Oaksterdam University has been grooming cannabis industry and activism leaders for years, effectively showcasing the need to combine good political advocacy with sound business knowledge. As the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) always blends activism and business, Oaksterdam has been a natural partner for us. As California looks to legalize cannabis for all adults, it must be noted that the fight to legalize cannabis in the Golden State would not have the broad support it has now without Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee using his own resources to place legalization on the ballot in 2010.
Anyone in the cannabis industry, or thinking of joining can benefit from the unique educational experience that Oaksterdam can provide. Just like us at the ICBC, OU understands the importance of moving cannabis policy internationally, as the cannabis college has plans to open up a campus in Jamaica next year!
Oaksterdam University Provost Dr. Aseem Sappal was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of the ICBC, including providing some advice for our attendees.
When was Oaksterdam founded and what laid the foundation for its formation?
Located in the heart of downtown Oakland, California, Oaksterdam is a community of advocates, activists, patients, and average people that formed in 1996. In fact, this is the 20-year anniversary of Oaksterdam the area. This community gave birth to many of the country’s first cannabusinesses, including our nation’s 1st cannabis college, Oaksterdam University.
Oaksterdam University was founded in 2007. Next year will be our 10-year anniversary. OU was formed for numerous reasons. One was to give a voice to many of the industry’s first pioneers and freedom fighters and to promote education while raising public awareness. Our mission has always been to provide quality training for the cannabis industry and to set people up for success as they venture into this nascent enterprise. It was important to protect patients, teach them patient rights and the difference between state and federal law.
What do you think are the most unique resources Oaksterdam brings to the cannabis community?
OU doubles as a hub for cannabis activism. OU along with other cannabusinesses in the area, plays a vital role in revitalizing the neighborhood and serving the international community.
Our faculty is comprised of over 200 subject matter experts that were some of the first pioneers and freedom fighters in the country. Our faculty, staff and alumni are ambassadors of the school and everyone benefits from the professional experience and networking opportunities that develop here. One of the most unique aspects of OU is our diverse student body. Our students come from all walks of life, which adds to the variety of networking opportunities.
OU offers our community the only hands on cultivation lab in the world and the only product testing and certification facility in the country. Oaksterdam provides cannabis education and certification to doctors, attorneys, law enforcement, government agencies, international governments, at hospitals and universities, to grandmothers and high school graduates. We bring the efficacy behind our international R&D and share best practices from the government contracts we receive to either evaluate cannabis license applications or train state evaluators. We know what they are looking for. We will teach you what you didn’t realize you needed to know.
From helping write the laws, to teaching them, Oaksterdam offers industry experience, networking, education, certification, legislation, internships and employment opportunities.
How long have you been involved with Oaksterdam and what drove you to become Provost there?
I’ve been around OU since the pre-prop 19 days of 2009. My journey actually began as a student back in 2010. After graduating I applied for and was accepted into their internship program. Once my internship was complete, I couldn’t get enough and started volunteering. As a volunteer I helped write the universities first Outdoor Agriculture program. In 2011 I was hired as Academic Facilitator.
As we all know on April 2, 2012 Oaksterdam was the subject of a politically motivated raid by the federal government. 53 employees at OU lost their jobs and healthcare. On April 3rd only 3 staff members returned to carry the torch, to sift through the garbage bags and rebuild OU from the ash; that was Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones, Big Mike Parker and myself. That’s when I took over as Provost & Director of Operations. I will note that we had an army of volunteers that stepped up to lend more than a hand and our entire faculty not only returned but volunteered to teach until we got our collective heads above water.
What drives me are the cancer patients that are now cancer survivors. The fact that we have been making a mistake by not utilizing the constituents of this plant accordingly. The fact that the majority of the general public do not have the facts. It’s the difference between being educated vs. being opinionated and I’m an advocate for education.
As a medical doctor, you certainly appreciate the need for clinical studies on the medical efficacy of cannabis. Do you have an opinion on whether the United States should reschedule cannabis or remove it from the list of controlled substances completely? Why?
I do, that is why OU is currently in the process of conducting our own R&D and clinical trials in the Caribbean and South America. At the very least cannabis should be appropriately scheduled as a medicine which would automatically get it out of a schedule 1 classification. It’s only there now for political reasons. We all know that the U.S. government holds a patent on cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants which is a direct contradiction of their schedule 1 classification. Nonetheless, cannabis should be removed from the list altogether. The reallocation of government funds, reducing taxes and the use of alcohol and tobacco in our country as well as adult use measures is what stands behind that argument.
