I was ecstatic to receive news that my interview request with Stephen DeAngelo of Harbourside Health Center, The Arcview Group, Steep Hill Labs and star of Weed Wars had been approved and so I visited the 2018 O’Cannabiz Conference at Toronto’s International Center to meet a man whose work I have admired for over a decade. Steve DeAngelo helped change the landscape of legalization in the US and I was curious as to what he thought of Canada’s Cannabis Act.
Your presentation this morning was very much about wellness and how you coincide that with conferences like this which are very much promoting wealth? There is a paradigm shift that I find myself struggling with as an activist and I wonder how you yourself, who has been through it all now, how you find that balance?
Um… well…alright…um… so…
I started with an easy question. (laughs)
Alright, so, let’s think about what is the most urgent task when it comes to cannabis. The most urgent task when it comes to cannabis for me is making sure that every single person who needs it around the world can get it affordably, legally, and safely.
Dignified access is the goal.
Dignified access, global dignified access [to cannabis].
So, in order to do that, we are not going to be able to, us activists, us people who have a very, very deep personal connection maybe or a spiritual connection with the plant, there’s not enough of us to do that. There’s not enough hippies in all of California, or all of the United States or all of North America or all of the world to get that done and you why?
We are a creative people, we are a dynamic people, we are not the people to scale up really large organizations and make them run efficiently and that’s what needs to be done with cannabis sothat it can get into everybody’s hands everywhere around the world. So that means we had to engage the global mechanism of commerce that handles everything else and pull those folks into cannabis.
So I’ll tell you how this happened at least from my point of view, right?
During the last Bush Administration, George W Bush, we suffered a significant number of raids in California. Obama was elected on the promise of ending those raids. Didn’t happen but he was elected on the promise of doing that so when he got elected we said to ourselves (alright – this is largely myself and my partner Troy Davis from the Arcview group): “We’ve got eight years, maybe… maybe just four years to push this thing so far down the road that they won’t be able to roll it back on us no matter who gets elected President.” Because we knew that someone like Jefferson Sessions could well be in charge, so how do we get the thing so far down the road that a Neanderthal like that can’t drag us back, because we saw that happen in the 1980’s, right? We made a bunch of progress in the ‘70’s, we were dragged back in the ‘80’s.
So, we’re like, “Eight years? Man!” We need some powerful allies, right? So we operated from the conviction that a profitable, legal, politically engaged cannabis industry could be the biggest driver of reform moving forward. And so we created the first investment company in cannabis.
We specifically went out to people who WERE only interested in evolved creation, who didn’t have a previous relationship with the plant. We said, ‘Hey, check it out, there’s this thing here and you can make a lot of money.” And it took a little while but they came and most of them, the first thing that they came for was the money.
A very significant number of them came back to me after a year or two and said something like: “Ya Know Steve, I’ll be honest with you. When I first came here, when I first came to Arcview, it was all about the money, that’s all I cared about, I just saw dollar signs. But then I invested in a couple of companies and I visited them and I started seeing who they were serving and talking to some of the patients and I was seeing what kind of results this plant was having on people’s lives and I am a believer now, I am a true believer and what can I do to help you move this cause forward.” Some very significant, very well–resourced investors I’ve had exactly that conversation with.
So coming from an activist, underground background my assumption, before I got involved with wealthy people, or people that managed wealth for other people, was that they were all people who were completely vested into the existing power structure and believed everything in that power structure was acceptable and good.
What I came to find out was that’s true for many of them but wealthy people are just like other people: they come in a ton of different flavors with a ton of motivations. And some of them are values driven, some of them have been searching for a long time to find a way to deploy their capital and their wealth in a way that helps the world. They’re sitting here seeing the same things that I’m seeing and they’re going “Wow, alright, what can I do? I’m wealthy; I’ve got resources. Where can I put those resources to help the world out of the situation it’s in?”
So you have obviously been listening to the Senate debates, you’ve been paying attention to what Canada has beendoing. What did we get right? What did we get wrong?
Well that’s not all going to be known for some time. What’s right? Well, the Canadian public markets are wonderful thing. The fact that Canadian public markets are open to cannabis companies has accelerated not only the development of the Canadian cannabis industry but the global industry in a way that was unimaginable a couple of years ago. And it’s given retail investors a way again to express their values in a business relationship. It’s a perfect example. A lot of people who are investing in the Canadian cannabis market are not people who don’t care about cannabis they are people who do care about cannabis and have been waiting for an opportunity to express that sentiment through buying some stocks for a long time and that’s a part of why it’s blowing up.
That’s a good segway. Are you looking to expand into Canada?
Yeah, I think that any American company that doesn’t look at Canada right now is missing a very rich opportunity.
There is this thing I call the powerhouse combination. I talk about it mainly in relationship to California, it pertains to some other states, but Canada and California, right? California is the largest cannabis market in the world, Canada is a fairly close runner–up once it’s fully developed. Between us we are the North American colossus when it comes to cannabis.
Now the trajectory in California has been very interesting because in California over the course of the last twenty years we’ve done a lot of product development, we’ve invented a lot of new cannabis products, we’ve branded those products, we’ve built compelling brands that mean something to consumers.
