Take a Cannabis Class at Oaksterdam University

The “Harvard of Hemp” is the first cannabis college in the US.

Oaksterdam University offers cannabis classes
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
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With recreational cannabis now legal in 21 states plus Washington, DC, it's high time to visit cannabis college, Oaksterdam University (OU).

"The one thing all of our students have in common is a passion for the plant and the desire to learn more about their place in this burgeoning industry," said Wensdy Von Buskirk, Communication Specialist at OU. "Oaksterdam is a state of mind, for those self-selecting to be future-ready, with programs more attainable from any device in your life, and on your time."

The majority of the students are from the US and range in age from 18 to 86. They enroll at OU to light up their careers in the legal cannabis industry. Some come from careers in other industries, some are old-school legacy trying to get compliant and others are entry-level job-seekers.

"I’d wanted to open my own dispensary since 1999 and I felt attending a cannabis college would help with that," said Alphonso Blunt, Jr, owner of dispensary Blunts & Moore and who took OU's horticulture and business of cannabis classes back in 2007. Blunt is the first Black equity owner of a cannabis retail store opened under Oakland’s social equity program, which requires a portion of the cannabis permit go to applicants either prosecuted for weed-related crimes like Blunt, or were impacted by the “war on drugs,” a federal campaign that began in 1971.

Tahir Johnson credits OU with helping him get into the cannabis industry. He took a cultivation course in 2018 and returned to take a business class in 2021.

"No matter what course you’re taking, advocacy is part of the program," said Johnson, who worked first in finance, then as a budtender at a dispensary before enrolling at OU. Following graduation, Johnson spent four years working in cannabis advocacy and was awarded one of New Jersey's first 11 dispensary licenses. His dispensary Simply Purely Trenton is opening in March 2023.

Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

How Oaksterdam University Came to Be

The idea grew out of the medical cannabis movement in the 1990s after Jeff Jones was raided by federal authorities for dispensing cannabis. He began teaching medical patients how to grow their own medicine and fought all the way to the Supreme Court for medical marijuana to become legal.

Jones passed the torch to his long-time friend and cooperative grower Richard Lee, who opened Coffeeshop Blue Sky in Oakland with a dispensary permit and offered cannabis growing classes. Founded in 2007, the unaccredited "Princeton of Pot" was arrested in 2012. After Lee retired, OU reopened and more than 80,000 students from 110 countries have taken classes at OU since then, with more are rolling in as the cannabis industry grows.

Johnson wants to make sure his employees are educated like him.

“It's important to me," said Johnson, who hosts the podcast the Cannabis Diversity Report. "I want them to have that same knowledge and skill set.”

cannabis classes offered at Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

Choose the Classes and Type of Course You Want to Take

The course catalog includes more than 25 elective classes, including Home Grow, which teaches everything you need to know to grow cannabis indoors, outdoors, or in a greenhouse, together with Consuming Cannabis Safely, which extensively covers how cannabis affects the human body.

To put it bluntly, the online classes are legitimate. There is a text and video-based curriculum, virtual horticulture labs and virtual field trips where owners walk you through their grow operations, manufacturing facilities and dispensary lounges. Classes are taught by cultivators, business leaders and cannabis advocates like Jones, who helped shape the early medical cannabis movement in California.

There are readings (Oaksterdam just released its first e-bookThe Budtender’s Guide: A Reference Manual for Cannabis Consumers and Industry Professionals) and some classes include a “capstone project.” In the Horticulture class, students design a blueprint for a grow operation, and in Business, they create a forward financial plan.

You can choose self-paced courses to attend classes asynchronously or attend live interactive lectures with up to 23 students to ask questions in real-time and network with classmates.

The live semester program meets once a week for two-and-a-half hours on Zoom for 17 weeks, plus there's additional time to build a business plan with your cohort and coach. There is also a fast-track semester option that offers the same curricula in half the time. The live semester certification programs with capstone happen once a year and begin on Jan. 9, 2023.

earn certificates in Budtending, Horticulture, Business in Cannabis, and manufacturing | Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

The Logistics: Enrollment, Cost, Scholarships and More

Classes start at $150 for electives to $295 for the Home Grow course. Self-paced certification courses range from $486 to $983. Live certification courses range from $1,995 to $2,495. You can't use federal financial aid, but Oaksterdam offers scholarships and there are payment plans.

Students have access to alumni networking events and the extracurricular Garden Club: live horticulture labs on Friday mornings where expert growers answer questions.

While you can't actually get a college degree from Oaksterdam University, your effort doesn't have to go up in smoke. You can get a certificate in Budtending, Horticulture, Business of Cannabis, Extraction & Manufacturing and, for the last three, transfer up to 18 credits to Golden Gate University to put toward a bachelor's degree in business. Classes are pass/fail, but you need an 80% score or higher to pass the course or obtain certification.

"Education and training are crucial to understanding the changing laws, evolving industry and ever-expanding science and therapeutics behind cannabis," said Von Buskirk. "It’s an exciting time to get in on the ground floor."

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Lauren Mack is a Contributor for Thrillist.