Travel

Take a Cannabis Class at Oaksterdam University

The "Harvard of Hemp" is the first cannabis college in the US.

Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

With recreational cannabis now legal in 21 states plus Washington, DC, it’s high time to visit cannabis college, Oaksterdam University (OU).

“The one thing all of our students have in common is a passion for the plant and the desire to learn more about their place in this burgeoning industry,” said Wensdy Von Buskirk, Communication Specialist at OU. “Oaksterdam is a state of mind, for those self-selecting to be future-ready, with programs more attainable from any device in your life, and on your time.”

The majority of the students are from the US and range in age from 18 to 86. They enroll at OU to light up their careers in the legal cannabis industry. Some come from careers in other industries, some are old-school legacy trying to get compliant and others are entry-level job-seekers.

“I’d wanted to open my own dispensary since 1999 and I felt attending a cannabis college would help with that,” said Alphonso Blunt, Jr, owner of dispensary Blunts & Moore and who took OU’s horticulture and business of cannabis classes back in 2007. Blunt is the first Black equity owner of a cannabis retail store opened under Oakland’s social equity program, which requires a portion of the cannabis permit go to applicants either prosecuted for weed-related crimes like Blunt, or were impacted by the “war on drugs,” a federal campaign that began in 1971.

Tahir Johnson credits OU with helping him get into the cannabis industry. He took a cultivation course in 2018 and returned to take a business class in 2021.

“No matter what course you’re taking, advocacy is part of the program,” said Johnson, who worked first in finance, then as a budtender at a dispensary before enrolling at OU. Following graduation, Johnson spent four years working in cannabis advocacy and was awarded one of New Jersey’s first 11 dispensary licenses. His dispensary Simply Purely Trenton is opening in March 2023.

Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

How Oaksterdam University Came to Be

The idea grew out of the medical cannabis movement in the 1990s after Jeff Jones was raided by federal authorities for dispensing cannabis. He began teaching medical patients how to grow their own medicine and fought all the way to the Supreme Court for medical marijuana to become legal.

Jones passed the torch to his long-time friend and cooperative grower Richard Lee, who opened Coffeeshop Blue Sky in Oakland with a dispensary permit and offered cannabis growing classes. Founded in 2007, the unaccredited “Princeton of Pot” was arrested in 2012. After Lee retired, OU reopened and more than 80,000 students from 110 countries have taken classes at OU since then, with more are rolling in as the cannabis industry grows.

Johnson wants to make sure his employees are educated like him.

“It’s important to me,” said Johnson, who hosts the podcast the Cannabis Diversity Report. “I want them to have that same knowledge and skill set.”

Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

Choose the Classes and Type of Course You Want to Take

The course catalog includes more than 25 elective classes, including Home Grow, which teaches everything you need to know to grow cannabis indoors, outdoors, or in a greenhouse, together with Consuming Cannabis Safely, which extensively covers how cannabis affects the human body.

To put it bluntly, the online classes are legitimate. There is a text and video-based curriculum, virtual horticulture labs and virtual field trips where owners walk you through their grow operations, manufacturing facilities and dispensary lounges. Classes are taught by cultivators, business leaders and cannabis advocates like Jones, who helped shape the early medical cannabis movement in California.

There are readings (Oaksterdam just released its first e-book The Budtender’s Guide: A Reference Manual for Cannabis Consumers and Industry Professionals) and some classes include a “capstone project.” In the Horticulture class, students design a blueprint for a grow operation, and in Business, they create a forward financial plan.

You can choose self-paced courses to attend classes asynchronously or attend live interactive lectures with up to 23 students to ask questions in real-time and network with classmates.

The live semester program meets once a week for two-and-a-half hours on Zoom for 17 weeks, plus there’s additional time to build a business plan with your cohort and coach. There is also a fast-track semester option that offers the same curricula in half the time. The live semester certification programs with capstone happen once a year and begin on Jan. 9, 2023.

Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University
Courtesy of Oaksterdam University

The Logistics: Enrollment, Cost, Scholarships and More

Classes start at $150 for electives to $295 for the Home Grow course. Self-paced certification courses range from $486 to $983. Live certification courses range from $1,995 to $2,495. You can’t use federal financial aid, but Oaksterdam offers scholarships and there are payment plans.

Students have access to alumni networking events and the extracurricular Garden Club: live horticulture labs on Friday mornings where expert growers answer questions.

While you can’t actually get a college degree from Oaksterdam University, your effort doesn’t have to go up in smoke. You can get a certificate in Budtending, Horticulture, Business of Cannabis, Extraction & Manufacturing and, for the last three, transfer up to 18 credits to Golden Gate University to put toward a bachelor’s degree in business. Classes are pass/fail, but you need an 80% score or higher to pass the course or obtain certification.

“Education and training are crucial to understanding the changing laws, evolving industry and ever-expanding science and therapeutics behind cannabis,” said Von Buskirk. “It’s an exciting time to get in on the ground floor.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Lauren Mack is a Contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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