Steve DeAngelo is perhaps the most recognized person in the cannabis industry. You will undoubtedly recognize his ever-present pig tails and distinctive hat as well as his two businesses Harborside Health Center and The ArcView Group of Oakland California.
What you will discover in this interview:
- Steve’s background in activism
- How he co-founded Harborside Health Center, The ArcView Group, and Steep Hill Lab
- How the legalization of cannabis is unfolding in other countries
- Why Steve rejects just the two categories of medicinal or adult use for cannabis
- How cannabis helps people with their patience, sensuality and creativeness
as well as how many milligrams of THC he puts in his homemade edibles.
If you enjoyed this interview, listen to our interview with Steve’s partner at the ArcView Group, Troy Dayton.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Each week I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving legal marijuana industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five disruptive trends that will shape the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. Our next guest is perhaps the most recognized person in the cannabis industry. You will undoubtedly recognize his ever present pigtails and distinctive hat as well as his two businesses, Harborside Health Center and the ArcView Group of Oakland, California. I’m pleased to welcome Steve DeAngelo to CannaInsider. Welcome Steve.
Steve: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Matthew: Steve most listeners know who you are but may not know your background or how you got started in the cannabis industry. Can you give us a little history?
Steve: Well sure. I’ve been a cannabis activist since I was 15 years old. I got my start doing the 4th of July Smoke Ins with the hippies outside the White House in Washington, D.C. which is where I grew up and spent the first part of my career. So it actually goes pretty far back in time. But once I had spent about ten years as a street activist I became active in the music industry, did a number of benefit albums and concerts for Normal and other activist groups. And then in the 1990s really started my first cannabis business which was a company called Ecolution. It was for about a decade the premier industrial hemp company in the United States. We made about a 100 different hemp products from hemp that we sourced in Eastern Europe which had just become free of communism in those days, ’91, ’92, and ’93.
And I moved out to California about ten years after starting Ecolution, after playing a leading role in the passage of Initiative 59 which was Washington D.C.’s medical cannabis initiative. It passed with 69 percent of the vote. We carried every single precinct in the city which was back in 1998. But the US Congress stepped in and refused to allow that bill to be implemented because they have ultimate governing authority in the District of Columbia. And that infuriated me and frankly disgusted me so much that I decided it was time to come out to California where the first dispensaries were beginning to open.
Matthew: Now you see cannabis and hemp as one issue not two. Can you explain why that is?
Steve: Well it’s one plant. You know, we’re talking about one plant and there’s no technological reason that hemp has to be grown with a low THC content. It’s just become a legally mandated convention. But we’re actually talking about the same plant, and I think that it’s important to look at the cannabis plant holistically to understand the role that it can play in all aspects. It’s really, in my opinion, the single most valuable plant that we have on the planet. It can provide few food, fuel, fiber, medicine. You can manufacture anything that can be made out of cotton or petroleum or trees out of hemp. And you can do so in a much more eco-friendly way.
So just as medical cannabis and cannabis in general has the ability to heal the ailments of our bodies, to heal the unhappiness of our souls, to promote better relations between people, industrial cannabis also holds the potential to help greatly in the healing of our planet which is, you know, going to be one of the great works of coming generations.
Matthew: Now I’ve read that you’re advocating for cannabis to be used only medicinally and not recreationally. Can you explain why that is?
Steve: Well, you know, I reject the categories of medical or recreational. I think that’s a false dichotomy and a false choice. I see most people using cannabis for wellness purposes, and I define wellness very broadly. It certainly includes people who are using cannabis to eliminate their cancer tumors or to control seizures from epilepsy. It includes people who are managing their insomnia or their anxiety or their depression or their chronic pain. But it also includes things like extending you sense of patience and enhancing your appreciation for the flavor of food or the Sound of Music, sparking your creativity, opening yourself to a spiritual experience, waking up your sense of play or your sense of humor, enhancing sensuality and intimacy.
