabis industry, it's no wonder the trade school is at capacity and often has wait-lists to matriculate.
Partly because of the overwhelming demand for education about marijuana, Oaksterdam outgrew its former location just down the street. Its new location, at 1600 Broadway, was once a middle school. It now houses large classrooms, a grow lab, an auditorium, a student union and, of course, a crop of clones and starter plants, which are used as part of the curriculum.
January's grand opening and ribbon-cutting was
well attended by students, entrepreneurs and city officials alike,
Rebecca Kaplan, who has been an outspoken supporter of Oaksterdam
and an advocate for cannabis industry regulation, better zoning and
I also sat in on a class led by none other than Ed Rosenthal, the author of numerous cannabis books such as The Big Book of Buds and The Marijuana Grower’s Handbook. Rosenthal has been called the “Ganja Guru” because of his vast experience and knowledge of all things cannabis. At one time he faced 100 years in prison and $4.5 million in fines as a result of his research.
Rosenthal's course was on marijuana growing conditions. It was just one part of a 13-week horticulture class where students learn about everything from nutrients and soil quality to types of lighting and ventilation systems. After giving a broad view of the art and science of cultivation, Rosenthal demonstrated cutting branches from a mother plant, which is used to start baby cannabis clones.
Looking around the classroom I noticed a diverse set of students. Grimala confirmed this when he said Oaksterdam appeals to everybody from from out-of-work 30-year olds, soccer moms, blue collar workers and professional business people. And some 6,000 students have gone through Oaksterdam's programs.
Students who complete the
13-week semester program receive certification. While not a city- or
state-recognized certificate, it carries weight among those entering
cannabis-related industries such as dispensaries.
Topics taught at Oaksterdam include state and federal law, extracts, cooking, legal rights, politics and history, cannabis economics, dispensary operations, cannabis science and patient relations. Some students opt to attend a handful of stand-alone seminars rather than the semester program. For $650 for the semester course or $250 per weekend seminar, students gain hands-on skills and knowledge in classes taught by some of the top figures in the industry.
Some students will go on to open their own medical marijuana dispensaries in jurisdictions that allow it. Others are looking for different business models and want to learn more about the trade.
Schools are popping up around the nation that seem to take inspiration from Oaksterdam's success. For example, the Cannabis Career Institute offers a curriculum that covers medical cannabis business, law, cultivation, edibles, and holds seminars in Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and Denver, CO.
Spokesman Grimala also acknowledged that there are a lot of copy-cats, but that the proliferation utlimately will be good for legitimizing the industry and having more qualified people in cultivation and business.
And big business it is. Apart from being an educational heavy-weight that's used as a model for other programs, Oaksterdam holds financial and political clout. The Better Business Bureau gives Oaksterdam its highest rating of "A+." It's a big employer too, with over 50 people on staff. That also means payroll taxes, on the order of over half a million a year.
Oaksterdam University is also the headquarters for the Tax & Regulate Cannabis 2010 campaign, on which it has spent $1 million and which just recently qualified for the November ballot. Campaigners collected more than 700,000 signatures in a matter of months. If approved by California voters, the act would regulate cannabis like alcohol by allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and give local governments the ability to tax and regulate its sale.
Miss part 1? Check this page for each installment of this series!