Jason Motlagh writes in TIME:
On the second floor of the downtown campus, a motley group of students listens to a lecture titled “Palliative and Curative Relief Through a Safe and Effective Herbal Medicine.” Not the sexiest of topics on the face of it, but there’s a catch: this is Oaksterdam University, and the medicine being discussed is marijuana. At “America’s first cannabis college,” in Oakland, Calif., the sallow-faced hippy-skater types that one expects to find sit beside middle-aged professionals in business attire, united in their zeal for the pungent green leaf. No one dares speak out of turn, until instructor Paul Armentano, a marijuana-policy expert, cites a news report that U.S. antidrug authorities plan to legalize pot’s active ingredient exclusively for drug companies’ use. “More stinking profits for Big Business,” mumbles a young man wearing a baseball cap. His classmates groan in agreement.
More than 17,000 students have enrolled since Oaksterdam opened in late 2007. The original student body numbered fewer than two dozen people. Most are from the U.S., but others have arrived from as far as Iran and Colombia to get training for the lucrative medical-marijuana industry. The concept itself originated in Amsterdam, where school founder Richard Lee visited a community-focused cannabis college and figured he could do the same in the Bay Area. A professional and transparent approach, he reasoned, could help erode the drug’s stigmas and eventually move the state closer to full legalization. Some alums have taken up his activist mantle, campaigning aggressively last year in favor of a statewide proposition to legalize and tax recreational cannabis. (It failed by an 8-point margin.)
Still, faculty members concede the vast majority of new students are aspiring entrepreneurs with money on their mind. Oakland has some of the country’s laxest drug laws, making it ground zero for the medical-marijuana boom. Small pot clubs abound. In 2009, four legal commercial-scale dispensaries approved by the city council sold some $28 million worth of the drug. The question most frequently asked of instructors? “How much will this plant yield,” says “Big” Mike Parker, a technician in the horticulture lab with a long white beard and fading skull tattoos on his wrists. “This is hard work — you see me sweating,” he adds, tending to his plants under the bluish glow of a metal-halide light. “And if you think you’re gonna get rich, you’re here for the wrong reason.”
For more information, see original article.