The former home of a charter school at 1600 Broadway in Oakland is the new headquarters for Oaksterdam University, an Oakland-born trade school that teaches adults about the business of all things cannabis.
The curriculum features a course on politics, which is hardly surprising since its founders are leaders in the movement to legalize marijuana. And the celebration of the move is expected to have more than a whiff of politics about it.
It is a three-block move to a 30,000-square-foot facility, the second such move necessitated by growing popularity of the school, which has become a fixture in the neighborhood since it opened in 2007.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, there will be horticultural demonstrations, Chinese food and a jazz band. Local politicians, like Don Perata, a Democratic candidate for mayor, and City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan of Oakland, have been invited. “We all know we are in a struggling economy, so any time a business is expanding, it’s something to celebrate,” Ms. Kaplan said.
Tickets to the event are $150 to $300 for the general public. Proceeds will go toward the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative campaign, which aims to make it legal for adults in California to possess and cultivate small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption. It is a cause spearheaded by Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the nearby Blue Sky cafe/dispensary.
Oaksterdam has two other campuses — one in Los Angeles, another in Sebastopol. The school quickly outgrew its Oakland space, then outgrew it again as demand for spaces in their classes grew. The new location has six classrooms, an auditorium that can hold 100 people, a lab where plants can be cultivated and a theater. Courses include cooking with cannabis, proper labeling, hash-making, bud-tending and quality control.
While local business organizations invite dispensary owners to join their clubs, Mr. Lee said, marijuana remains largely an outlaw product — approved by California for medicinal purposes but an illegal drug under federal law. This creates a number of political, social and practical obstacles. In one example noted in a recent New York Times column, a charity rejected donations from Mr. Lee, but others have not.
Given all that, the school’s relationship with businesses in downtown Oakland is not always smooth. A few surrounding businesses complained that those who frequent Mr. Lee’s school and dispensary occupy valuable parking spaces. “There’s absolutely no parking, and these aren’t the kind of guys that wear suits, you know what I mean?” said Art Pollard, the fashion coordinator for Mr. K Fine Men’s Clothing on 17th and Broadway.
But Mr. Pollard and other businesses said they were comfortable with the presence of the university.
“What helped a lot has been school on Saturday,” says Ken Oranje, a hat specialist at the Hat Guys, a 21-year-old business in the neighborhood. “It’s been positive for us, because we’ve always done well, but on Saturdays, people find us and sometimes they do buy hats.”
By ANNA BLOOM
January 6, 2010