As California gears up to vote on Amendment 64 in November, prominent cannabis activists from all corners are coming together. Next month, they will be in one place, the State of Marijuana conference, and you need to be there. They want to coalesce the various standpoints on cannabis into a unified voting block to usher in legalization. We spoke to Steve DeAngelo, founder & Executive Director of Harborside Health Center, the nation’s model and largest in Oakland, about his views.
Things are looking up for cannabis
Could you give us your impression of what the arena looks like in California, and the nation as a whole right now, leading into November?
With the exception of the DEA’s recent statement almost everything that you can look at and point to is moving in a positive direction.
[The cannabis] industry is now the fastest growing industry in the United States of America. It has created tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, reduced crime, it has reduced fatal overdoses… These benefits that flow to the entire society are going to strengthen the hand of reform even more…So the progress that we’ve seen is going to accelerate, regardless of who gets into the White House.
On the DEA
I have to ask, what do you think of the DEA’s decision? Do you think it will dishearten a lot of activists, or spur them to action?
They have outed themselves as being completely unscientific and detached from reality. There’s no doubt in my mind that this going to have a galvanizing effect. Not just on seasoned cannabis activists, because we’re used to this kind of nonsense, but to the millions and millions of Americans who are just really beginning to get in touch with this issue, who have just learned over the course of the past few years of the potent therapeutic effects of cannabis. Those folks I think are going to be outraged and its going to galvanize a whole new demographic of people who have been sympathetic but not active in the cannabis reform movement.
So this is a pretty far cry from your early days with Jack Herer and the activism of the 70’s? A lot more people are aware of the issue?
When I started out doing this 40 years ago, if I wanted to figure out the government was lying, and wanted to prove it, I had to go to a major university and spend days wandering through card files, periodicals, microfilms… and I had to print it up on a newsletter and mail it out to people. Now, you pick up your phone, do a Google search, find the relevant scientific studies, five minutes later you can prove they are lying, and two minutes later you can blast it out to thousands of thousands of people all over the world. So it’s not as easy for governments to lie to people anymore.
AUMA’s attempt to bring everyone together
So besides the DEA’s ignorance, everything is good to go for November? AUMA gets the job done for California?
It’s not all rosy in the cannabis community right now, particularly in California. There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of new folks coming into the industry. People have different business models, different cultures, different sets of values than the legacy cannabis players.
This is a big deal in California, because we have the most mature cannabis industry and culture in the country, arguably the world. So with regulation happening, we have a lot of people coming in with professional business backgrounds who have established political power with a lot of money. They have the ability to compete in the legal marketplace, and it’s very difficult for legacy players to replicate that.
Can you give us an example of that?
The most notable example of that right now is a company called RVR. It was launched by the former CEO of Southern Wine and Spirits, the largest distributor of alcoholic beverages in the US. Simpkins and RVR have launched a very aggressive and well financed effort to manipulate the medical cannabis regulations to basically require people to use their distribution services.
A fly in the ointment?
I’ve read about this situation, and it seems that this company could, in essence, decide who’s product makes it to market by selectively choosing who to distribute for?
Keep in mind, in California, distributors haven’t existed until very recently. So what they’re doing is mandating a whole new step in the supply chain that never existed before.
You’ve got a parallel illegal market in California, so you can only raise prices so high before people flow back to the illegal market and crash the whole legal system. That’s what this whole distribution system threatens to do. The way this thing is written right now, it mandates a distributor between each step of the supply chain: grower to extractor to manufacturer to retail. And these guys are going to try to tax us at 15-30% at each step of the supply chain.
So it’s kind of like what happened with survivors on the Titanic. Too many people crowding onto the lifeboats causing them to sink?
Yeah, basically. To really tie it all together, MMRSA, the current state legislation is what set up this whole distributor system. AUMA, the initiative, will dismantle that distributor system. BUT, it gives the legislature the right, with a simple 51% vote, to put the distributor system back in again. So there’s a huge battle going on in Sacramento right now between folks like me and folks like Ted Simpkins over what is going to happen. The really hot news that I can give you is that last week the Governors office intervened and said there was not going to be any further work done on the MMRSA regulations until they knew whether AUMA passed or not. Subsequently, if it passed, there would be an effort to reconcile the two pieces of legislation.
Steve’s overall message
What would you say is the main thing people need to be aware of for the legislation on the ballot in November?
Well, you know, my view on the initiative is that its a piece of legislation. Its legislation that will be voted on by voters instead of legislators, but at the end of the day it’s just a piece of legislation. What I’ve learned about legislation is that you never get everything you want, and sometimes there’s things in there you don’t like.
Sometimes there’s things you really don’t like. My own personal philosophy is that if there’s a cannabis initiative on the ballot, I will vote for that initiative unless it is totally egregious and bad. So the only one I have refused to support in recent years is the Responsible Ohio initiative which would have created a monopoly for a few rich guys in the state. But I don’t speak out against other initiatives. Several groups tried to get something on the ballot in California this year, and only one was able to do so. If there were three, I would happily vote for all three. It’s not necessarily that I think that it’s the best language, but its the language that’s on the ballot.
We all have an opportunity to make a statement to the world, and that’s ‘the largest state in the United States of America, the sixth largest economy on the entire planet is ready to embrace cannabis as a legal substance.
I don’t think we can afford to miss the opportunity to send that message.
About Steve DeAngelo
“Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary with locations in Oakland and San Jose, California, is looked upon as a model of how others could operate.” – The New York Times
Founded in 2006 by Steve DeAngelo, Harborside Health Center is the most respected and largest medical cannabis dispensary in the United States. Harborside has over 200,000 registered patients and was first in the nation to support education for seniors, veterans, and families with severely ill children; first in the country to offer CBD-rich medicine; and the first to treat children with Dravet syndrome.
Harborside continues to set an example of diversity and compliance, and is one of the prime advocates of diversity, sustainability and economic justice in the industry.
DeAngelo also co-founded the nation’s first cannabis testing facility, Steep Hill Labs, and the country’s first cannabis investment and research firm, The ArcView Group. His book, The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness, is published by North Atlantic Books and distributed by Penguin/Random House.
DeAngelo was named one of the most influential people and “gatekeeper” of the marijuana industry in 2015 by the International Business Times, and one of the most influential people in the cannabis industry in 2014 by the Cannabis Business Executive.
State of Marijuana
Steve DeAngelo is one of the keynote speakers at the State of Marijuana event on the Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA, this September 26th – 27th.
Check out the State of Marijuana for more information about the event and to view their full agenda and speaker list. Want the full networking experience? Then book a room on the Queen Mary. Click here for full details.