Dale Sky Jones is the president and CEO of Oaksterdam University, a cannabis education institution that has successfully trained thousands of cannabis workers and professionals. Malcolm Youngren is the chief operating officer for the Pacific College of Health & Science, an institution dedicated to the integrative teaching of both Western and Eastern medicinal practices.
Together, the two have partnered for a program that offers Medical Cannabis Certificates for Health Professionals — in the following Q&A, which features both Dale and Malcolm, we dive into this latest partnership and unique offering.
Ganjapreneur: Oaksterdam has been educating cannabis patients and cultivators for a long time. Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced since the beginning?
Dale Sky Jones: It has been a long time! Almost 24 years ago, Jeff Jones, who is my husband, saw a need to teach patients how to grow cannabis for personal medical use. Then in 2007 Richard Lee officially founded the school and added legal, history, politics, science, and business to the curriculum. The idea was to educate people so they would become advocates to change the laws. Since Oaksterdam began offering classes, we’ve trained over 40,000 students from 40 countries, and now we’re online, so we’re international.
Being the first to do anything as involving as this, and against legal and social norms, has inherent challenges. Launching the school, and then the statewide campaign in 2010 to legalize cannabis in California, now the fifth largest economy in the world, were both extraordinarily difficult and also exhilarating and impactful. But by far, the most traumatic experience was the federal raid in April 2012. It’s an understatement to say that it was devastating for the school. They came after us because we were leading the charge, and they took everything but the office furniture — including all our records and bank accounts. The government took everything our founder had earned and forced him to retire, even though he was never charged with a crime. I took over running the school and museum as my mission to continue the legacy, and to fulfill the need of quality training for the cannabis industry.
How did the collaboration for a Medical Cannabis Certificate for Health Professionals come about?
Malcolm Youngren: About a year and a half ago, after reading the 2018 National Council of State Boards of Nursing guidelines for Medical Marijuana, I reached out to Dale at Oaksterdam. We agreed that those guidelines, which outline the areas of knowledge all 3 million nurses in the United States should know, were a game-changer. We both knew immediately that we needed this certificate. Over 50 million U.S. citizens currently use cannabis, as reported last year, and the market is expected to grow to over $125 billion by 2025.
Oaksterdam University is a natural partner because, for 22 years, the school has been a leader in cannabis education with a focus on cannabis producers. They have deep expertise in production, seed to sale, legal, and business development, and our knowledge is on the healthcare side. Pacific College is a leader in educating healthcare professions with a focus on nursing, acupuncturists, and massage therapy. Together, we could build a great partnership. We see this as the first of many collaborations between our two schools. For this inaugural certificate, they are providing key lectures, and we hope the partnership grows to encompass a wide variety of educational programs.
Who is the certificate for, and why is it needed?
Malcolm Youngren: Pacific College completed a survey of 107 nurses in the fall of 2018, and 65 percent of those nurses said that their profession needs more education in medical cannabis. That is why the certificate is necessary. There is too little education in the myriad of topics presented by cannabis, such as state laws, medical efficacy, quality control, appropriate prescriptions, contraindications, and many more. With over 50 million users in the United States, the need for this type of education is urgent.
What role did Oaksterdam play in developing the curriculum?
Dale Sky Jones: This certificate program is truly Malcolm’s vision. He and Pacific College developed the curriculum, and then we had a fruitful conversation with them about what role Oaksterdam could play. Two of our best educators are providing several key lectures, which cover cannabis subjects that are relevant to the medical professionals enrolled at Pacific College. There is nothing else like this certificate out there from an accredited college. We are thrilled to be part of the beginning of something that will revolutionize medical education across the country. The next step is bringing Oaksterdam program electives to Pacific College students.
Who will be teaching the courses, and what are their backgrounds?
Malcolm Youngren: Dr. Carey Clark and Dr. Denis Foster are two exceptional faculty members. Not only are they both PhDs and nurses, but Dr. Clark is also the president of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and Dr. Foster is their secretary and a regional director. Dr. Clark is published in over 30 medical journals, the editor of next year’s Wolters-Kuhlwer Cannabis Handbook for Nurses, and an associate professor of nursing at the University of Maine, where she moved to start an integrated holistic nursing program that includes studies on the endocannabinoid system. Also a holistic practitioner, Dr. Foster has been a professional nurse for over 30 years as well as a proponent for the use of cannabis as a therapeutic treatment. I admire her tireless advocacy for medical cannabis research and education. Both are perfect fits for our new certificate program.
Dale Sky Jones: Natalie Darves is our dean, a certified master gardener, and she teaches cultivation, regulation, and business strategy. Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML and our chair of science, and he teaches cannabis policy and law. Both are highly educated academics with decades of experience in their fields. Natalie has managed dozens of outdoor farms and greenhouses, and Paul is an author appearing in thousands of publications. Our students couldn’t have anyone better preparing them for their cannabis-related future.
How would a hospital board benefit from sending their staff to these courses?
Malcolm Youngren: Cannabis is mainstream, as exemplified by luxury cannabis brands and the high-end retailer Barney’s launching a cannabis lifestyle shop. Cannabis is all around us, but few medical practitioners know about it. Hospital boards need a core of their staff to understand cannabis beyond what they can pull off the internet. This certificate is the first college level certificate in the country, and PhDs who are field leaders are teaching the program. Furthermore, through the capstone course, students can customize their certificate to the specific needs of their hospital.
What are the courses offered, and where are they available?
Malcolm Youngren: The three courses currently being offered are Endocannabinoid System and Pharmacology, Clinical Medical Cannabis Guidelines and Professional Practice, and Cannabis Care Capstone. All classes will be available online, beginning with the next term in January 2020.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in cannabis education?
Dale Sky Jones: Until we deschedule and legalize cannabis for adult use and for those with medical needs, we are all fighting to end prohibition. We’ve held on long enough to see the world change. To know that our alumni are indeed helping to create that change. Our biggest challenge hasn’t been about ending the prohibition ourselves. It’s been about getting society to finally come around to agreeing that the failed policy of prohibition needs to change, and that we need to legalize research and safe access. I believe otherwise law-abiding citizens can fully participate in the production of a commodity that is safer than many therapeutic substances known to man.
Healthcare professionals must receive the knowledge needed to fulfill the expectations and needs of patients and the community. This is the moment we can partner with community leaders and higher learning institutions to ensure best practices and corporate responsibility. This new venture between Oaksterdam University and Pacific College of Oriental Medicine is an exciting opportunity and the next step toward achieving homeostasis between academic needs and educational opportunities.
Dale Sky Jones: We are looking at growing our collaboration with Pacific College, offering more courses that will prepare professionals in the cannabis space for business success in this rapidly evolving market. Since we are actively discussing those plans, there’s nothing we can announce just yet. Until then, those interested to know more about Oaksterdam’s curriculum should visit our website to learn more.
What skills will nurses develop after completing the Medical Cannabis Certificate for Health Professionals? How can these skills be used on the job?
Malcolm Youngren: Patients need expert care. In Pacific College’s Medical Cannabis Certificate Program, the students are supported in growing their communication, patient coaching with the use of motivational interviewing, and presentation and research skills. This training is designed to enable them to confidently begin working with patients in a private consulting capacity as related to their current professional status, educate patients and other healthcare providers, and perform outreach with communities. Not only are our certificate holders prepared to work in many diverse settings, but as well an academic certificate carries much more credibility versus completing a series of continuing education units. The completion of the cannabis care certificate demonstrates a commitment to furthering one’s skills as a highly qualified practitioner who is prepared to coach populations with their cannabis care healing journey.