It's a sunny Saturday in Southern Humboldt and a dozen or so people are seated on folding chairs in a windowless room, listening to two enthusiastic young San Francisco lawyers talk about race, gender politics and the history of feminism. Oh, and marijuana. Welcome to 707 Cannabis College, where "higher learning" takes on a whole new meaning.
Of course, it's easy to poke fun. And the college -- tucked in the Meadows Business Park between Garberville and Redway -- doesn't immediately snuff out the stereotypes. Enter the two-room building and you're greeted by a faint but unmistakable smell, plus a plush moose head on the wall across from a framed Reefer Madness poster. Pot-leaf earrings and tubs of Sweet Sticky Fingers scrub ("helps remove dirt, stubborn residues and odors!") are for sale, near a desk laden with volumes like The Big Book of Buds and a pamphlet titled "Cuttings Made Simple." A cardboard cutout of President Obama bears a Post-It speech bubble that reads "I love cannabis."
But speak with the people behind Cannabis College-- co-founders Kellie Dodds and Pearl Moon -- and it quickly becomes apparent the place is no joke. "When we first started, people laughed," recalls Moon. "They were like, ‘Nobody's going to come there, they already know how to do it.' Now those same people love us."
"We don't have classes on how to load a bong, or vaporizer 101," adds Dodds. Instead, Dodds says, the college focuses on four main areas: medicine, science, law and horticulture. Upcoming classes include "Light Deprivation Techniques," "Soil Preparation and Fertilization" and "Cannabis for the Cultivator and Medicinal Baker."
Then there was last Saturday's seminar, "Accessing Power: Gender Related Issues in the Cannabis Movement." Taught by Bay Area attorneys Kyndra Miller and Alexis Wilson Briggs, the class began with a broad overview of the push for women's equality through history, then compared that with the effort to normalize and ultimately legalize marijuana. Lecture headings included, "Lady Liberty," "Lady Justice" and "Mother Cannabis."
"I was a U.S. history major as an undergrad, and I studied race movements [and] gender movements in the antebellum period up to the ‘60s," Miller told the class. "And I didn't want to see happen with the cannabis movement what happened with the civil rights movement -- a fracturing along gender and race lines."
Safe to say when you're casually name-dropping the antebellum period, this ain't a haven for spaced-out stoners.
Indeed, attendees were mostly middle-aged women, though a couple of intrepid (and attentive) men did show up. Two women identified themselves as cancer survivors. Everyone took notes; nobody nodded off.
Briggs called it a "survey course," and said she hoped people would return for more targeted, in-depth classes in the future --ultimately producing papers "to become publishable books."
Though the class focused on big-picture cultural questions, we asked Dodds afterward if she felt there was a need for feminism within the marijuana industry. Is there a grass ceiling? "It's a male-dominated world," Dodds acknowledges without hesitation. For women, "it takes a lot of strength to do this." Other than trimmers, she and Moon agree, women are a minority in all aspects of pot production. Dodds compares it to the medical profession, where women were traditionally relegated to less glamorous, more subservient roles.
"There is a certain amount of sexism that persists," she says, "but I think it's changing. [We] are very happy with what we've built. We'll always be looking to partner with the best people, whether male or female, but to be honest, we're quite proud of what our female energy is producing, and we do think it's a good healthy shift in this industry."
Throughout the class, Moon and Dodds sat in the back, smiling and occasionally injecting their thoughts. Students also piped up frequently, sharing anecdotes and insights (mostly related to the material). The vibe wasn't too different from, well, a college seminar. About pot. In Garberville. Who'da thunk?
Not county and state officials, at first. "It took them a little bit to get their head wrapped around the fact that we don't sell cannabis," says Dodds. "Just the name threw people into, ‘Alright' [winks] or, ‘Heavens!'" But after slogging through the permitting process, the college now enjoys at least tepid support. It has an open dialogue with the sheriff's office, says Dodds, and she considers District Attorney Paul Gallegos a "friend of the school."
Of course, there's always the threat of the federal hammer. "I think Obama is really feeling the pressure," says Moon of the administration's recent, harsher anti-drug stance. But she hopes he'll ease up once re-elected. (Perhaps in anticipation of that, the college has issued the president an honorary degree; it hangs right next to plush moose head.)
Speaking of legality, what's the protocol on, um, "visual aids"? Dodds says instructors with valid 215 permits can bring in medicine for educational purposes, but students can't interact with it directly and no one but the person who brought the plant can leave with so much as a leaf.
Dodds and Moon have lived in Garberville for five and 22 years, respectively. They acknowledge they'll never be "locals" in the eyes of some ("we're both newbies; I'm newbier," is how Dodds puts it), but they feel like it's home. Still, why open a school in the heart of the Emerald Triangle if your goal is to be taken seriously by the rest of the country? Didn't they realize they'd be the butt of a million Harold and Kumar Go To Pot College jokes?
Dodds nods like she's heard the question before. "This is my community. This is the motherland. This is where it happens; this is where it has happened. This is where there's years of knowledge." And, she says, despite initial skepticism, growers have begun to share that knowledge and to gain some -- be it about organic fertilizer or suffragette Susan B. Anthony.