Pot Baron Steve DeAngelo Calls For More Compassion in World of Corporate Marijuana

Categories: Marijuana

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Harborside Health Center
Steve DeAngelo says greed, for lack of a better word, is not good
Steve DeAngelo cares. The owner of Oakland's Harborside Health Center -- the largest medical cannabis dispensary in the United States, with some 60,000 patients and counting -- wants to "flip the switch" on the burgeoning cannabis industry, from corporate back to compassionate.

So he told attendees at this weekend's "International Cannabis and Hemp Expo," a pot party for which thousands paid $18 a head to stare at hired escorts selling pipes and fondling buds, compete in a joint-rolling competition, and something called "420 Football." Also -- for about 100 folks, at least - there was a chance to hear industry pillars like DeAngelo hold court.

The problem is that profit has replaced compassion in most canna-business models, said DeAngelo, whose dispensary is one of four permitted to operate in Oakland; city law there prohibits any more than four dispensaries -- thereby benefiting DeAngelo's bottom line by restricting competition.

This need for greed has put the cannabis industry on a downward slide, towards a future that features images of scantily clad models fondling buds splashed across full-page spreads in Rolling Stone and Vibe; towards "cannabis looking like every other big-box, plastic-wrapped commodity out there," he said. "That's what's going to happen in 20 years, and that is not my idea of victory."

To avoid this dystopian future, "what we need is a positive model of cannabis distribution," said DeAngelo, who also operates a Harborside Health Center in San Jose, as well as a marketing and consulting firm, CannBe, that has done work in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. "We need locally owned community nonprofits [controlling the cannabis]... we need people who love cannabis more than money in the movement."

That means keeping the money-grubbers out and the lovers in -- but how to do that? DeAngelo didn't seem to be sure, despite repeating the mantra of injecting "generosity, compassion and responsibility" back in the movement. Good thing every cannabis dispensary in the state is required to register as a nonprofit or nonprofit collective.

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Harborside Health Center
Some of the good medicine at Harborside
​And while DeAngelo is based in Oakland, where the means to serve the cannabis needs of "adult Americans" exists, he really, really does not like the Oakland City Council's plan to make hella money by charging four huge commercial grows $211,000 for permission to supply that need.

"It's a travesty," he said. "Can you imagine a wine country, where there's only four wineries in Napa and they all produce Korbel?"

That's an example of where lawmakers "picked the winners and losers, and made sure their friends were the winners," said DeAngelo, proffering a swipe at Oaksterdam University's Richard Lee, the author of Proposition 19 (without which Oakland's huge grows wouldn't serve much purpose).

Harborside will nonetheless apply for one of the four permits, DeAngelo said, and allow some of its current 500 suppliers space in the warehouse to grow their medicine. "Middle and small-size growers should not be locked out of the process," he added.

DeAngelo is fully behind Lee's Proposition 19, which has been criticized by marijuana advocates like San Francisco's Dennis Peron for reasons DeAngelo would recognize: To them, retail licensing and taxation requirements smack of corporatism and exclusion.

No matter: "60,000 people are going to be arrested next year [in California for marijuana-related crimes]," DeAngelo said. "A no vote on Prop 19 means yes on locking people up.

"Does it fully legalize it? No. Are there problems? Yes," he added. "But if we reject this, what's going to come out is not that [Prop 19] was not perfect. What's going to come out is, 'Californians do not want legal cannabis.'"

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