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Steve DeAngelo, a globally recognized cannabis leader, was dubbed “the father of the legal industry” by former Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown. Steve is a lifelong activist, author, educator, investor, and entrepreneur who has spent over four decades on the front lines of the cannabis reform movement. His most notable business achievements include co-founding Harborside, one of the first six dispensaries licensed in the United States-now a publicly-traded company on the Canadian Securities Exchange; Steep Hill Laboratory, the first cannabis analytics company; and the Arc View Group, the first dedicated cannabis investment network.
Steve speaks and writes widely on the topic of cannabis reform and the cannabis industry. He believes that a profitable, ethical, politically engaged cannabis industry will be the most powerful force in spreading cannabis reform to every corner of the planet. Launching the Last Prisoner Project in 2019, he will not rest and will not stop until the last cannabis prisoner is free.
We caught up with Steve to find out what’s happening now in cannabis, and what the future might hold.
How did you get involved in cannabis?
I fell in love with cannabis at first sight, when I was 13, and knew I would never give her up. But the prospect of living out the rest of my life being hunted as a criminal was unacceptable to me, so I became a cannabis freedom activist--I made legalizing cannabis my life’s mission, because it was a prerequisite to my own personal happiness.
I began studying the history and science of the plant that had been hidden away by the Prohibitionists—used to skip junior high school, hitchhike out to the University of Maryland, sneak into their very excellent library, and spent days and sometimes whole weeks there digging into the East India Report of 1894, and the Canal Zone Study of 1921, and the La Guardia Report of 1944, and the Panama Canal Zone Studies of 1916-1933. I learned the real truth about the profound benefits of cannabis, and its history as a medicine and sacrament and raw material, and its safety—and I learned how absurd all the Prohibitionist propaganda really was.
And as I learned, that knowledge ignited an anger deep inside me, an anger that so many people had suffered so much, for so long, that so many had been denied the healing benefits of cannabis and so many had been imprisoned for carrying her through Prohibition, for absolutely no good reason at all, and that in fact in the United States the real true original purpose of cannabis Prohibition was the control and oppression of people of color. Once I had been exposed to that knowledge, I knew it was my duty and my destiny to spend as long as it took, and risk whatever necessary, to return cannabis to an honored place in society.
What is your mission?
Over the course of the last year, a profound truth has come to me. All around the world people have been awakened to a new consciousness by cannabis and other visionary plants, and all around the world the barriers that were built by Prohibition are beginning to crumble, and as the heavy hand of Prohibition eases up, our Tribe, the worldwide cannabis tribe, is beginning to come out of the caves we have been hiding in during the dark years, and as we have come out of those caves, we have begun to find each other, to recognize each other. Wherever we come from, whatever language we speak or faith that we follow, we share a common set of experiences, a common oppression, and a common set of values taught to us by the cannabis plant. We are One Tribe. My mission with @stevedeangelo is to travel the world, to introduce our Tribe members one to the other, to tell our stories, to discuss what our values are and what they mean, and to consider what we all might accomplish together if we can learn how to all act as one.
Where do you see yourself in the industry in 5 years?
My main concerns for the industry now are how to ensure we incorporate the values that cannabis teaches us into the business models we create; and whether legalization and regulation effectively serves the Tribe, promotes our freedom, and achieves restorative justice for those communities most harmed by Prohibition. In five years, I hope to have made real progress in those directions, I hope Harborside has played a leading role and that I still have the energy to serve as Chairman Emeritus, and more than anything else I hope to see those values and that mission taken up by the next generation of cannabis activists. Our struggle must continue until everybody on the planet who needs cannabis has it, and until our last prisoner comes home. And right alongside that, we must begin to clean up the toxic debris of the Petro-Chemico-Pharma era of human evolution. Including social injustice.
What's the biggest challenge of working in the cannabis space and the biggest reward?
The biggest challenge is now and for my whole life has been the unyielding, irrational refusal of the federal government of the United States to adopt a rational, just cannabis policy. My most precious reward is the respect and gratitude expressed to me by my sisters and brothers.