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.
CO Bill to Allow Schools the Choice to Let Student Patients Medicate
Colorado has been struggling with the issue of medical cannabis in schools ever since cannabis was first legalized in the state for medical use. Schools fear a loss of federal funding if they allow cannabis treatment for sick students, since the plant is still federally illegal, while parents, advocates and patients fight for patient access so that students can get relief. This month, cannabis patients won a major victory, as medicating with cannabis will now be allowed in Colorado public schools under a newly passed bill.
According to The Denver Post, House Bill 1373 requires treatment rights for patients, but allows schools to be able to choose where the patients can medicate, and what forms of cannabis they can use. Representative Jonathan Singer, the Democrat from Longmont who supported the bill, claims that schools who do not put such a policy into action are leaving it up to parents and students to choose how and where medication can take place.
The recent bill passed 10-3 in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, showing an overwhelming support for children being able to medicate on school property.
“It forces a conversation,” Singer told The Denver Post regarding the bill, “that we were hoping would be a voluntary conversation.”
This bill works to help patients gain access, since the currently existing bill, allowing medication only if schools create a program, has not been successful. So far, no schools have implemented such a program, so until now, no medical cannabis users have been able to imbibe on school property.
“It’s kind of exciting that they are finally going to let it in after fighting this for five years trying to get children their meds in schools,” explained Shan Moore, the father of Chaz Moore, who fought and struggled while in school to be able to use medical cannabis.
“I do think it’s great—it’s just a little late for my kid,” he added. “Chaz stopped going to school before graduating. He would get sick, not be able to take his meds in school, and got tired of playing that game, and when he went to try and get his GED the same thing happened, since those classes take place in schools as well. So maybe now he’ll be able to get his GED and make something happen. He tried the online schools, but he doesn’t learn well online—he really needs to be there in person.”
Moore hopes that maybe with this new bill in place, his son will be able to medicate in schools, and therefore take the GED and continue his education. Like Chaz Moore, many Colorado children desire an education, but struggle to work and focus because they can’t get the medicine they need. Hopefully with this new bill in place, students who need medicine will be able to receive relief so they can focus on learning.
Colorado passes Ordinance to Implement a Cannabis Odor Regulation
At first glance, odor regulations seem like something out of a cartoon or children’s book, but here in Denver they are very real.
According to The Denver Post, Denver City council is concerned about the offensive to some, pleasant to others, aroma that is omitted from dispensaries and other cannabis operations, and recently passed an ordinance to crack down tighter on odors.
While the city has been debating back and forth about how they should treat the expiring moratorium on cannabis businesses, they quickly decided in favor of the odor ordinance. If this passes this month, then this new rule will be officially approved and enforceable by the local Health Department. This new regulation would mean that businesses can file odor complaints, not just private citizens. Then, if a dispensary receives five complaints, they would have 30 days to clean up their act and fix the odor issue before they receive an inspection.
Cannabis businesses and advocates are not happy about this new complication, and are speaking out against the arbitrary nature of regulating odors.
“The only thing that can be done is air filtration to ensure that odors are mitigated through carbon scrubbers,” explained Mark Slaugh, Executive Director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, in an exclusive interview with CULTURE. “The ‘problem’ is not the odor per se, since obnoxious odors aren’t outright prohibited or regulated for other businesses with strong scents. The problem is the prejudice giving rise to complaints in the first place and over-reactionary ordinances that unfairly target cannabis businesses and don’t apply equally to other Denver businesses with obnoxious odors.”
Slaugh further argues that the cannabis industry is bringing needed change to the city, and should not be slighted for something as minor as strong odors.
“The cannabis industry is primarily responsible for producing economic benefits for once poor and decaying neighborhoods which the industry improved,” he added. “These areas were once stagnant, filled with commercially abandoned warehouses that eventually became cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The city of Denver has required the industry to improve the landscape around those buildings and they have truly begun transforming these neighborhoods.”
“Now, the industry is being targeted under this odor ordinance and under the moratorium as the ‘problem’ of these areas when, in fact, they are the pioneers of neighborhood renovation and a major factor in the rise of tourism and people moving to Denver post-legalization,” he continued. “It would seem that the City council wants to kick out and limit the very pioneers who created a settlement in the first place, all in the name of continued development and gentrification of the neighborhoods cannabis businesses have increased their value in and call home.”
Even some of the City council members are skeptical that this new ordinance will be a good way to fix the problem.
“When you begin to saturate and when you begin to concentrate (businesses), there’s no odor ordinance that can identify where this is coming from,” Albus Brooks, a local Councilman, told The Denver Post. “And I’ve never seen a council so sure of a bill that hasn’t even come through committee yet.”
While there is no doubt that some measures should be taken to ensure dispensaries and grows contain there odors, many seem opposed to this new, somewhat draconian, odor ordinance proposal. A final decision will be reached this month.
Government Begins Rethinking Scheduling of Cannabis
There is currently a petition to the FDA in progress that calls the federal government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, which holds the plant in the same category as hard drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin. Although medical cannabis, and now even recreational cannabis, is legal in Oregon, it still is not recognized as legal by the federal government. The Feds also don’t recognize it as officially serving a medical purpose.
The Controlled Substances Act has very strict criteria for how to classify the drugs on its Schedule I list, and there are many people who think that after many recent studies, cannabis simply doesn’t meet that criteria. To be placed on the list in the first place, a drug not only has to have a high potential for abuse, but it also has to have no medical uses, and be considered unsafe. The fiction of these statements in reference to cannabis is now widely known. A few very recent studies have proved the effectiveness of treating seizures in children with cannabis oil. The people are basically calling the government out and saying, let’s rethink the way we think about cannabis. To get cannabis removed from the Schedule I list, there has to be a petition placed with the Drug Enforcement Administration. There have been many attempts to get cannabis removed from this list in the past. Since 1972, petitions to the DEA have been denied. This time, however, the DEA has requested the Food and Drug Administration to perform a study to see if the classification of cannabis really should be different.
Supporters of the reclassification of cannabis claim that once the plant is no longer controlled by the federal government, federal spending that was once used to enforce cannabis laws and process offenders through the criminal justice system can be reallocated to more important things like education. They also argue that the U.S. government could make tons of revenue on the taxation and regulation of the cannabis industry. We already know this to be true in Oregon, where the state government collected nearly 3.5 million dollars of revenue after only its first month of recreational sales.
The reclassification of cannabis, and its removal from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, could mean big changes for Oregonians. It would first of all make a huge difference in the way we think about cannabis locally, and nationally. The stigmas that surround cannabis that are already starting to melt away will soon be gone completely. Secondly, medical growers and dispensary owners will start to face less opposition when trying to operate and run their businesses. Not constantly looking over their shoulder for the Feds. Our state government would finally be in agreement with the federal government, and Oregonians will no longer be breaking federal law when they smoke or sell cannabis. This would create big changes in the eyes of the Oregon State police and court system, and the way they deal with cannabis users.
The DEA has remained pretty silent about their upcoming decision, and their study with the FDA. It has been projected that they will be making a decision by mid-year. Hopefully the U.S. Government can finally recognize what Oregon and many other states already have about the medical benefits of cannabis.
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