“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” — Nelson Mandela
The War on Drugs has been more than just a campaign to stop illicit drugs — it’s been the method to traumatize an entire society into demonizing a single plant for the benefit of criminal revenue. As most people would agree, cannabis has been unrightfully placed at the forefront when the focus should have been on street drugs or even other legally available drugs like opioids that are much more damaging. The lack of education on the Cannabis plant and demonizing its effects has long been the catalyst for prohibition. Thankfully that is changing. But the road to reform started long ago.
In California, there exists a core group of advocates who have stood as warriors to defend the rights of cannabis use. Oaksterdam University, the first “cannabis college” in the United States, was founded by these advocates. They were able to set standards for “higher education” while also infusing politics with the knowledge of grassroots cannabis cultivation. Although the university has changed since its founding day, the leadership is still committed to the goal of legalization of cannabis and educating the people. Their dedication sets the stage for the future of cannabis commerce, for freedom to grow at home, freedom to even have this magazine you’re reading right now, and freedom to be able to learn in public! They continue to compassionately tackle federal rescheduling and the moral ethics that have ruled them.
Oaksterdam University has long been focused on preparing people to successfully enter the cannabis industry. They offer live virtual and self-paced certification courses that cover running a business, horticulture, budtending, extraction, and manufacturing. OU certificates are recognized across the industry, and students can even transfer up to 18 credits from OU toward a bachelor’s degree in the business of cannabis thanks to a partnership with Golden Gate University.
Telling The Story
Husband and wife team Jeff and Dale Sky Jones are the heads of Oaksterdam. Their founding teachers included names you surely know such as Chris Conrad and Ed Rosenthal. The immense journey of dedication they and their colleagues have shown in fighting the war on drugs with information has inspired and educated thousands of people in the cannabis industry to date. Telling the story of Oaksterdam University from the beginning is a daunting task, but now, a movie attempts to do just that.
On September 24 a special screening of a movie called “American Pot Story: Oaksterdam” took place during the Oakland International Film Festival at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, California. This epic documentary on the journey of the university’s founders, its advocates, and how it has created a platform for legislative change was directed by Ravit Markus and Dan Katzir. Both Markus and Katzir have won awards and accolades for their previous films and documentaries. To make the movie, Katzir and Markus spent 10 years following the group who opened Oaksterdam University and fought to get Proposition 19 — a measure to legalize cannabis — on the ballot in California.
It tells the story of Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who began promoting cannabis after becoming paraplegic and realizing that cannabis provided relief. In 1992, Lee co-founded Legal Marijuana – The Hemp Store in Houston, Texas, one of the first retail outlets for hemp products in the United States. And Sky Jones, who took over as president and CEO of Oaksterdam University in 2012 and was the spokeswoman and legislative liaison for Prop 19.
Oaksterdam instructor Chris Conrad praised the film and the story it tells about the vital role that the university itself, Lee, and Sky Jones played in advancing global legalization efforts. “When they launched the campaign for adult legalization with Prop 19 in 2010, OU became an exciting, organizing center of activity that recruited volunteers from around the country and a hub of international media attention,” Conrad says. “It legitimized the seriousness of the cause for legalization and the need to stop the harmful war on marijuana. It got the ball rolling so to speak.”
Founding The Legacy
Ravit and Katzir recognized history in the making during the Prop 19 campaign. As the story goes, Katzir shook Ravit and said to her that the revolution of legalizing pot had begun and they had to film it. As Ravit says, the revolution took much longer than they expected and is still unfolding, but documenting it turned into a fabulous civics lesson for the directors and a fascinating slice of history for the viewers.
Jeff Jones remains a faculty member of Oaksterdam as an instructor of horticulture, advocacy, methods of ingestion, and extracts. In 1995, long before other states had legalized medical use, Jones took the pioneering stance of creating the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Collective (OCBC), a bike delivery service. Lee’s Hemp Research Company supplied cannabis to the OCBC. Jones fought to oppose the powerful leaders who were against medical marijuana and helped drive the legalization movement forward. In 1996, the same year California Proposition 215 passed, legalizing medical marijuana use, Jones and a small team opened a cooperative cannabis club.
