49 | Andrew DeAngelo, Cannabis Activist and Entrepreneur

“We’re such a new industry and people just don’t get that yet, they think we’ve won the war. ‘We legalized weed. It’s over, it’s done.’ It’s not done. It’s far from done. And we need to be more active and we need to get our political house in order.”

— Andrew DeAngelo

Andrew DeAngelo has been a mover and shaker in the cannabis industry since before it was legal.  Trained as an actor, he had a role in the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars documentary, and helped launch the CBD revolution.  He’s also been a driving force behind the rise of Oakland’s Harborside  as the prototypical modern dispensary.  Listen and learn:

  • How California’s legal market got so messed up, and what we can do about it
  • How the Last Prisoner Project is working to win the release of 40,000 inmates who have been incarcerated for cannabis infractions
  • How you can help protect your cannabis rights by getting involved locally

Visit Andrew’s website or follow him on Twitter

Visit these sites, mentioned in the podcast:

Kannaboom (00:00:00): Hello. And welcome back to the podcast. For this episode, we brought in Andrew DeAngelo, he and his brother Steve have an enormous footprint in cannabis in California, and really across the country. They were instrumental in starting the Harborside Dispensary in Oakland, which is well known and is expanding around California. They're also both involved in the Last Prisoner Project and in several other initiatives that we'll get into. So very interesting episode about the past and future of cannabis, where we are today, the politics of it, the culture of it, all those aspects. So I think you'll enjoy the show. Thanks, and look us up on Apple podcasts or anywhere where you can leave a review, if you like the show, or stop by and see us at Kannaboom with a K dot com.

Kannaboom (00:00:42): Cannabis is booming and Kannaboom is on it. Welcome to the Kannaboom podcast, where we interview experts on the changing story of humans health and hemp. From San Diego, here's your host, Tom Stacey.

Kannaboom (00:00:54): Hey, welcome to the podcast, Andrew DeAngelo.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:00:57): Thank you for having me on today.

Kannaboom (00:00:59): So we're just pulling out of COVID-19 sort of a, there's lots going on out there. Are you, uh, are you being safe at home?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:01:08): I am being safe at home. I'm being very cautious. I do have obligations that take me outside of the home from time to time, uh, with my duties, but for the most part I'm able to work from home. Yep.

Kannaboom (00:01:25): Me too. I wear a mask as much as I can when I'm out. Try to avoid crowds scary times for sure.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:01:31): Yeah. I think it's important to be cautious. I also think it's important for our voices to be heard right now. So folks that need to do that, um, uh, should try to do that as safely as possible.

Kannaboom (00:01:43): Absolutely. And I wanted to kick off by saying, you know, you've got a big footprint in the Bay area through your work with the Harborside Dispensary, but what a lot of people might not realize is you had a career as an actor before all of this.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:01:54): I did. That was my first, well, my second dream as a young man was to be a professional stage and film actor. Yes, that's right.

Kannaboom (00:02:05): Tell us about that and how it led you to where you are today.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:02:08): Sure. Well, I like a lot of little kids, I wanted to be a professional athlete, so that was my first dream and like 99.9% of us, you know, I was not able to be a professional athlete, but then in high school I got bit by the theater bug and the cannabis bug basically at the same time. So I started smoking weed and, and, and all those awarenesses that come into you when you first encounter cannabis began to happen to me. And I, and I just happened to also be in an, uh, high school acting class at that time. Uh, and I learned in the acting class that my fellow actors in the all like to smoke cannabis too. And so I was able to bond with, um, a group of people that also, uh, were into cannabis and creativity. And that was something that got me really excited. You have to understand this in 1985 that I graduated high school and there was no cannabis industry to go work in in those days. Uh, and if you want it to be in the trade, you basically had to be an underground weed dealer or grower or transporter. And, um, that was how you sort of to trade at the plant. And then you, most of us had a career that we were pursuing outside of that, your quote unquote day job, I guess you could say, or your quote unquote cover story, um, for, you know, the sort of mask, the illegal activity you are doing underneath. And so acting was the thing that I thought was going to be my path to the mainstream. And, um, I quickly encountered once I left college and I went to acting school, uh, I learned that the American theater was a lot more sober and conservative than I imagined it to be. And it was very difficult for somebody like me who was trading cannabis and advocating for cannabis and trying to legalize cannabis. Uh, there was a lot of stigma attached to that and I found it very difficult to, to pursue an acting career with that stigma around my neck. So, um, the path of, uh, so the cannabis trail became, uh, the path of, I don't, I don't want to say least resistance, but the path of, of that was most mission-driven for me.