No law is ever perfect, but some laws are better than others. California is a big state, and many stakeholders in legalization have felt left out of the process in the movement for and passage of Yes on 64, also known as AUMA, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Prop 19, the legalization effort of 2010 in California, was born of the Oaksterdam community and specifically Richard Lee, who gave his life’s fortune in order to further the cause. There was a lot of pushback from folks in the marijuana community who held fears about its passage. What would you say to people who are fearful of this particular measure? Are there serious problems to be addressed or are we simply letting perfect be the enemy of good?
You’re right, California is the 5th largest economy in the world. What happens here will no doubt affect the international community. Unfortunately, everyone has their own motivations for what they want and what they do. Some people care more for the greater good of us all, while others will always focus on what’s best for them and their business. Always remember that with opportunity comes opportunists.
Working with Richard Lee, it was apparent the he, which means OU, would sacrifice any and all opportunity for success for the greater good of our community, citizens and country.
People have the right to be concerned. Some things will get better while in some cases we may be taking a step backwards. There will always be problems. It’s a pick your poison scenario. In the end of the day, I support legalization because I support protecting our children and families from needless prosecution and feeding a private prison system that is in the business of making money. I agree that nothing is perfect, however be wary of opening your door to the enemy.
Oaksterdam has a program for international students and is recognized as a pre-eminent source of learning for anyone looking to get into the cannabis industry. As US laws relax, many other countries have stepped up to start their own medical cannabis programs. What countries do you think are advancing the most quickly in this respect?
OU has graduated close to 30,000 students from over 30 countries. I mention that to highlight that the interest in this industry is an international one. Drug policy reform is not just an issue within our own borders. Many nations are making great strides to legitimize the use of cannabis in their respective countries. Canada, Jamaica, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Colombia are a few to keep an eye on. Colombia, however started after most of the nation’s I’ve mentioned, yet they seem to be moving far quicker than most.
Any plans for a permanent presence for Oaksterdam internationally?
Absolutely, the need for education is great and the demand is even greater. We plan to open a campus in Jamaica in 2017. We have opportunities in South America and Europe that we are exploring as well. Within the United States, OU will have its Las Vegas campus open by the end of the year.
In the United States and elsewhere, there is clearly some tension between tight state regulation and allowing individuals to grow freely at home. Clearly the grassroots supports home cultivation. What do you think are the biggest impediments to creating policies that allow for homegrow domestically and abroad?
Politics and lack of education and standards. The problem is that one can do so much with this plant and anyone can grow it in their own homes. This usually isn’t the case with the centerpiece of a new industry. Controlling such a thing and regulating it poses a challenge for any big business looking to monopolize and monetize.
What is a piece of advice (or two) that you would give to attendees at the International Cannabis Business Conference, whether they are already in the industry or thinking of joining?
Remember that two plus two doesn’t always equal four in the cannabis industry. You will be challenged, you will get frustrated, you will question yourself and your decision to commit to this industry. Don’t let the permitting process frustrate or deter you. I’m here to tell you to move forward. The time is now, it’s your generation. Set the standard and raise the bar.
Government officials, policy makers and law enforcement understand that their opinion is now overshadowed by the need for regulation. They understand it’s happening. They want responsible individuals, people that that take the initiative to attend these conferences and educate themselves about policy and best practices. Learn as much as you can, speak to as many people as you can and do your due diligence when working with potential partners or anyone that identifies themselves as a consultant or master grower. Finally, you don’t have to do everything on your own, alumni of Oaksterdam University are provided with every contact, direction and resource in our community.
Anything else that you would like to add about Oaksterdam?
This November 11th we’re headed to Las Vegas and December 3rd to New York to host horticultural seminars. Also in December come join us as we head to Jamaica as the main sponsor and educational provider for the Rastafari Rootzfest Ganjamaica Cup, which is approved by the Ministry of Justice. You can always attend our main campus in Oakland where we offer year round seminars, 4 month semesters and internships.
Building a foundation of knowledge, while raising awareness is the first step in making this a more widely recognized, respected and regulated industry. Numerous jurisdictions now tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, and once you graduate from Oaksterdam you can ensure that just as the industry grows, so can you.
Keep in touch with what we are doing and learn more about our alumni success stories in our monthly newsletter. Sign up at Oaksterdam.com
We appreciate the work of Oaksterdam University and thankful for their assistance with the upcoming International Cannabis Business Conference in Vancouver. You can also keep tabs on Oaksterdam its Facebook and Twitter accounts.