The Edge is a special video series presented by The Bluntness, featuring thought-provoking conversations with leaders and innovators throughout the cannabis industry.
In this episode, we were joined by Andrew DeAngelo, a visionary leader with a proven track record of enacting systemic social change and developing best practices in cannabis.
The younger brother of the “Father of Legal Cannabis” Steve DeAngelo, Andrew has been a cannabis advocate from an incredibly young age. Throughout his career in the industry, he has studied the plant, lobbied for cannabis reform across the nation, and helped countless brands and businesses get on their feet despite restrictions’ best efforts to squash forward movement.
Today, Andrew lends his vast cannabis business and political expertise as a consultant for hire to the global cannabis community at large. He has worked on a variety of voter legalization initiatives in California and D.C., and is co-founder of Harborside and the Last Prisoner Project.
The Bluntness and Andrew discussed his journey from advocate to expert advocate, his hopes for global cannabis prison reform, and the continued expansion of the legal industry.
Like many other seasoned experts in the space, Andrew began his cannabis career before legalization was a blip on anyone’s horizon.
“I started in the legacy market [in the 1980s], because that’s the only market there was if you loved cannabis,” Andrew said.
“My brother Steve was my introduction to the plant, and you couldn’t ask for a better mentor than him.”
After connecting with the plant on a personal level as a teenager and understanding intuitively how good cannabis makes so many people feel – mentally, physically, and spiritually – he began fiercely advocating for its legalization, destigmatization, and for anyone still locked up for a non-violent cannabis crime to be released.
“It was a much different time. It was a hard time to be a stoner,” Andrew said of his upbringing, and society’s general view of cannabis during that era.
“That’s why I work to change the laws because it was not fun seeing all of my friends and colleagues I was trading cannabis with, or people that were growing cannabis out here in California, kept getting busted and going to jail, their lives being ruined.
“In some cases, people were losing their lives because they’d get busted and it was such a bad situation, they took their own life. Sometimes they die in prison. A lot of terrible things happen to folks in this War on Weed that’s been occurring for a long time now.”
Andrew was an active witness to this inter-community struggle so many of his friends were falling victim to, and so he, Steve, and his other colleagues banded their cannabis sales profit together to begin advocating for legalization in a real way.
The team lobbied for medical cannabis legalization in California in 1996 (when Prop 215 first passed), and again in D.C. in 1998, resulting in the medical cannabis Initiative 59.
A few years later, Andrew and his brother Steve sold their mom’s house in D.C., made the move to California, applying for one of the first licenses ever issued by the city of Oakland to launch their cannabis dispensary, Harborside.
Of course, this was during California’s era of medical cannabis only, and most of the disparate dispensaries were dark, discreet, and downright intimidating for patients to travel to.
“Most of the dispensaries in those days were heavily guarded, had bars all over the windows, bulletproof glass…the whole nine yards, and it wasn’t a great experience for people that were seriously ill, and we wanted to serve people who were seriously ill,” Andrew said.
“That was the roots of where we came from, and we also wanted to serve stoners and other folks that were using cannabis for chronic pain, MS, anxiety, depression, PTSD…you name it.”
Harborside set their initial tone right off the bat as a dispensary designed for the community – and one that refused to forget those who have fallen behind due to the country’s War on Drugs.
The dispensary had free healing resources, like educational classes and support groups, along with a program that allowed people to write letters to cannabis prisoners in exchange for free weed, and various programs to assist those who were struggling financially but still in need of the plant as a source of healing and medicine.
The Harborside team also founded Steep Hill Labs, the nation’s first cannabis lab testing center, as a means to accurately and credibly test their product for medical patients.
Andrew stepped down from Harborside a few years later, moving towards the nonprofit space to co-found the Last Prisoner Project.
The organization works to spread awareness and education on cannabis prison reform, as well as actively supporting the release and reentry of cannabis prisoners back into society (and the industry they helped create).
“Our mission is to free every cannabis prisoner, first in the United States and North America, and then globally. We hope that our mission ends and we close our doors and we don’t have any more work to do,” Andrew said.
“We have an awful long way to go, certainly globally, but even domestically to achieve that vision, but I go to work every day as a board member and co-founder in service of our constituents. There’s folks locked up right now. Follow our social media; you can learn all about that and support them.”
Andrew believes the industry holds an obligation to these individuals and the support of their release and recovery. This year alone, the Last Prisoner Project has given $800,000 in grants directly to constituents impacted by the War on Cannabis, and they aim to keep calling on the community to support this initiative.
From his experience lobbying for cannabis legalization to his tireless and consistent support of those who’ve been negatively affected by the War on Drugs, Andrew is an invaluable resource for cannabis operators, business owners, consumers, and newbies alike.
To stay updated on the Last Prisoner Project, Andrew’s cannabis consultancy, and his high-level insights on the industry at large, check out his website and follow his updates on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
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