Steve DeAngelo is the founder of Harborside Health Center, the largest cannabis dispensary in the country, and author of The Cannabis Manifesto. With over four decades devoted to activism and advocacy, DeAngelo is an undisputed national leader in the cannabis reform movement. We asked Steve a few questions about his book, his mentors, and his vision for the future of cannabis in California.
When did you first smoke marijuana?
I was 13 years old, in the seventh grade. I had been at my junior high school that day, and a few kids—along with a really pretty girl I was interested in—asked me whether I wanted to go to a Mexican tea party. I immediately accepted, and off we went to this suburban house where the parents were gone, and there I smoked my first joint.
While I was there in the house, I really didn’t feel much of anything. But then on my way home, walking through a park that I went through every day, I had a vastly different experience. I started noticing all of these things that I had never noticed before: the sound of the water in the creek, the crunch of the leaves underneath my feet, the feel of the sun on my neck, and that same sun filtering through the leaves up in the trees. I discovered this sense of connection to all of nature in a really profound kind of way, and I had never felt something like that before.
Looking backwards, I recognize this as my first genuine spiritual experience. My spiritual path has led to a nature-based spirituality—that was the first step along that path.
What inspired you to write The Cannabis Manifesto?
I felt that 20 years had passed since the last book which seriously examined the role of cannabis in our society, and the way we use it, and where we want to go with it, which is The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. And in that time there has been a huge amount of scientific discovery, political advances, and new history that’s been written. I felt that we really needed a new, foundational document for our movement. I think that The Emperor Wears No Clothes was great as that document 20 years ago, but it needed an updating and a refreshing.
What do you want readers to take away from The Cannabis Manifesto?
With the book I set out to accomplish several things. One was to provide a toolkit to activists, so that they can be fully prepared to make the arguments and bring the truth out.
The book is also an introduction for people who are just beginning to turn their minds to this. There are an awful lot of people in America who haven’t really dug deep on the issue yet, so I wanted to give them a way to do that all in one place fairly quickly.
And then I wanted to give a handbook to investors, to regulators, to parents, to teachers, to editors, to writers, to be able to help them form their thoughts and their decisions about cannabis.
Who are/ were your mentors, both as a writer and as a leader in the cannabis industry?
As a leader in the cannabis industry, I would say that the first of my two main influences was Tom Forçade, the founder of High Times Magazine – also a Yippie like me. Although I didn’t get a chance to work with Tom all that much, his example really inspired me.
And then later in life I had a chance to work really closely for many years with Jack Herer. And Jack, I like to say, is one of the few heroes of mine that I ever met who didn’t disappoint me.
As a writer, I went through a real odyssey in writing this book. Because when it started out it was much more of a classical, essay format then where it ended up. And I have to say that probably the single greatest influence on the writing of the book was a guy named David Downs, who was kind enough to review some of what I wrote and give me some tips on it.
Basically I learned a whole new style of writing, almost like a video with a lot of cross cuts, where it isn’t completely linear, but at the end of the day it all makes sense.
You were given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 NorCal Cannabis Cup. Whom do you hope to pass your knowledge and expertise on to?
I want to pass it on to what I call the smartest generation. I am so impressed with the young people that I’m working with who grew up with computers. And I call them the smartest generation – and you’re probably in that generation – because they have an unparalleled ability to get information, to seek out information, and to synthesize the information into new ideas and then to act on it.
When I was a young activist, if I wanted to catch the government in a lie I had to go to the library stacks at the University of Maryland and spend about three days poring through card catalogs and old volumes of periodicals. Now you can catch the government in a lie just with 10 minutes Googling something, and then you can pass that information to 10,000 people almost instantaneously. So I feel really happy to be able to pass the mantle to this next generation because they’re going to need to be really smart given the mess that we’ve left.
How will the recently passed Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act affect Harborside Health Center and other California cannabis businesses?
I don’t think that we’re sure yet because I believe this is really just the beginning of working on that act. If it is implemented as it was written, my fear is that there is going to be pretty significant cannabis shortages, that there will be rising prices, that a lot of the growers who are currently servicing the medical market will no longer be able to do so, and that the products and the brands that are most in demand by patients would be prevented from serving more patients. So it would have a quite profound and negative effect if it is implemented as it’s currently written. I’m hopeful that there are going to be some pretty substantial changes to it, either by the legislature or, failing that, by the voters in 2016.
The final chapter of The Cannabis Manifesto says that legalization cannot and will not be stopped. What are your thoughts about the current crop of presidential hopefuls?
I was really pleased when I saw the Republican presidential debate, to see that for the first time in history our issue is being taken seriously in a presidential campaign. It was the first time that I’ve ever seen a presidential candidate on national TV do anything other than laugh off our issue or make a joke, or say something lame like “I didn’t inhale.” There was a real, serious debate on our issue, on stage, that occupied a good chunk of time and four different candidates commented. I think that’s a huge breakthrough even though for the most part the attitudes we heard were Neanderthal. But the fact that we are there, that we are on the stage, that we are subject to serious debate in the presidential campaign is huge.
Are you surprised by the scope of the cannabis industry? What, if anything, has surprised you?
I can’t say that I’m surprised because I’ve always believed that the potential is there. But I’m really impressed both by the pace of growth and the innovation I’m seeing. I’m seeing things being done with cannabis that were unimaginable, even a few years ago. And, again, we have some of the smartest generation turning their talents to this plant, which has essentially remained the same for thousands and thousands of years.
For example, one thing that’s really exciting to me is that we’re now seeing solvent-less extracts, and this is something that I’d been hoping for as soon as I saw the butane extracts. And now that’s happening and there are these beautiful, wonderful extracts full of terpenes and cannabinoids that have never been touched by a solvent. I see these new and amazing things every day.
Last night when I was giving a book reading, I heard Michael Backes, a brilliant cannabis scientist, talking about how important terpenes and the terpene profile are in determining the quality of different strains of cannabis. He was rattling off the terpene files of strains like he had a catalog in his head. Incredibly impressive.
What does the future of cannabis look like in California?
California is destined to be the entire country’s low-cost, high-quality supplier of cannabis and will probably end up supplying a good chunk of the rest of the world. This is because California has the ideal microclimates for growing cannabis. We have existing agriculture infrastructure, the same infrastructure that’s made us the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the United States. And we have an incredible pool of cannabis talent and cannabis genetics as well as a supportive political environment.
I think that once the interstate barriers to commerce comes down, you’re going to see California cannabis be in very high demand across the country and around the world. Cannabis can be a $50-60 billion-a-year industry in California.
Where can people get your book?
You can find your copy of the book through cannabismanifestobook.com, where you’ll also be able to pick up several cool bonuses FREE for a limited time when you purchase the book.