Those Cheeba Chews, we all know about those. We’re all waiting for those to hit the market over here, we know.
But there’s other things that we don’t have. We don’t have public markets.
Or consumption lounges.
So if I was a Canadian company? You know I have 39 licenses across the supply chain; my revenues in my company are almost as high as the biggest Canadian companies.
I remember when you were going through the tax issues, and kudos to you on that as well, I know you guys took a lot of flak for opening up the doors to the public on how marijuana dispensing worked and the good side and the bad side and the everything else but the fact of the matter was you showed the truth. I was always impressed by the fact that I know you had some staffing issues and those interpersonal issues especially when you are working in anunregulated industry, you’re working with marginalized people with illnesses and needs and all kinds of different things. I was actually kind of sad that it didn’t continue as I think it would have been interesting to see the public insight into the people that you served.
Yes, well our show on Discovery Channel, Weed Wars was quite successful, I’ve been trying to get back on TV ever since, I’m not quite sure why we haven’t gotten there when you have shows like “Disjointed” that are on the air, but that’s another story.
I do have new TV Show, “Ask Steve Deangelo” on greenflowermedia.com, it will be a weekly show, an hour long and folks will be able to video tape their questions for me and send them in we’ll pick out the questions that have the most zing every week and I’ll answer them.
I love that!
I’m asking the big questions. Any regrets?
My whole life has been spent on a mission around this plant. Whenever you focus your life around a mission and you’re serious about the mission there are a lot of other things in your life you sacrifice. I never had kids, I never bought property because I was afraid that if I had kids they would take them away from me. The house would just make me a bigger target I’d be more likely to get busted for all the weed that I was selling without a license back in the days when you couldn’t get a license.
Now that prohibition is lifting a bit I also recognize I will never, ever, ever be able to look at a cop and not have a flash of fear go through me for the rest of my entire life. For most people they relate to that as kind of a traumatic thing to have in your life. Well, for me it just is because it’s been that way since I was 15 years old, I’ve never known anything else and even though I don’t need to be that way I am, and there’s times in California I forget that cannabis is legal and I’m doing something just out of reflex, I’m hiding something or getting paranoid and then it’s like “Wait… it’s legal dude, remember?”
I don’t know what I’m going to do now that I can’t survive on cannabis and cynicism. I’m going to have to start being more positive.
Since I was 15 years old you could define my life’s purpose in two words “Legalize Cannabis” and now in the state that I live in cannabis is legalized and I’m like “Oh, this is a new reality that we live in, what’s going on out here in the world” right?
I know that you’ve moved to a few other states, you’ve opened up businesses in other legal states as well?
We’ve attempted to open in other legal states, we’ve been given licenses in legal states.
Was it Oregon, I believe?
We did have a shop open in Oregon but the market in Oregon was impossible to survive in unless you really entered in a huge way and folks in Oregon weren’t really interested in seeing out–of–state people enter in a huge way. When I realized that I would not be able to just kind of go: “Hey, here I am” and see how it goes, no, I ‘d have to build a grow, get into extraction and I’d have to have a half dozen dispensaries to make it work from afinancial point of view, I didn’t want to do that in Oregon.
Especially when there are people there already prepared to do it themselves, I guess at that point?
Some of the best cannabis people in the world are in Oregon, they didn’t need me coming in from California to do that. On the other hand, California is the biggest cannabis market in the world, plenty to keep me busy there for the rest of my life.
So once it’s legal what do you do with the rest of your life?
Well it’s still about telling the truth about cannabis. It’s legal but how do we introduce this plant to the rest of the world? First of all, it’s legal only in a small surface of the territory of this planet. My job is not done until it’s legal in every single piece of this planet, until the last cannabis prisoner walks out of their cell. So,I probably have a few more lifetimes to recirculate before that job gets done.
And certainly, one thing I’ve learned about cannabis reform is that it is a multigenerational movement, it has to be a multigenerational movement. I am probably as old as most of the oldest people who are still doing it today but I’m just the second generation of cannabis reformers, there was a whole generation that came before me and fortunately there are generations coming behind me because that’s what it’s going to take to get it done. Alright so great, why did we do this? What is cannabis? Is it an intoxicant that belongs on the shelf with alcohol? Is it kind of like a sin thing?
It’s a personal choice; that’s how I’ve looked at it.
I want cannabis to be introduced to the world in all of its fullness. It’s many things. You’re right, it’s a personal choice, it’s many things to many people. But I don’t want it to be characterized as a medicine or as a pharmaceutical or as a recreational, I want to think about all of these things. I mean how cool is it: you’ve got a plant that extends your patience. You know? What do you callthat?
I loved the story you told this morning because it’s something I’ve experienced many times. People look at me, Iam a medical patient, I’m a type 1 diabetic, neuropathy and a number of other concurrent conditions. I have many friends come to me and go, “Well I’m not sick like you and yourpatients” and I’m like “Really? Not even peanut butter cookies when you have cramps?” It’s called self-medicatingand everyone does it.