So I don’t see those kinds of things, which is really why people use cannabis, as just getting high. I don’t think that it equates to using substances like alcohol or cocaine or heroin. I think that we’re talking about a qualitatively different experience. When you enhance your creativity, when you extend your sense of patience, when you promote a closer intimacy and sensual experience, this is not about intoxication. If you read the definition of intoxication, it’s to lose control over what you’re doing or what you’re saying, as to become so excited or out of control that you don’t know what you’re doing basically. I just don’t see cannabis operating that way. I don’t see it being helpful to describe it in that way. So I really like to talk about cannabis not for medical purposes or for recreational purposes but rather for wellness purposes.
Matthew: That is a great way of framing it because it seems like it is isolated to those two categories. So I’m glad you’ve expanded it there. You were a pioneer in cannabis testing. How has testing evolved since you started, and where do you see it heading?
Steve: Well you know the testing of cannabis has just played an incredible role in the evolution of the industry. You know, the amazing progress that we’re seeing with CBD rich cannabis and the uses it’s being put to control seizures, especially seizures in children with intractable epilepsy conditions, would not have been possible without the creation of Steep Hill Laboratory and the beginning of the testing industry. We didn’t even know what was in the strains of cannabis that we were providing to patients until testing was possible. And so now we have this whole new category, CBD rich category, of cannabis medicines that really couldn’t have existed prior to testing.
So I think that that’s one, you know, very important contribution that we’ve made. I think that we are also seeing some real leaps and bounds in testing technologies. So when we started Steep Hill, you know, several years ago now, back in 2009, and for the first few years the only way to test cannabis was to actually send a physical sample to the laboratory and put it into a lot of extremely complicated lab equipment. Now we have a mobile device, the QuantaCann, that can be put in any location anywhere on the entire planet that has an internet location, an internet connection and cannabis can be evaluated for its cannabinoid profile, it’s moisture content and eventually its terpenoid profile remotely in something like three minutes.
So huge advances in the technology. I think where we’re headed with it is that, you know, cannabis is this incredibly rich source of therapeutic materials, of wellness materials. There’s a minimum of 65 different unique chemical compounds, cannabinoids in the plant. But some scientists believe that there’s 400 or more of them. Each of these unique compounds has its own effect on human physiology, and many have a unique effect on the human mind. So identifying all of these various different cannabinoids and then analyzing what effects that people associate with cannabis are produced by particular cannabinoids is going to be a very very rich field of research. And you know at some point in the future we’ll see a situation where people can select from cannabis products that are much more precisely dialed in to produce a desired effect.
Matthew: Many of us in the cannabis space have a Colorado, Washington, California focus, but through your travels to Chile, The Czech Republic and Spain, you have a truly international prospective. How do you see the international cannabis community evolving right now, and how is it different than what we see in North America?
Steve: We, you know, my trip to Chile was really really fascinating. And in Chile there’s a model of cannabis culture that’s quite similar to the model of cannabis culture we see in most of Europe which is that the government either tolerates or permits the sale of cannabis seeds and of horticultural equipment, and either tolerates or permits low scale, personal cultivation. However, they you know very strictly enforce any kind of trafficking laws or any kind of large scale cultivation. So Chile it was kind of like going back to California in 1991. There’s this incredible rich cannabis culture. People are using cannabis, talking about cannabis, writing about cannabis, producing cannabis art and cannabis literature and cannabis music. They had the largest cannabis freedom march in the history of the world that I know about last May in Santiago with 200,000 people. This is in a country of 15 million. So it would be like having 4 million at a cannabis freedom march in the United States, something like that. That’s a vast culture.