From that time forward Jones, Lee, and their partners and volunteers worked tirelessly to confront legislators and fight federal cases. One of the most monumental accomplishments was when Jones and the OCBC were defendants in a case related to the OCBC distributing marijuana, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the court ruled against the defendants, with Justice Thomas writing, “The statute reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception,” and, “medical necessity is not a defense to manufacturing and distributing marijuana.” The OCBC morphed into the Patient I.D. Center, which provided identification cards to medical marijuana patients throughout California and beyond.
I personally remember the first time I vended my homegrown product to the OCBC collective in the early 2000s. It was mind blowing and I knew in my heart as a young activist that they were the leaders of the future, and I’ve followed them ever since!
In 2007, Oaksterdam University opened in Oakland with the intention of teaching the canna-curious the ways of the weed gurus. They furthered this pursuit by taking the college platform to a multitude of locations throughout the country as well as worldwide. In the most romantic gesture to the cannabis community and each other, Jeff and Dale married in 2010, donating wedding gifts to the legalization campaign.
But no great changes come without pain, and again in 2012, OU was faced with federal charges, forcing them to suspend classes and end the practice of growing plants at the campus. On April 2, 2012, federal agents raided and shut down the school’s physical location at 1600 Broadway, the nearby Oaksterdam gift shop, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. They also raided Lee’s home. At the time, Lee said that since the feds confiscated so much material, it was difficult for him to continue operating, so he was forced to retire. The dispensary, school, museum, and gift shop would reopen later, with Sky Jones taking over as chancellor (with sons Jesse, born in 2013, on her hip and Jackson, born in 2010, at her side — daughter Quinn was born in 2017).
Sky Jones spent sleepless nights with the heart of a warrioress attempting to help create reform through education. Her dream of taking the “politics of pot” to levels never seen before sparked her to re-open Oaksterdam University despite federal threats. She has ushered the school into a new era where classes are now offered online both live and recorded.
“Oaksterdam University continues to help prepare people to successfully enter the legal, burgeoning cannabis industry that it helped create,” Conrad says.
I am personally blessed to achieve my own dreams of working together with such amazing people as mentor for their amazing collaboration with the state of California to provide education to equity applicants in Los Angeles through the Social Equity Program for Dispensaries, which helps marginalized communities participate in the legal cannabis industry.
Into The Future
The “American Pot Story” screening was an historical evening, as it was shown to a room full of activists of the early days and now. The movie brought the early knowledge of the roots of the cannabis movement struggles into the modern era. The audience expressed gratitude and inspiration. A screening is planned for January 24, 2023 at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah. This story can be booked to appear in your town too by contacting Oaksterdam.
David Downs, senior editor at Leafly, received a Literary Excellence Award from Oaksterdam University in 2022. He had this to say about the film: “It’s tempting to be cynical about politics and change, but this film and subject will make anyone feel hope again.”
The university recently released a new book, “The Budtender’s Guide: A Reference Manual for Cannabis Consumers and Dispensary Professionals.” The book is designed to help dispensary owners navigate the constantly changing landscape of cannabis varieties, products, and legalization policies. It also helps people who aspire to become budtenders through explanations of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
Oaksterdam University currently offers mentoring and education courses throughout the United States. They manage the Cannabis Social Equity programs in the California cities of Oakland, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Francisco, and Monterey. OU was recently chosen by the state of Connecticut’s Social Equity Council to build a trailblazing social equity cannabis business accelerator program with the Hartford-based nonprofit reSET.
“We are thrilled to be selected to provide technical assistance for the State of Connecticut,” said Sky Jones about the announcement. “We can help legacy operators mitigate risks, become self-directed, and be better able to leverage the opportunities presented in the legal marketplace.”