[Cannabis] certainly has its own medicinal value. My struggle right now as a patient advocate and what I am trying to lobby for and trying to get people to pay attention to, because everyone is very excited about the legalization,but what they’re forgetting is that the price of cannabis for our patients has now doubled, now there’s a tax as well, now there’s a sin tax as well and some provinces are gonnaban home–growing. That’s a concern. Like yourself, many of us are looking for that dignified access for all Canadians. Where would you suggest we start?
Well I’ve just got to say that there are few things in the world thatinfuriate me so much as the idea that one human being thinks that they have the right to go to another human being and tell that person that they are not allowed to take a seed from a plant, a healing plant that has never hurt anybody, that helps millions and millions of people, that they are not allowed to take that seed and put it into soil in their home and grow the medicine that they need to heal themselves?
Sorry, who are the real criminals here? You can’t do that, okay? If Mother Nature gave it to us, sorry, no human being has any shred of moral authority to try to take it away from us. If we have learned one thing out of cannabis prohibition it is that truth. So how dare they? How dare they say to people who are suffering, whose economic basis of life has already been destroyed, who are struggling to maintain hope, that they can’t do this very simple, easy, safe thing that never has and never will hurt anybody. Are you kidding me? Who are they protecting?
Who are they protecting? One of the things I’ve learned in life is when you see something that makes no sense and you pound on it and you present all the sensible arguments, and you talk about it, and you don’t get anywhere? It’s usually because some scumbag somewhere is making money off of it. I’m all about people making money, I invited the investor class into the cannabis industry with an engraved invitation and personally so I’m all about it, but let’s make money by building value and helping people. We have this amazing opportunity with cannabis to do it that way.
I believe in profit, I abhor profiteering. So that’s my fine line wherever it may be.
I have absolutely adored chatting with you!
Thank you. We need to talk about the divine feminine now…
Oh, absolutely, yeah.
…because I’m sitting here looking at the cover of Twelve High Chicks and I’ve flipped through the magazine…
We absolutely have to talk about this.
…and what I am really struck by is by how the feminine connection with cannabis, and manifestation of cannabis, and cannabis culture, and cannabis vibration has been executed here in a way that really is feminine, that shows women in what I consider to be their divine beauty but with such a degree of respect and dignity. There’s a lot of people who have tried to bring feminine beauty and the association with cannabis onto the printed page, into media and they’ve almost always gotten it wrong.
Twelve High Chicks got it right and I’m just really inspired by the artwork that’s been created by women in here of women, I’m inspired by the photographs themselves. I’m inspired by the costuming, by the stance, by the vibration of the women. Goddesses all of them, in this magazine. It’s just stunning.
So my friend Tom Forsade who is the founder of High Times Magazine and before that was a yippie. And at the same time he was putting out High Times Magazine he was smuggling mass amounts of weed into New York City Harbor, okay? He said that he thought that the essence of cannabis was feminine and that what it was doing was helping the world feminize at a time when we had been overly masculinized. That is part of the lens thatI’ve always looked at cannabis through.
Regrets, well one of the regrets that I have is I spent my life in an industry that was male dominated.
Do you really find that? Because what I am finding is that I have a lot of sisters in this movement and for years they were very quiet and in the background because of the things they had to lose. A man will lose his liberty but a woman will lose her children. But I’m finding there are a lot of women in this industry that I’ve looked up to that don’t get celebrated as much or as recognized as maybe they should. Do you have any female heroes of your own?
We’re making progress, not enough. Not enough. Not anywhere near enough. There are still things that happen in the cannabis industry that shock and horrify me and make it an unpleasantand scary place for women. And that kind of behavior just has to end and has to stop. Some of the marketing and branding that people are choosing to embrace is to me horrifying.
Oh yeah I have lots of female heroes. Everyone from Rosa Parks, to Harriet Tubman, to Brownie Mary, another amazing cannabis activist named Virginia Resner , Bella Abzug who is a congresswoman who is the person who gave me my inspiration of embracing hats as a signature.
Who are the women that raised you…
That raised me?
…in this industry?
Who I was raised by? I was raised by a very strong feminist mother; I like saying I am the proud son of a feminist mother.And then I also, despite being the proud son of a feminist mother, I was raised in an overwhelmingly sexist, privileged environment despite my mother’s efforts to try and change that. She was not entirely successful as you can imagine this was back in the 60’s and 70’s.
No society is changed in one generation.
But I was fortunate that when I finally extracted myself from suburbia and I was 16 years old and I was taking massive amounts of LSD I found myself in the company of some very, very wise and committed radical feminists who took me through several psychedelic explorations of privilege and sexism that were a bit grueling at the time but have really super valuable lessons that have helped me lead my life in a way that I am not looking over my shoulder today.
One of things I really do appreciate is that after we came out of your speech, we can be in the middle of a conversation,and if you are having a conversation with a man very often,they will wait until you are finished your conversation. Often when it’s a woman, as you noticed, as you commented on, they will interrupt. I appreciate the fact that you noticed that and that you were cognizant of that. I hope you enjoy the magazine and hope you read it.