But unlike here where, you know, I mean I recently saw the Pot Barons of Colorado show on MSNBC, and I was just really appalled by like how the whole show was just focused on… really it was a show about making money. It wasn’t really a show about cannabis. It didn’t talk about the plant or its effects or the good of ending prohibition or helping people. It was really just focused on this race to build a new industry. And you know the contrast between that with Chile was really striking to me, and it made me realize how important it is that as we move forward into legalization, wherever we are in the world, that we make sure that we don’t lose track of the real value that this plant gives us. And the real value that it gives us it’s not simply monetary or opportunities to make profit. It’s the lessons and wisdom that the plant teaches to people who listen with an open mind.
Matthew: Now for those listeners outside of California that may not have been to Harborside Health Center, they might not understand how bustling of a place it is. Can you help paint a picture of what it’s like in there? I mean, I’ve heard there’s even an express line and there’s just so many things going on in there, so much enrichment activities. Can you tell us what’s going on at Harborside?
Steve: Sure. Well, you know, we’re really a full service holistic healing center. So in addition to having, you know, a vast selection of cannabis, we do have about 250 different products to select from on our menu every day. We also have a wide range of services and that includes acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy, about ten other therapeutic services. We have a range of support groups for our veterans, for seniors, for parents who have children that are medicating with cannabis, for women. We also have a training center where we teach and incentivize our patients to become involved in activisms. So they come in and spend an hour doing activist work, and they get a gram of cannabis for each hour they spend doing that.
So we have a variety of ways that people can come in and participate. It’s true that at peak hours it can be a really bustling place with a lot of people. And so we’ve, you know, to help people move in and out quickly, we’ve instituted web ordering so people can go online and order online and then come in and pick up from our web pick up station, web order pick up station and generally not have to wait in a line and get in and out of the shop in 5, 6, 7, 8 minutes. So it is. It’s a pretty bustling place. We have, you know, if you walk into our main dispensary room, there is on the left hand side, there’s ten different sale stations. On the right hand side there’s a boutique that sells all sorts of various vaporizers, glassware, t-shirts, books and anything else that we think would be interesting to the cannabis community. Beyond that is a little alter space which is like a non-denominational alter space. And beyond that is our clone department. So it is a big and a bustling place with lots to see and lots of experience.
Matthew: Now you’re also the founder or co-founder of the ArcView Group. We often have entrepreneurs on this show that have presented to ArcView investors. But for people that may not be familiar of what the ArcView group is and does, can you give us some background on why you started it and what it does?
Steve: Sure. I, you know, Troy and I, My partner Troy Dayton and amazing CEO of the ArcView Group, began seeing two different kinds of people coming to us. One were cannabis entrepreneurs who had good ideas. They had startup businesses, they were doing well or at least the potential to do well, but they needed some money to get started or to grow their business. And they were looking for advice on how to do that. Well they came to me at Harborside because I was successful, and they figured I would know how to do this. But, you know, a lot of them really didn’t know how to package themselves or present themselves to investors properly. And at the same time Troy and I were hearing from high net worth people who, you know, most of them had been political donors to the movement, who were starting to get interested in possibly investing in the cannabis sphere. But those investors didn’t know who the players were. They didn’t know how to identify or evaluate the opportunities. They didn’t really know anything about the industry.
And so it became pretty clear to us that there was a need to create a community where the investors and the cannabis entrepreneurs could come together, where they could get to know each other, where we could begin to build a cultural bridge between those two communities. And the idea was that a legitimate and profitable cannabis industry can be one of the most, if not the most, powerful engine moving to end prohibition. And the other idea was that, you know, we decided our main focus in the ArcView Group now is what we call our ArcView Investor Forums. And small generally startup cannabis companies have an opportunity to present their ideas and their companies every couple of months to about 350 investors. And so what we hope to do is, you know, create a very vibrant and very broad based cannabis industry that’s open to a lot of people. You know, we don’t want to just create a new industry. We want to create a new kind of industry in this country that spreads opportunity more widely than others do.
Matthew: Can you highlight a pitch that you are excited about, that you heard recently to give a flavor of what it’s like at these ArcView events for listeners?
