Dale Sky Jones of Oaksterdam University – Industry Insider

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The doctor was lost somewhere in Compton.

It was 2008, during one of the first classes at a fledgling Oaksterdam University, and the lost doctor was supposed to be speaking about the benefits and use of medical cannabis. Dale Sky Jones wasn’t a doctor, nor had she stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before. But she did manage a group of medical-cannabis doctors in Orange County, and she was asked to step up.

“I went through the syllabus and realized it was pretty much what I said to patients all the time, except I got to say a little more, which was exciting for me, and off we went,” said Jones, 41, who was in the classroom as a volunteer facilitator, “a fly on the wall,” as she puts it. “I did not miss another science class in L.A. for the next three years, come hell or high water.”

From that chance beginning, Jones went on to become executive chancellor of a cannabis school with more than 25,000 alumni. She has also become one of the most prominent advocates of medical cannabis in California and around the country.

“These are the folks, the Oaksterdam alumni, who are going out and changing the world, and they are who I am most proud of. They’re the ones who carry the flag.”

At Oaksterdam University, she says, it’s about a lot more than learning how to grow your own cannabis.

Rock ‘N Roll Upbringing

Jones’ first cannabis experience was the smell wafting from her mother’s bedroom—not that she knew it at the time.

Her mother, a popular radio host, ran in hippie circles, and when she married Don Brewer, drummer for the classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad, it became a rock-and-roll household. Young people often rebel against their parents, and in Jones’ case, that meant getting a job in the corporate world. She worked for a shoe company, ran her own restaurant, along with other gigs in the service industry. She smoked cannabis from the age of 20, but was very much in the closet.

Her career took her to California, where voters in 1996 had approved a first-of-its-kind legalization of medical cannabis. She began to consider the possibilities of this burgeoning industry, and in 2007 left the corporate life to manage a group of medical-cannabis doctors.

It became a journey of self-discovery, as one of the doctors in the group helped her understand how cannabis could benefit her. She had long suffered from random vomiting episodes a few times each year, sometimes requiring hospitalization. Cannabis, she learned, could combat the nausea.

“After all of these years of getting hooked up to IVs for the vomiting, I realized I actually had a condition. [The doctor] was the one who helped me not only identify my condition but find what the triggers were and to avoid them, and that cannabis could actually keep me out of the hospital,” Jones said.

She became a true believer.

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Into a Black Hole

Doctors prescribing cannabis in California in these early days, before the explosion of dispensaries and cannabis clubs, had strict legal shackles. Working in the office, meeting the patients, Jones realized just how limited they were.

Patients, she said, “walked into a black hole once they walked out of the doctor’s office. The doctors themselves were disallowed from explaining to their patients where to find safe medicine, what medicine to take or how much. They could talk about different methods of ingestion, and that it might help them, but that was the limit.”

Cannabis activist Richard Lee had started Oaksterdam in 2007, the first cannabis school in the U.S., inspired by a growing school in Amsterdam he’d visited. But he took it further, adding legal rights and advocacy to the cultivation curriculum. Jones got involved as a volunteer after Lee opened a Los Angeles satellite campus, leading to the aforementioned lost doctor episode.

“It was an obvious overlay because training was always my favorite thing to do in the corporations I worked for, developing people. It was second nature to develop programs for Oaksterdam University, and we immediately realized we needed to take it on the road as well. Not everyone can get to southern California,” she said.

The curriculum continued to expand as well. A day of legalese preceded the first seed-planting lesson.

Know Your Rights

“When our classes first started, they were geared toward being a qualified patient, what are our rights and responsibilities, how to have successful law enforcement encounters,” she said. “It depended both on where you live and what badge you come in contact with can greatly change your day, your life and your future.”

After that session, students could begin what they came for, the planting.

“This is one place you can come and get your hands dirty, literally muddy, as you are planting the seeds, a la kindergarten where you’re planting your little sprout. You plant a sprout too. It’s just a cannabis sprout. Having the opportunity to see a living garden and go through it step by step while you’re growing your own garden, our 14 weeks match your 14 weeks, and you get that step-by-step one-on-one.”

But among students, there was a powerful thirst for more knowledge. Lessons were added on cannabis extractions and how to judge bud quality. Then courses were added on how to get a job in the industry and start your own business. Oaksterdam became a place where people networked and met business partners, or in Jones’ case, her life partner. They took the classes on the road, up and down the East Coast, to the Midwest and Jamaica and elsewhere. Oaksterdam launched an online course.

The 25,000-plus graduates hail from 30 different countries, Jones said. Many of the alumni became the next generation of cannabis advocates. That’s what Jones is most proud of, even as Oaksterdam became the nation’s premiere cultivation school.

“It was second nature to develop programs for Oaksterdam University and we immediately realized we needed to take it on the road as well. Not everyone can get to southern California.”

“We have trained the gladiators that have gone out into that good night and made it happen . . . The 25,000 people I talked about did not just go back to their closet and grow. They showed up, just like we asked them to, whether it was city council, to vote out a poor elected official and vote in a good one, to help write good policy, whether it’s the young man who is working on the Florida initiative, my graduate from 2010, or the people who helped get New York passed, who were graduates from 2009.”

“These are the folks, the Oaksterdam alumni, who are going out and changing the world, and they are who I am most proud of. They’re the ones who carry the flag.”

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