Last weekend at an event sponsored by California-based Oaksterdam University, more than 300 people packed the Best Western Executive Plaza in Ann Arbor, for the first marijuana educational seminar held in Michigan since the passage of Proposal 1 last November.

Max Collins/Daily
Michigan-based criminal defense lawyer Matthew Abel discusses how cannabis farmers obey laws set in place by Proposal 1 during one of the first segments of Oaksterdam University’s two-day program in Ann Arbor.

During the seminar, audience members asked many questions, demonstrating a general lack of knowledge about the issues surrounding marijuana usage. Oaksterdam University Executive Chancellor Dale Clare attributed the lack of knowledge to the current state of marijuana education.

“It’s not just a lack of information (about marijuana), but an amount of disinformation and a misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, of some information and just a total vacuum in some places,” Clare said.

Oaksterdam University President Richard Lee founded the university in Oakland, Calif. in November 2007 to teach students about the various aspects of marijuana policy. Classes in the university’s Oakland campus were initially small, but media attention caused an increase in enrollment, and the school opened a second campus in Los Angeles, Calif.

Both campuses are currently holding classes for about 160 students each week.

Clare said Michigan first caught Oaksterdam’s attention after Proposal 1 — which legalized medicinal marijuana in the state — passed last November. Oaksterdam chose to hold its classes in Ann Arbor due to the city’s lax marijuana laws, Clare said.

“In reading Michigan’s law, we recognized that for the first time in a long time there was another state that had legislation that was similar to our own,” she said.

Clare added that Oaksterdam was interested in helping Michigan implement the proposal.

“(We realized) there’s other people out there that have an opportunity to really make or break this new law, and we have a chance to get out there and teach them how to do it well,” Clare said.

Clare said that beginning in January, Oaksterdam started reaching out to various marijuana advocacy groups in Michigan. Those connections eventually led to last weekend’s seminar.

Clare added that she was surprised by the response of those interested in attending the seminar. The first week after it was announced, Oaksterdam received more than 600 calls from people inquiring about the seminar and wanting to register.

Ohio resident Rosie Hess said she was motivated to attend the seminar because she and her husband have health issues that qualify them to grow medicinal marijuana.

“I need to learn to grow the best, of course, but also go ahead and make a living doing it,” Hess said. “This is something I firmly believe in and something that I think the nation is eventually going to be gravitating to, so I’d like to do my part.”

LSA junior Francesca Bardinelli, an executive director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said she supported the seminar for similar reasons.

“Everyone has the right to seek the medical attention that they need, even if that is marijuana, which is illegal,” Bardinelli said. “I mean, these people are in pain and need help. Why should they be denied the only treatment that helps them?”

Matthew Abel, a Detroit-based attorney who specializes in marijuana cases, spoke about marijuana laws during the seminar. Abel said that Proposal 1 could have innumerable benefits for Michigan residents.

“(Proposal 1) has spelled relief for a lot of people in Michigan who have been depending on cannabis medicines for a long time,” he said. “It is alleviating some of their fears of prosecution.”

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