Books Out, Pencils Down, Bongs on Your Desks

Partly due to the medical marijuana clinics in San Francisco, much of the surrounding area including Sonoma and Oakland is known for ganja smoking. When I visited Sonoma State University, people would blaze in their living rooms with the curtains wide open. From what I hear, even the local police partake every now and then and let possession slide. It’s like something out of the movie “Superbad.”
So it should come as no surprise that there is now a school in Oakland that teaches students all about marijuana and prepares them for work in California’s medical marijuana industry. Playing off of Amsterdam, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a cafĂ© where you wouldn’t catch a secondhand high, the school has lightheartedly named itself Oaksterdam U. Whoa! This reeks of controversy (I refuse to make a Reefer joke here), but I’ll get to that in a second.
For $200 and the cost of two textbooks, students can learn the best way to cultivate and cook with cannabis and study which strains of weed are the best for certain ailments. The legalities of the business are also taught because medicinal marijuana is against the law according to the feds. The course lasts for a two-day weekend and is currently sold out through May. Sixty students have already completed the course, which ends with a take-home test that earns the top scorer the title of class valedictorian.
So just how profitable is the dope-dealing business? Well, entry-level workers make barely more than minimum wage, but “bud tenders” can make more than 50 grand a year. Owners and managers can make over $100,000. Of course, the job comes with legal hurdles. The Drug Enforcement Agency said the authorities are aware of Oaksterdam, but they see no reason to shut it down. Talking about weed is not illegal. The school does keep a small amount of pot on the premises, but the agency is more concerned with “[concentrating] our casework on the most significant violators,” said a representative.
Along the same shocking lines, the American College of Physicians, the second-largest doctors’ group in the United States, issued a Feb. 15 statement supporting medical marijuana. “Additional research is needed to clarify marijuana’s therapeutic properties and determine standard and optimal doses and routes of delivery. Unfortunately, research expansion has been hindered by a complicated federal approval process, limited availability of research-grade marijuana and the debate over legalization,” said the group.
The ACP provided evidence that marijuana is valuable in treating severe weight loss associated with AIDS, along with nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. The statement also “encourages the use of nonsmoked forms of THC (the main psychoactive element in weed),” and argues, “the government should review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance on the scientific basis that its safety and efficacy have been proven for several medical conditions.” However, the group also calls for a similar review of drugs like LSD and heroin, a request that I think goes too far.
So we have a school that teaches how to make special brownies in a home economics course and a reputable group of doctors condoning the use of medical marijuana. As far as the school goes, I’m surprised it hasn’t suffered a lawsuit yet. There are some nasty, heavily conservative politicians out there who won’t stand for things like this and I imagine would go out of their way to shut it down. But is it all right to have a school based purely on the basics of growing and using ganja? Like it or not, medical marijuana is now a legitimate business, and on the most basic level, the school can be considered a trade school, ridiculous as it sounds.
The weed isn’t going into the bowls and pipes of the students; it’s going into the bowls and pipes of people with chronic migraines or Alzheimer’s. Granted, there are those who may illegally abuse this newfound knowledge for personal profit, but that risk is up to them. After all, the school is not instigating drug dealing. Of course, there are those who will open a medical weed shop and then throw out prescriptions to anyone who has a lick of trouble falling asleep at night (“Oh, you have a severe case of insomnia. Here are three ounces of weed, take two and call me in the morning”), and therein lies the real problem of this school. There’s no real way to test the character and honesty of the people you’re teaching. Also, a couple of my friends have gotten medical marijuana by claiming they had insomnia.
What about the ACP doctors? If it’s been scientifically proven to alleviate pain and treat medical conditions, then why not? It’s not like they’re making human sacrifices to treat their pain. I don’t know much about the detrimental effects of weed, but I have heard that it kills brain cells. However, alcohol can be just as damaging, due to all the bars, St. Patrick’s Day, drinking games and Flogging Molly concerts. That’s a slaughter that’s literally in your head.
And what about cigarettes, for God’s sake? I’m sure cigarettes are far more detrimental than smoking a bowl. Yes, people can become addicted to weed, but only if they have addictive personalities and no moderation. There is no addictive substance in marijuana, but there is addictive nicotine, as well as a cesspool of other destructive chemicals, in cigarettes. Yet the latter is legal and provides no benefits whatsoever, except a new yacht every month for Big Tobacco.
I know a number of you reading this are tokers, while others may catch one whiff of it at a party and walk around holding your breath as much as possible for the rest of the night. Regardless, this is college. It’s out there. And from the looks of it, marijuana is entering the world of somewhat-legitimate business. The bottom line: I can’t say I’m completely for or against medical marijuana because we have no way to know if people will abuse the privilege, but if it helps Grandma Elsie sleep through the nights and calms nausea from chemo, then I see no reason to try to take it away from her.

AE Anteater is a second-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.