Kannaboom (00:04:46): Sure. And those were the Reagan years. It was a risky time to be involved with cannabis in the middle of the, just-say-no era.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:04:53): Yeah. That's right. Right. So most of us, almost all of us try to have a straight hustle going, you know, so we could file our tax returns and we could, you know, perhaps pursue, uh, an alternative business that was a little bit more mainstream. Some of us made those businesses work, some of us didn't. Um, and, and, and that's what you had to do. I, you know, people, this stereotype that we are somehow lazy stoners, no, actually we had two careers that we were managing at once instead of one career that most mainstream people were managing. So it's actually a story of extraordinary effort and determination.

Kannaboom (00:05:33): And the risks were real too. I mean, if you got busted, uh, there were real consequences.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:05:38): Oh. And we did get busted. Um, and yeah, I mean, and there, there were real risks. You basically lose everything, including your freedom. Uh, and then once you're done serving your time or dealing with your quote unquote debt to society, uh, you have to live your life from nothing. And that's, uh, also extraordinarily difficult. And we had to do that on more than one occasion in our career. It's very hard to trade in cannabis with the passion and dedication that Steve and I had without getting busted. Um, you know, it was, you sell enough weed and you grow enough weed and you do it enough. Um, you know, eventually, uh, some mistake is made or some interdependency is not managed exactly. Right. And people get busted.

Kannaboom (00:06:31): You're going to be on the radar of one or the other law enforcement agencies. And so tell me how that went. And the, probably the segue from that is into the Last Prisoner Project, right?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:06:42): Yeah. Well, I was, I went to acting school in San Francisco. There's a conservatory there called the American Conservatory Theater. It's considered a prestigious acting school. And, um, and it was 1990 when I went there and, um, Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary were, uh, Dennis had just lost his lover to HIV, like two or three months before I hit San Francisco. Um, my brother, Steve knew Dennis and, and, and I didn't have any place to live when I hit San Francisco to go to acting school. And Dennis generously allowed me to stay there, even though I was not a gay man, um, uh, at that time. And, um, and it was very, very generous of him to let me stay in, in, in the house that was basically a LGBTQ Mecca, um, at that time. And, and Dennis would always say to me, 'Andrew, I don't mind if you're straight, uh, as long as you don't flaunt it.' I always thought that was funny. And, and whenever he'd say that to me, it did use be usually be in a group setting and I would always blush terribly cause it was, uh, something that, that, uh, I always found a little bit, uh, vulnerable with. But, um, but when you're 21 years old and you're in school and you're just making your way in the world, having a friend like Dennis, to mentor you, sell you a little bit of weed, um, be there, be a place where you could go and be around other cannabis people, um, and like-minded people, people that were obsessed with, you know, the life force, um, um, otherwise known as sex, drugs, and rock and roll in those days, I guess you'd say. And it was just, I learned so much from being in, in that group. And it was really probably between Dennis and my brother. Um, and just the stigma that I was experiencing, the American theater. It was, it was pretty quick that I was fully committed to the cannabis trail. And, and so we started legalizing weed following Dennis's model, um, to, to use, um, um, wellness, medical cannabis as our, uh, sort of, um, tip of the legalization spear, and Steve and I, um, were very inspired by that. So, we legalized for medical purposes in Washington, D.C., Uh, um, the federal government shut that down and would not let us implement the program. Shortly after that my brother got busted and we lost everything and, and that motivated us to leave D.C. and come to California. I had already been in California as a student and as a younger man. And, and so I was thrilled to return, uh, this time with my brother and my mom. And we were able to rebuild our lives out here, uh, and culminating with, with Harborside. We were out here for a few years before Harborside just sort of growing and weed and selling to the medical market and trying to learn as best we could, how legalization was working on the ground and how we might be able to make it better. And once we figured that out, uh, the city of Oakland started issuing licenses for cannabis. Our dispensary is the first place ever to do that. And we went after one and we're both skillful and fortunate enough to get one. And, and, and so the rest is sort of hipstery, as we would say,

