Oaksterdam is 20 years old this month!

Jeff Jones, Mikki Norris, Chris Conrad
Oakland City Hall, 1996

Have you been to Oakland recently? Our fair city is thriving and becoming more beautiful each year. The renovated Fox Theater opened in 2009 with OU’s support and restaurants have sprouted up around it. The Hive, which is a city block of historic structures near the 19th Street BART station has been transformed into office, retail and residential space. Most recently, a major renovation of the old Sears store will create new office space. Hotels are popping up and plans to revitalize Jack London Square, Old Town and Uptown are in the works.

But if we could time travel back to Oakland in July of 1996, long before Oaksterdam University was founded, we’d see a very different city. Back then the city was less desirable, still vacant and decrepit from the 1989 earthquake that shook San Francisco, Oakland and the South Bay, known as the Loma Prieta.

The epicenter of the cannabis policy reform was the East Bay, and surrounded by activists a young Jeff Jones saw an opening.  Where others saw risk, fear and roadblocks, Jeff Jones saw opportunity for both patients who wanted and needed access to medicinal cannabis and for the City of Oakland. He worked with the city, which in 1996 passed an official Resolution of Support for his bicycle delivery business, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club (OCBC), which set up shop on Broadway right in the heart of downtown.  By partnering with the city, Jeff was able to help it become the first U.S. city to contract with a medical cannabis provider. His self-regulatory practices eventually became the tenants of Senate Bill 420 and the Attorney General Guidelines of 2008 that CA has lived under through today.

What motivated Jeff to do this? At 14 years old, he watched his father suffer from cancer treatment and die in home hospice. When he learned that Federal Administrative Judge Francis L. Young had ruled in 1988—the same year his father died—that cannabis should be immediately rescheduled to allow research on its therapeutic benefits, he became very frustrated. Here was an alternative therapy that could have helped his father but there had been no information or access available.

After stopping by a Cannabis Action Network (CAN) booth at a concert as a college student, he’d dusted off his South Dakota shoes to head to Oakland, in search of answers about medical marijuana—something the federal government didn’t recognize as anything other than a harmful schedule I drug. CAN was a source of information about marijuana that couldn’t be found anywhere else and it offered Jeff a crash course in cannabis activism and how to create change at a grassroots level.

After being in business for two years, the OCBC and Jeff were sued by the federal government in what became one of the longest running medical cannabis cases in history. It was taken all the way to the Supreme Court and was the first case to ask the question for medical necessity patients. Jeff’s perseverance during his court case was unwavering; without it he knew he would never be treated fairly. That case—U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Cooperative & Jeffrey Jones—not only opened a discussion about states’ rights, but opened the door to cannabis legalization around the country.

Much has changed regarding the perception of cannabis over the past two decades. In addition to the work of cannabis advocates such as Jeff Jones, other factors have helped move the needle of acceptance. A major shift in perception came from the respected Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who publicly apologized on CNN for his original opinions about marijuana and released his documentary called “Weed.” Support for legalization of cannabis among Americans is rapidly outpacing opposition to it and 25 states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana and more will soon be voting to legalize adult-use marijuana.

We’ve watched as Oakland has come back to life in large part because of its marijuana-friendly environment and the mutual respect that exists between the city and the cannabis community. Other cities and states where medical and adult-use cannabis is legal are experiencing the same beneficial partnerships of success. Legal cannabis sales can be regulated and taxed to benefit communities.

While OCBC was the first cannabis business in East Bay to get local government involved, Jeff is quick to say he followed in the footsteps of Dennis Peron, who opened a dispensary in 1995 on Market Street in San Francisco. Then San Francisco Board of Supervisor Tom Ammiano participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony and it was the most involved any government had been in supporting cannabis at the time.

Jeff realized that he could spread a slightly altered, more palatable model around the country; for that we all owe him our gratitude. He risked much to stare down fear—something he learned with Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee—for a plant with incredible medicinal benefits. While we can marvel at the incredible improvements that have occurred in Oakland, I can’t help but reflect on the journey Jeff Jones has had, and the impact he has made in bringing cannabis into popular approval by working within a system that needed him as much as he needed it.
We all have a brighter future because of his pioneering efforts.  Please help me wish a happy 20 years to Mr. Jones!

Dale headshot thumbnail 2

Dale Sky Jones
Oaksterdam University
Executive Chancellor

”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead