“This is about people of conscience; about opening the door and letting people in,” said Oaksterdam University’s Chancellor Dale Sky Jones when Kantoka caught up with her recently at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco.

Oaksterdam University needs no introduction to most of the cannabis community, but to those who are yet to hear of this institution, let us fill you in a bit. Founded in 2007, Oaksterdam University is America’s first cannabis college, with educational roots going back to 1995. With over 40,000 Alumni worldwide, from 40 countries, OU has established itself as the world’s leading cannabis college.

Their mission is as pure as the best cannabis you can find in its home city of Oakland, California: Oaksterdam University is a dynamic, diverse, and responsive academic institute dedicated to educating the global cannabis community and industry. Oaksterdam’s mission is to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to lead and succeed in the evolving cannabis industry.

Dale Sky Jones is more than just the face of OU in her role as Chancellor, beginning her career at OU in 2012. She has been a fervent advocate for the cannabis movement, focused on enhancing the debate for cannabis policy reform since 2007. She created the blueprint as the spokeswoman and legislative liaison for the first statewide legalization effort, the Prop 19 campaign in California, igniting the international debate in 2010. Over the next seven years, she served as Chairwoman of the Board for the diverse Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA), whose efforts led to legalization in California. She is also a founding board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Upon immediately engaging with Dale Sky Jones, Kantoka was able to recognize the fuel that ignites her fire for her work and advocacy within the industry. She is focused on civil rights, equity, and addressing the inequities created by prohibition. “The plant itself does not know,” she said in regards to how society’s influence over the scheduling of the plant has inherently added bias to a plant that we know has no bias and is by nature inclusive to everyone. It’s these philosophies that so very apparently underscore Sky Jones’ work.

Oaksterdam University in its goal to challenge higher education, is structured to bring people together and close gaps that have otherwise been created both by society and cannabis prohibition. Sky Jones explained to us that in the in-class components of OU’s programs, quite often you’ll find a Ph.D. sitting beside someone who never graduated high school, coming together for a desire to learn about cannabis. Similarly, you’ll also find people who have been involved in legislation sitting beside people who have been convicted of cannabis crimes. In the beginning, there’s an obvious tension in the classroom, by the end of programs, people have come together with a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s position and experiences within the industry.

Oaksterdam’s programs are generally fit into two categories: Horticulture and Business. Of course, Horticulture programs and classes focus on the cultivation of the plant from seed to harvest, while the Business courses focus more on meeting the needs of patients and consumers while learning the business behind the plant and industry. The school offers its Business of Cannabis program in 3 formats: 14-week Semesters, 5-day Seminars, and online.

Options for financial aid and housing are available for students who enroll in OU, and a strong advocacy arm of the university invites students to become engaged in the fight to help fix the problems caused by prohibition to create a brighter future for cannabis.

Dale Sky Jones is a powerful role model for her students. Having experienced the “thick glass ceiling” of the corporate world and being able to shatter it prior to her work in cannabis, Sky Jones feels she can be an example to other women in the industry, a kind of “If she can do it, I can do it” mentality. 

She mentioned the very real fact that women were not “out” before in cannabis, with men usually taking the risks on behalf of protecting the family. Even if women were behind cannabis operations for a family, it would usually be the man who would take the fall if something went sideways. Now, with legalization and with OU providing entrepreneurs the tools to succeed within the industry, women (and also veterans, BIPOC) are now more comfortable to show their faces, and finally, take pride in the work they do. 

At the core of the values that Sky Jones and Oaksterdam encourage in their students is giving back to their community. While OU’s intent is to help people make money within the industry, it’s their greater intent to encourage others to re-invest their money into their local communities. “You can make money while doing good” is Sky Jones’ message to her students.

What are some parting words that Sky Jones had for Kantoka? Keep your expectations of yourself, and others high: “If you expect it, people will rise to those expectations.

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