Kannaboom (00:10:16): in a couple of ways, you're in the right place at the right time. I mean, I don't know if everyone is familiar with the whole story of Dennis Peron, he brought cannabis to AIDS sufferers. Right. And that was really the template, as you said, kind of the blueprint for the whole medicinal movement.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:10:33): Yeah, yeah. Before medical cannabis and the HIV crisis and what Dennis and Brownie Mary and that whole team, John Entwhistle, you're talking about a whole team of people. Um, and that team, uh, before, uh, they had sort of cracked the code on that. Um, the arguments we were using for legalization were basically we have an individual, right. To put anything in our body we want. Um, and, and cannabis is a benign substance. That's safer than aspirin. And by golly, we have a right to do it, and you shouldn't have the right to take that right away from us. Well, those arguments didn't work, they failed over and over and over again. Um, even, you know, we had a legalization on the ballot in the seventies and it failed in California, um, because those arguments just were not persuasive enough to the public. They were rational arguments, they were intellectual arguments and yes, they were strong intellectual arguments and strong rational arguments, but that's not how social change happens. Social change doesn't happen in the head. Social change happens in the heart. And once Dennis understood that and he started using the power of media and storytelling to touch the mainstream public in the heart, a with the stories of their sons and daughters, uh, those days, mostly sons, dying from AIDS and HIV. Um, I know wakening began to occur in the hearts of the mainstream public here in California. And when Prop 215, won with an overwhelming majority in the state, it really sat and, and remember every mainstream politician came out against 215 Clinton, the Clintons came out against it. The whole Democratic Party came out against it. The Republican party came out against it. Everybody came out against it. It's still won, I think it was 62%, 61% of a huge majority. Um, and, and, and this time we're living in where, where, you know, you're lucky to win with 52% of the vote. If you're a politician running for office in America these days, or even in those days, uh, we've been, you know, pretty much equally divided between the two parties in this country for a number of decades now. Uh, so it was quite a big mandate. And, and that's when it dawned on the entire movement that Dennis and Brownie Mary were right. And that, uh, the medical cannabis frame was the right way for us to affect, uh, um, a large amount of change in a short amount of time. And, um, and then we've seen, um, you know, the medical efficacy of cannabis, um, just, uh, present itself and, and, and lots of different ways other than just helping people with HIV and AIDS. And, uh, whether it be kids with epilepsy, which we sort of pioneered and Weed Wars, or whether it'd be, uh, people with cancer, senior citizens, just trying to make the pain go away from being a senior, senior citizen. Uh, we're seeing all of these, uh, medical and wellness applications for cannabis since 215. And now I think we, we've all sort of learned that cannabis is a wellness product first and a, um, something to sort of enjoy, um, second. And I hope that we will always consider cannabis as a wellness product first, uh, and, um, and, and whatever fun or recreation or whatever. I don't like those words. Generally. I like wellness because that's what cannabis really does. And any euphoric effects that, um, happened because we are interacting with cannabis, um, are secondary to the wellness effects, uh, for me, in my opinion.

Kannaboom (00:14:46): a couple of great points you made there. Social change comes from the heart. We may have another emotional tipping point recently, obviously with the way people had been out in the streets and response to the George Floyd incident. And we may be on the cusp of another sweeping social change in that regard, interesting from the cannabis perspective that it was really human suffering, that was that tipping point. And you guys were able to harness that in ways that nobody had thought of yet.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:15:15): Well, yeah. You know, whenever you're trying to do something like a prohibition of cannabis, you have to develop strategies to do that. And the, the, the initial strategies going all the way back to the jazz age and the beatniks, um, uh, and you may remember the famous Alan Ginsburg picture where he's wearing the placard that says 'POT IS FUN' on it. Um, uh, that, that image sort of burned into pop culture, um, lexicon, um, but those arguments weren't working and, and, and, and what we lost sight of, um, when we were making those intellectual arguments about the freedom to consume cannabis as a natural, right. Um, we were forgetting that the history of cannabis as a medicine, as a soothing agent for, um, poor people, Black and brown people, working class people, immigrants, uh, throughout the ages and cannabis has been the people's medicine. And we lost sight of that, um, uh, in the beatnik and hippie era a little bit, um, not by any malicious intention, but just because, um, it, the sixties, um, were, were very much about breaking away from conformity and reasserting, the rights of the individual to, to, um, be nonconforming and, and, and finding new ways of being in the world. Um, coming out of the 1950s,

