The latest cannabis colleges offer “ganjapreneurs” some higher learning
By Paul Rogers
Pot and college have long been synonymous, but there’s been a new by-product of the loosening of marijuana legislation in many states of late: schools where the curriculum is devoted to the herb. These private “cannabis colleges” offer instruction in the cultivation, use, legalities, politics and business of medical marijuana.
“Our instructors walk right out of the city council meetings and the legislative hearings and into the classroom,” says Dale Sky Clare, Executive Chancellor of Oaksterdam University, which opened in Oakland in 2007 and is widely regarded as the granddaddy of cannabis colleges. “You can find all of this information by fishing the Internet, but you’re also going to find a lot of mis-information, a lot of dis-information. So, this way you get what you’re going for.”
Oaksterdam—which now has a second permanent campus in Los Angeles and scheduled-per-class satellites in North Bay, California and Michigan—already has over 11,000 alumni. Other prominent cannabis colleges include the California- and Colorado-based Greenway University and Michigan’s MedGrow.
Oaksterdam’s “classic” program can be taken over two weekends or spread over a 13-week semester. Pre-requisites for both include instruction in politics, history, science and civics.
“Once we make sure that you understand your rights and responsibilities and also the consequences, then we’ll teach you all the fun stuff: alternative methods of ingestion, extracts and, of course, horticulture.”
The school recently introduced semester horticulture programs (“10 solid weeks of hort, hort and more hort!”) and is now developing fast-track programs for out-of-state students who, tellingly, make-up more than half of its weekend enrollment. Oaksterdam’s reputation and course flexibility has broadened its appeal.
“[Classrooms will have] retired law enforcement sitting next to moms; sitting next to grandfather[s] with grandson[s] . . . next to a collared priest,” Clare enthuses.
“Everyone from 18 to 83—and the age is getting older as we go. At last glance, I think our average age is somewhere in the 40s.”
But Oaksterdam doesn’t offer online instruction—yet.
“We are placed to pursue that, but there are an awful lot of legal concerns,” says Clare. “You don’t always know what state you’re going into or who you’re teaching—we have a strict [age] policy of 18 and over.”
Though it’s not an accredited university, Oaksterdam’s certificates—with their implied proof of commitment and responsibility—already carry credibility.
“We’ve had a lot of dispensaries contact us directly asking only for our students,” says Clare. “They say they will only hire Oaksterdam graduates.”
Greenway University, founded in Colorado last year, made headlines in June when it became the country’s first state-approved (though not accredited) and licensed medical marijuana university. With courses like “Business Fundamentals 101,” Greenway’s “cannabusiness” focus is clear.
“We started off as consultants in the industry and rapidly recognized that there was a huge need for condensed, concise information as it relates to how people can participate in full compliance,” says Greenway founder and CEO Gus Escamilla. “It is a business and it needs to be treated as such.”
Greenway’s brick-and-mortar courses run from one day to 18 weeks and offer aspiring “ganjapreneurs” real-world business administration skills like seed-to-sale systems and inventory tracking. Escamilla also offers “revolutionary” online learning—a response to what he says is nationwide interest in his university (which has taught almost 1,500 students to date).
“Our demographic has been displaced professionals . . . it’s your physician, your attorney, your CPA that wants to enter this industry,” Escamilla says.
Nick Tennant, who was just 24 years old when he founded MedGrow Cannabis College in Southfield, Michigan, last year reports similar classroom diversity.
“I think it shows the social and cultural appeal that’s taking hold . . . and overcoming the stigma that our industry has been plagued with for so long.”
Tennant started MedGrow, the first such trade school in Michigan, shortly after that state passed its Medical Marijuana Act in late 2008. In such a young MM culture—and with many laid-off Detroit auto workers seeking new careers—he tapped into rabid local demand. The school boasts attorneys, horticulture experts, a botanist and an MD amongst its staff, and offers classes on pot history, law, business development, tax compliance and horticulture. These last anywhere from one weekend to six weeks.
With more states slated to reform their marijuana laws, the future looks bright for cannabis colleges.