In 2019, legal cannabis firms generated $15 billion in sales and employed 340,00 people, while 13,000 — 18,000 cannabis businesses operate in the US every day. By 2025, cannabis research firm New Frontier Data predicts that legal cannabis sales will reach $23 billion. Given the industry's upward trajectory and current market environment, weed is going to need a lot of workers.
Fortunately, cannabis universities are out there, ready to train students from the career-oriented to the cannabis enthusiast. At the head of the pack is Oaksterdam University, based in Oakland, California.
Founded in 2007, Oaksterdam University is America's first cannabis college and boasts a pool of some 40,000 alumni. Recently, we spoke with Executive Chancellor, Dale Sky Jones about this new kind of university, and how the current legal cannabis industry, along with Oaksterdam itself, was built on the activism of medical cannabis patients.
Activism and trailblazers at Oaksterdam University
Even though the current industry, especially in legal states, has taken on the familiarity of a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts, there's still a long way to go in the battle for cannabis legalization and access. And Jones pointed out something so obvious as to be forgettable: cannabis is still a federally prohibited, Schedule I substance.
“What really separates us [from other cannabis universities], is we have always been here. We are scrappy,” Jones said. “We have survived a four-agency raid. We have survived a fire. We are surviving covid. There's no one like us.”
Oaksterdam's faculty is comprised of cannabis industry experts and practitioners with deep roots in the subject matter, business, and activism, like Debby Goldsberry, Richard Lee, Ed Rosenthal, Kyle Kushman and Jeff Jones. Collectively, they advise governments and agencies on cannabis policy and help write trailblazing marijuana legalization laws such as Prop 215, Senate Bill 420 and Prop 64.
Other cannabis training programs tend to place more emphasis on growing techniques, or interpening, rather than shining a light on activism and policy. But Oaksterdam University espouses a broader scope of quality training for students than understanding terpenes or growing big buds. “We help bring people together to figure out better policy and help write the laws,” Jones explained.
She also acknowledges that the cannabis industry, despite ongoing legalization, remains on uneven ground, “We don't just teach what you want to know, we teach you what you need to know, and you don't know what that is yet. They'll [training programs] teach you to grow, but they won't teach you how to keep your ass out of jail!”
Taking classes, understanding risks and building foundations
Jones refuses to understate the ongoing risks for cannabis businesses, including asset forfeiture, a dubious practice where law enforcement can take your home, car, or other assets without a charge or conviction. “You have to understand the risks to mitigate them. We focus on that foundation of how to build your business or your career so that you are mitigating your risks while setting yourself up for success,” she added.
For aspiring cannabis students, there are tangible benefits to formalized courses and training. “We're building a foundation in which your brain will receive [information] and retain it, and be put to use. When we do live trainings, we have a campus! Whether you're from Arkansas or California, you can come in and touch the plant, and we do a lot of field trips that go into other facilities.” Jones also acknowledges the uncertainty of in-person classes on campus for the time being due to Covid-19.
However, Oaksterdam University has already adapted and is plunging forward. Starting April 29, Oaksterdam University online will enable virtual courses that expand to their ongoing online programs by delivering live and interactive lectures, demonstrations and workshops to students.
Considering enrollment? Here's what's available to you
Even if you're not necessarily interested in joining the cannabis industry, there are classes available to the public for free, including the Horticulture Sample Class, Cannabis, Pain, and the Opioid Crisis, and Advocacy for the Cannabis Industry.
Like any kind of educational practice, Jones believes a certification from Oaksterdam can help students get their foot in with business owners. “Employers like to hire Oaksterdam grads because they know what they're doing. There are so many nuances to operating, starting, managing, investing or just entering the industry, that you really do need an education beyond what you think you want to know. If you want to be a grower, cool, but you still gotta figure out your taxes. You need to understand the supply chain, the legal aspects.”
According to Jones, if you're going to work in the cannabis industry, what you don't know can hurt you, and it can be a very expensive and life-altering lesson. But getting an education at Oaksterdam will help you figure it all out.
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