Kannaboom (00:16:58): You used the word 'framing,' and I think cannabis use was framed as something that war protestors and hippies did. So there was a sort of cultural baggage attached to it that was pretty effective for the Nixon and Reagan administrations, at least. Right.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:17:15): That's right. Yes. Um, you know, it's always been about the people using cannabis, not so much the cannabis itself. So it's always the people using cannabis that gets demonized. Um, so, and, you know, it started off with lies, right? Cannabis makes you crazy. You go insane. You go on murdering rampages, you rape pillage and plunder people. That was all lies. Um, that was being told to demonize the plant because, uh, black and brown people were using it in great, great, much greater numbers than, than white people were in those early days. And, uh, and, and, you know, there was a, uh, cannabis prohibition was another tool to put those communities down. Um, and as you mentioned, you, you know, has been used as a tool, um, uh, to oppress those communities and to, to this day is still used as a tool to suppress those, those communities. So, so it's, it's, it's, you know, it, we couldn't win the arguments, um, in the sixties and seventies, um, largely because the messengers of those arguments, as you pointed out were, were hippies and yippies and, um, and, and people who supported us that, that were not mainstream people. And, um, mainstream politicians like Nixon and Reagan, um, were very effective and, and wedging, uh, uh, hammering wedges into the progressive coalition and, and appealing away, um, support. So, yeah,

Kannaboom (00:19:04): So where we're at today, where there's obviously some corporatization happening in America, you always follow the money, and that's where the action is. And, you know, the whole culture around cannabis is going to change as you have a professional class, come in, do you think there's room for some of the old fragments of the hippie culture, or are we going to kind of be bulldozed by the commerce aspect of this?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:19:28): Well, that's a great question. And, and, you know, it's something that I've been grappling with for a number of years now. And, you know, when, prop 64 people have to understand that legalization is a messy business, um, and in order to change laws and democracies, it requires people to negotiate and compromise, uh, with a variety of different stakeholders. And you just don't get pure political solutions in a democracy. You tend to get those in dictatorships and totalitarian systems where one person decides the way it should be, and just by force of will and fear and force makes it happen. And in democracy, um, and theory, um, it's supposed to work that you have all these different stakeholders and they, they get in a room and, and, and they, they, they propose laws together. They compromise, and then, you know, they form majorities to enact those laws, uh, and then, you know, enforce them. So with respect to cannabis in California and, and other places, um, you know, we had to legalize weed after a hundred years of prohibition. And during those hundred years, law enforcement became a very powerful lobbying force, not just in California, in every state, in this country, ad federally, you know, um, uh, law enforcement, huge amounts of money and resources went into law enforcement, and they have very, they are very powerful political lobby, and you're not going to be able to legalize weed without at least having a conversation with law enforcement. You might oppose them and you might have to beat them. Um, but more likely than not, you're going to be in some kind of negotiation with law enforcement, and you're going to have to make some compromises. Unfortunately, those compromises are usually driven by the people who have the funding to pass the law in the first place in California. And most places, the laws have been passed by ballot initiative because mainstream politicians don't have the courage to legalize cannabis, so the people have to do it. Uh, so you have to collect signatures. You have to get something on the ballot. The language of those ballot initiatives often determine how legalization is actually going to operate once the voting vote is one. And, you know, in the case of California law enforcement, um, we had to cut some deals with law enforcement. We had to cut some deals with local, um, uh, the League of Cities and Counties and give them the power to tax cannabis and the power to ban cannabis in their communities. Well, those were bad compromises that, that, that ended up biting us in the rear end. Uh, and you know, the people with the funding to get these things on the ballot told us that we had to have those things in, uh, the initiative, or it would not win. And, and your listeners may not remember, but we had an initiative in 2010 in California called prop 19, which lost, uh, and after that initiative lost to legalize for adult use, the federal government came in and crack down on medical cannabis. So including Harborside, they shut down, not a few, dispensaries not dozens of dispensaries, hundreds of dispensaries. They shut down with enforcement actions after proposition 19 loss caused the, and this was under the Obama administration. This is under a Democratic administration. Uh, they came after us hardcore and we couldn't let that happen again. So when it came time to put 64 on the ballot, we had to make some compromises because we could not lose again and allow the federal government to come in and attack us again. And so some of those compromises are now making things very difficult. Um, legacy growers cannot get into the legal market. The barriers of entry are too high. As you mentioned, big corporate publicly traded companies now have a big chunk of the California industry not owned by Californians at all. Um, and not to say that we don't welcome people outside of California to participate in our industry, but are sure it would be nice if it benefited Californians at least 51%. Um, and it's not right now. And, you know, for two years, I've been up in Sacramento, a whole bunch of other industry people, trade associations and trade groups have been up in Sacramento trying to fix it. And we failed and we failed largely because our industry refuses to make the commitments it needs to, and, um, gathered the unity. It needs to, to win in the political process in California. And the Democratic Party here in California have been terrible, terribly unreliable partners, uh, at best. And you know, all these local bans, all these high taxes, all done by Democrats. We have one-party rule here in California. There are a few conservative communities, um, that have been cannabis also, but by and large, it's been done by the mainstream Democratic Party. So on the one hand, we had to make all these compromises. It's made our industry very, very fragile. We only have 20% of the market, the legacy market. Um, some people call it the illicit market. I call it the legacy market has 80%. That's not what was supposed to happen. Uh, and as you point out, if we don't fix it, the whole thing could collapse here. And, um, and the legacy market will, will take more and more of it. If we don't start getting smart about fixing prop 64 and not just here in California, you know, we need to fix Michigan 75%. Michigan has bans, same thing in Ohio, same thing in Illinois, too much taxes, too many barriers to entry. Um, and, uh, and we're, we haven't licensed most of the people that have been in the cannabis trade for decades, can't get a license. Uh, and, and it's a real big problem.

