America’s first “cannabis college” is here in the Bay Area, about to celebrate a full decade of teaching the green arts of medicinal marijuana.
Oaksterdam University, located on Telegraph Avenue in Uptown Oakland, will be launching another batch of ganja graduates in the cannabis industry later this month at its annual launch ceremony and 10-year anniversary celebration.
Oaksterdam is now a successful institution that organizes cannabis seminars across the country. But the 10 years have not always been easy, and Oaksterdam has survived a series of tough confrontations with the police, the DEA and the IRS. The school’s roots can be traced back to California’s original medical cannabis law, Prop. 215, which voters passed in 1996. Medical marijuana was suddenly legal, but dispensaries weren’t. In the late 1990s, there was absolutely no mechanism for legal cannabis sales. Medical card holders could legally possess marijuana, but in fact they couldn’t buy it. Very few patients were willing or able to successfully grow marijuana plants, so most of them still had to buy their weed from illegal street dealers.
Oaksterdam identified the need and planted the seed.
It was not called Oaksterdam then. There were a few outlaw pharmacies, such as the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Collective and the Berkeley Patients Group, that purposely ignored the federal government by selling cannabis to people in need. They tried to legitimize medical marijuana transactions, and in George W. Bush’s America, the federal government regularly took their ass to court.
A 2001 case about the closure of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Collective went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — which ruled 8-0 against the pharmacy — so cannabis activist and AIDS patient Jim McClelland started an underground pharmacy, The Zoo.
The name “Oaksterdam” did not come from the school. The term comes from a strain of cannabis called “Oaksterdam Goo”, a term coined by McClelland. Oakland’s Measure Z essentially
legalized pharmacies in the city in 2004. The zoo would be joined by other outlaw pharmacies to open within a few blocks. The neighborhood was nicknamed Oaksterdam, and those dispensaries would come together to form the cannabis college of the same name.
Oaksterdam University was founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, a rock concert lighting engineer who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in 1990 that left him with a spinal cord injury. Lee was inspired by a cannabis school he had seen while visiting Amsterdam, and decided to pursue the same idea in Oakland.
The first Oaksterdam classes were essentially weekend seminars, with a few advanced courses on horticulture, packaging and budding. In November 2007 a total of 22 people followed the courses.
In 2009, Oaksterdam University would have thousands of graduates from all over the world.
Lee would become the driving force behind Prop. 19, a 2010 statewide ballot that marked the first attempt to legalize recreational marijuana use for all Californians — with or without a medical card. That proposal just backfired, but it laid the groundwork for the Prop’s eventual passage. 64 who legalized adult use in 2016.
Meanwhile, Oaksterdam University still hosted monthly block parties on Sundays, becoming recognizable by the gigantic 7,300-square-foot green-on-white block painting on Broadway and 17th Street that featured “Oaksterdam University” next to the shield-shaped school. logo. The Oakland Planning Commission had generally been receptive to Oaksterdam University, but was not receptive to it.
The planning committee stated that it was clearly an advertisement, not a mural, and therefore violated city law and ordered that the sign be painted over.
A stunning new mural by RB Morris III and Munir Munir appeared in 2011 to celebrate the revitalization of the neighborhood that was once called Oaksterdam. The colorful new painting was a neighborhood landmark, featuring the Oaksterdam logo and a scholar reading from a marijuana textbook, as well as landmarks like the Fox Theater tent, the Oakland Tribune clock tower — and, of course, an oak tree.
Unfortunately, the mural was a constant target for taggers and was painted over completely white in December 2012. At the time, however, the mural was the least of Oaksterdam University’s concerns.
When federal agents raided Oaksterdam on the morning of April 2, 2012, the FBI didn’t just raid the school. They also raided Lee’s house and all his shops. It was busy and Lee quit the cannabis business to focus on beating rap.
While widely reported as a Drug Enforcement Agency raid, the Oaksterdam raid was primarily an IRS operation involving some DEA agents and US Marshals. They confiscated marijuana plants, computers and all student records, causing a massive panic in the Oakland cannabis scene.
But that raid was essentially a glorified audit, primarily designed to extort more money from Lee. Only one criminal charge resulted: KPFA reporter Jose Gutierrez was charged with scuffle with a federal agent. Gutierrez would be sentenced to five years’ probation and 300 hours of community service, but no person has ever served a prison term for the raid on Oaksterdam.
Oaksterdam University had to leave the location and faced a very uncertain future. The damage was done – until it was undone by the remaining faculty of Oaksterdam University.
Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones took over as President and CEO of Oaksterdam to ensure the institution’s survival. The school would find a new home just half a block from the old one, and is now thriving on Telegraph Avenue and 17th Street.
More than 30,000 students have now completed courses at Oaksterdam University and the school serves as a model for legal cannabis courses that have entered fully accredited universities.
And founder Richard Lee is fearless and back in the game. Lee will deliver the keynote address at Oaksterdam’s 10th anniversary later this month.
Since those outlaws of 2007 and the terrifying robbery of 2012, legal marijuana has become a $6 billion industry in the US. to make.
10 year anniversary party,
Saturday November 18, 7 p.m. at
the Scottish Rite Centre, 1547
Lakeside Drive, Oakland;