Steve: Yeah, you know, my favorite pitch lately was from a company called Canopy, and Canopy’s business model is based on the business accelerators that you see in the tech industry. And what Canopy does is it provides a boot camp for entrepreneurs who have good ideas, who want to get into the industry, but still need a little bit of help with their basic business procedures, with cleaning up their corporate hygiene, with getting themselves into shape to present to investors. So it’s kind of like, you know, a prep course for people who want to come and present at ArcView who don’t feel they’re quite ready to do it.
So I found that to be a really exciting business model both from the point of view from investors, because investors who invest in Canopy end up getting a small but still an equity interest in each of the companies that go through the Canopy boot camp. And the companies, you know, there are so many passionate, creative people in the cannabis community who because the plant’s been illegal for so long just haven’t had an opportunity to learn on how to really build a legitimate cannabis business. And so Canopy is the place for people to come and do that.
Matthew: Let’s say I’m an entrepreneur listening to this interview and I want to create something just incredible for the cannabis space, what big problems need to be solved?
Steve: It depends on what kind of product you are producing and they fall into two general categories; cannabis products and ancillary products. So if you are actually going to be cultivating or distributing a product that contains cannabis, then licensing is going to be, you know, your first objective. You have to be able to do the activity legally. In the course of the last year the landscape for acquiring licenses, for acquiring new license has become intensely competitive. So anybody who’s planning to cultivate cannabis legally or is planning to make products out of cannabis or distribute those products really needs to take a close look at the licensing requirements wherever they plan on doing business and make sure that they assemble a team that’s capable and has the resources to meet those requirements.
So in terms of folks who are going to be creating ancillary products, in other words, products like software or cultivation equipment or real estate, anything that is not the plant itself, they’re, you know, what I would say the largest challenge really is finding a niche in the industry that is not already crowed. A lot of the more attractive niches in the industry have a lot of contenders already. So for example there’s a number of companies who are contending to be the social media center of the cannabis world. And they include Weed Maps, they include Leafly, there’s another of other companies that are aiming for that same target. And so the competitive space is already fairly crowded. You’re already up against some fairly intense competitors. So for new entrance what I would say is you really want to focus on those niches, those products, those services that are not currently being provided to the industry. Unfortunately there’s an almost endless supply of those kinds opportunities.
Matthew: Now switching gear to legalization. There’s some raids even in recent memory. Are we getting close to raids being a thing of the past at the federal level?
Steve: It doesn’t appear to. I mean the Obama administration has conducted about half again as many raids in its first six years as the Bush administration did during their entire eight years. The Bush administration conducted about 180 raids, and the Obama administration is bumping for 100 now. So the pace actually seems to have been increasing under the Obama administration rather than slowing down. Hopefully that will end, but it certainly hasn’t thus far.
Matthew: There is a sense that the legalization of cannabis is such a fragile thing and that the recent progress that has been made in certain states is no guarantee of future progress. How do we ensure that we continue to move the legalization effort toward the right direction, the right way?
Steve: So I think we really need to continue focusing on the benefits that ending prohibition will bring to the entire society. A lot of the conversation in the media right now is focused on the emergence of the industry, the amount of money the people are going to make, the great deal of opportunity that’s there. And I think that that is all important. But right now the main talking point of the most effective opponents of ending prohibition, people like Kevin Sabet from Smart Approaches on Marijuana, is the specter of “Big Pot”, and I think we need to be very careful not to give the impression that the major motivation for changing the laws is so that people can make a lot of money. Rather we need to keep the focus on things like ending the racial disparities and enforcement ending over incarceration, tax fairness and sanity, actually focusing on violent crime instead of cannabis violations, and really articulate the full spectrum of benefits that are going to come to the entire society.
Matthew: Do you think cannabis will be removed from the list the Schedule I drugs? I mean that’s when the wall really comes down between state commerce. Is that going to happen?