Kannaboom (00:26:10): Well, I appreciate the insider perspective. I mean, obviously I hear a lot of people bitch and complain about the taxes and this and that. But when you look at what you've described, a long and messy struggle and it isn't perfect, but you have to keep taking your swings. You come back and try to make it better than it was.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:26:30): Yeah. I mean, the industry is where I place most of the blame right now. We can't expect any mainstream politician of any political background to do this for us. They're not, they don't know cannabis. They don't care about cannabis. They don't have cannabis in their lives. Cannabis is this political problem that they're trying to sweep over into the corner and not have to deal with. Okay. Because they don't know how to deal with it. And they have this attitude that somehow this legalization thing's going to pass, and we'll be back in prohibition in 20 or 30 years. And we'll be able to go back to what we're used to, or I don't know what it is, but the attitude of the mainstream Democratic Party is just entirely unhelpful. The industry, we can write our own laws. I mean, last spring, I formed a task force with the California Cannabis Industry Association to try to raise enough money, to put a fix of proposition 64 back on the ballot in 2020. And let the people decide again, because the mainstream Democratic Party won't do anything in Sacramento. So let's, and I couldn't, we could not, and it would only cost 20, $30 million to do that. Okay. An industry that's generating $3 billion a year in California, despite the fact that the legacy market has $10 billion, we still have $3 billion and we need about $30 million to write our own law basically, and put it in front of the people. We might need another $20 million on top of that to make sure it wins, but it's a pay-to-play system, right? And you're talking about a small fraction of your revenue to reform the whole market, right. And they will, and no one will do it. And no one has the vision and the foresight, and everybody wants somebody else to legalize and fix it for them. And they don't want to spend the money and they don't want to, or they think they're smarter than everybody else, and they can do it on their own. So they hire their own lobbyists and they send them to Sacramento and they think they can fix it for everybody on their own and be a big hero. And they can't. And then you have 50 different lobbyists from 50 different groups and 50 different companies, all in Sacramento saying 50 slightly different things to the elected officials. And the elected officials are just like, "you guys don't know what you want. I'm just going to vote no, that's easier." And that's what happens. Um, and then we lose again and, and, and then the industry throws his hands up in the air and says, "Oh my God." You know, and we complain, um, we have the power to write our own laws and taxes here in California. It is a pay-to-play system, but if you don't pay, you can't play. Uh, and, and, and that's just the way it is. We didn't invent the system, cannabis people, didn't invent this pay to play political system that we have in California, but we need to win within it. And the way we are within it is to demonstrate our level of commitment. And if we did that, these politicians would run for the hills and they would do whatever we want it. All right. If we just showed up, if we just showed up in the right way, it's not like they, you know, would do what we want. If we showed up in the right way, that's how it works. And we're just, you know, we're such a new industry and every, you know, if people just don't get that yet, they think we've won the war. We legalized weed. It's over, it's done. It's not done. It's far from done. And, and, and we need to be more active and we need to, to put, get our political house in order. We just, don't,

Kannaboom (00:30:27): It's an immature industry. You mentioned that the industry just has to get its shit together, but what about users? You know, if there was a groundswell of vocal support or opposition from users, would that help the industry coalesce around some kind of solution that would make sense? I mean, is there anything our listeners can do?

