Fire Damages Cannabis Institution Oaksterdam University

An early morning fire Sunday damaged the downtown Oakland buildings housing famed cannabis college Oaksterdam University and the adjacent Patient ID Center, the school’s executive chancellor confirmed to Cannabis Now.

No injuries were reported and responding firefighters extinguished the blaze before it could spread to other buildings, but not before firefighters had to “drop in through the roof and put the carpet out on the second floor,” Dale Sky Jones, OU’s executive chancellor, said via text message.

Both OU’s physical Oakland campus and the Patient ID Center, which offered medical-cannabis “cards” to qualified patients and sold cannabis-related books, clothing and other ephemera, are temporarily closed while the damage is assessed, Jones said. 

In the meantime, OU’s offerings in horticulture, economics, advocacy, and CBD are already online

Online classes launched two weeks ago, Jones said and closing the campus is something the university would likely have done anyhow out of an abundance of caution thanks to the ongoing and widening novel coronavirus pandemic, she added.

Plans to reopen OU’s Los Angeles campus on April 9 appear going ahead. 

As for reopening the physical locations of the two longtime cannabis institutions in Oakland, which played pivotal roles in California’s medical and legalization eras, it’s too early to say.

“We are assessing the damages and making determinations in light of the fire and covid-19,” Jones said. “We’re reaching out to our students before we make a public statement.”

According to Jones, the fire started after an arsonist torched a collection of trash cans assembled outside (which Jeff Jones — a longtime cannabis advocate, Dale Sky’s husband, and the proprietor of the Patient ID Center — had been asking the city to move, he said). 

The fire immolated a city-approved art installation attached to the building’s wall made out of plastic and fiberglass, and then spread onto the roof of the building at 1733 Broadway.

“Not a great moment for downtown for our building,” Jeff Jones said. “I’m still slightly stunned.”

Founded in 2007 by Richard Lee, Oaksterdam University claims to be the world’s first “cannabis college” and claims 40,000 alumni worldwide. The school’s initial instructors included San Francisco medical-marijuana pioneer Dennis Peron and longtime author and educator Chris Conrad.

The name “Oaksterdam” was borrowed from the name given to the surrounding area thanks in part to a permissive attitude that saw a number of cannabis businesses, including Amsterdam-style coffeeshops and Prop. 215-certified dispensaries, thrive well before “legalization” became a household word and a national movement.

And legalization still owes much to the institution and those associated with it. The first serious effort at legalizing recreational cannabis in the United States, 2010’s Prop. 19, was funded almost entirely by Lee’s life savings — proceeds that went to the movement before the federal government seized what was left in a forfeiture proceeding

Abandoned by politicians like current California Gov. Gavin Newsom — who opposed the measure and only later realized legalization was a good thing and a political winner — Prop. 19 lost, 53.5% no to 46.5% yes, but not before demonstrating that legalization was popular and stood a chance at the ballot box. 

That, and teaching a significant number of recent and current cannabis-industry figures how to grow and what to sell, is OU’s lasting achievement — even if the fire proves disruptive.

“It [the fire] will have an effect on things,” Jeff Jones said. “Our businesses will never be the same. Fires have numerous outcomes, none that are good, except change comes out of the ashes.”

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