Steve: Well I actually prefer to talk about descheduling rather than rescheduling. I don’t think that cannabis should be a scheduled drug. This is a substance that has been used safely by human beings for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. It is not a new drug, and it is in fact not really a drug at all. It’s an herbal product, and I think that that’s the way that we wanted to regulate it. When we agree to a Schedule II designation for cannabis what we are essentially doing is handing the industry over to the pharmaceutical companies. Because you cannot dispense a Schedule II substance unless you are a federally licensed pharmacists, and you cannot produce a Schedule II substance unless you are a federally licensed pharmaceutical manufacturer. So I think that there’s some real problems when you talk about rescheduling as opposed to descheduling.
Matthew: Now you’re a California native and California is such a pivotal state. What is going to happen in 2016 in California from a political and legalization point of view?
Steve: Oh well we’re going to pass the initiative in 2016, and it’s going to be the biggest and most significant victory that the cannabis movement has seen thus far. I think that it is going to be a shot that is heard around the world. We are already seeing many many countries around the world moving towards reforming their laws. Some countries like Uruguay have actually legalized cannabis already, and I think when California takes that step you’re going to see that snowball start rolling a lot faster.
Matthew: Steve you always seem to be in front of the camera steering the message in such a meaningful and authentic way. For other leaders in the cannabis space, can you offer any advice on how to successfully navigate interactions with the press?
Steve: Well it’s really important to know what it is that you want to say and to be very clear on what your talking points is. You know the advice that I always try to give people is figure out the most important thing that you want to say and figure out how to say it in seven words or less. So if you can make that point effectively in a sound bite then, you know, you can do.. you get a much broader reach. With the press often a shorter… shorter is better in terms of the amount of coverage that you’ll get. So I think that’s important. And the other thing that is important is to be honest and to be real. If you don’t know the answer to a question then say that you don’t know the answer to a question. If you prefer not to answer that question, say you prefer not to answer that question. But don’t guess and don’t mislead and try to the degree possible to speak from the heart. The cameras are very sensitive to any perception of insincerity.
Matthew: And I understand you have a book coming out in 2015. What’s that going to be about?
Steve: Well the book is The Cannabis Manifesto. It is intended to be both a handbook for activists and an introductory primer for people who still don’t know much about the issue. It is going to be a short book, about 150 pages long. There will be about nine chapters. Each chapter is a statement of belief like cannabis should never have been made illegal in the first place. And then that statement of belief is backed up with up with history, political analysis, science and personal anecdotes from my 40 years of cannabis activism. And hopefully it’s something that activists will be able to use to sharpen their own arguments and also to, you know, hand to your conservative uncle or grandfather and change their mind.
Matthew: Now to get a sense of you personally, Steve, is there a strain of cannabis that you’re enjoying right now that you’d like to share with us?
Steve: Well you know I’m 57 years old now, and I’ve smoked an awful lot of cannabis in my life. And a couple of years ago my lungs just sent a message to me and said, you know, dude that’s enough, no more. We’re not going to take it anymore. So almost all of my cannabis consumption is edible now. I prefer to make my own edibles because quite frankly none of the edibles on the marketplace are strong enough to have much of an effect on me. So I generally make my own cookies with the CO2 extract. They, you know, contain upwards or close to a 1,000mg of THC each. So that’s my personal regimen. If I had to pick a strain that I really love, I would say it would have to be Neville’s Original Haze.
Matthew: Great. In closing how can listeners learn more about Harborside Health Center, the ArcView Group, and how can they follow you personally?
Steve: So Harborside Health Center go www.harborsidehealthcenter.com. Our website’s there and you know have a good time exploring that and it will give you lots of information about who we are and what we’re about. You can also go to www.stevedeangelo.com to keep up on what’s happening with me on a more personal level. And then the ArcView Group at www.arcviewgroup.com.
Matthew: Thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today Steve. We really appreciate it.
Steve: It’s very nice to be here. Thanks for having me, and thanks for listening to me everybody.
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