Kannaboom (00:30:47): Well, there's all kinds of things your listeners can do. So let's talk about that. First one, the cannabis consumer here in California, and a lot of places is a little bit fed up with the industry themselves. Um, because, um, they're, they're, they're, they're not appreciating some of the behavior that they're seeing in the industry. Uh, and a lot of the consumers are fed up with the taxes and set up with the prices and they rather go back to their dealer where they have a better, they have a better experience. Um, and, and so, you know, that, that, that is I think, a given with the consumers. I also think consumers want to be able to go into shops and experience a lot of different products that are lab-tested that, um, are presented to them in interesting ways, um, uh, that, that, that, uh, that allow us to, um, break different kinds of cannabinoids out and breed different kinds of cannabinoids to make available to them. I think consumers want all of that. Um, and, uh, so, so, you know, consumers for a long time, the consumers, the way you were active, as you would support, you know, a normal or MPP or DPA, Drug Policy Alliance, or, or, or, or, uh, EISA um, um, you know, um, and, and, and, and now, you know, with legalization, a lot of the activist organizations, they're still there, they're still doing their work, but they're not really advocating for the consumer. Um, they're trying to get, we legalized in Alabama and places like that. Um, um, whereas, you know, and then you have trade associations now, um, which is sort of the industry's way of organizing and advocating for, for itself. Um, uh, but you don't have a lot of consumer groups. Now. I know there's people starting some consumer groups, um, and some of the activists organizations, or some of the trade organizations that are trying to pivot into, uh, consumer groups and people, uh, certainly can plug in to that. But, but, but what I want to see consumers do is support the legal market, um, uh, make their voices heard. So whatever dispensary you go to, whatever brands that you consume, let those businesses know how you feel about the politics of cannabis and, and, and, and, and ask them how your voice can be heard, because I guarantee you they're working on fixing it. Harborside works on fixing prop 64 every single day. Um, and, you know, from time to time, we will engage, um, our, our, our customers to write a letter campaign or, or make some phone calls. Um, uh, but you know, the, the, we have to show up and be, and make these demands of our elected officials. And a lot of it starts at the local level. So if you can't support a trade organization, that's doing this work, or you can't support a legal cannabis company that might be representing you in a trade association doing this work, uh, then show up at a city council meeting. There's almost always, um, cannabis is on the agenda of neighborhood, group meetings, city council meetings, uh, lots of local government and, and, and stakeholder group meetings are talking about cannabis. Now, show up, make your voices heard. The political process is messy. It's frustrating. Um, you go to these meetings and you, you spend hours there and everybody talks and talks and talks, and it doesn't seem like a lot happens. And that's the political process, that's democracy. Um, and if we don't want politicians like Donald Trump steamrolling over us, then we have to go to these meetings and show up and we have to participate. So that's the best thing that, and, you know, as, as you pointed out, uh, with when something like the murder of George Floyd happened, uh, people are more motivated, inspired to, to show up. And we have to keep doing that work, not just when there's a particular occurrence that inflames our rage and our anger and our sense of injustice. Um, we have to sustain that activism, uh, on the day to day. Uh, and I'm hopeful, very hopeful that this, the, the moments that we're experiencing right now, uh, will perhaps lead to more sustained efforts, um, over the midterm here. Um, because, you know, we've, we've, we've got an election coming up and, and cannabis is, is going to be on the ballot. And a couple places, not as many places as we thought because of the pandemic stopping signatures from being collected. Um, but it's going to be on the ballot. And, and, um, certainly, um, I think, um, the presidential elections here in America, the election we'll have to deal with cannabis legalization a lot more than, uh, it was dealt with during the last election.

Kannaboom (00:36:24): Right. We've seen a lot of energy come to the streets in the last month. And certainly it's focused primarily on the, on the racial aspect of, of the George Floyd murder. But my sense is there's a, there's a lot of pent up energy from a lot of things, and cannabis might be part of that. But as you say, you gotta show up, you gotta be involved, educate yourself, talk to people. It isn't a binary yes or no black and white sort of resolution. It's going to be the messy sort of process. I want to ask you about the Last Prisoner Project. I've been wanting to have someone to talk about that for a while. It's a big, important topic. So I know you're involved.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:37:03): Yes. The Last Prisoner Project is, is one of these efforts that Steve and I have been wanting to do for a long time. You know, when you've been busted by law enforcement life, we have, and had dozens, literally dozens and dozens and dozens of people we know and love busted by law enforcement. People died as a result of being busted, uh, by law enforcement that we know and have loved. And then when you start, um, a dispensary like Harborside at the time that we started it, our very first day that we opened October 3rd, 2006, the feds were raiding dispensaries in Hayward, which is the town right next door to Oakland. And, um, and we had a little meeting before we opened that day. And the main meeting went kind of like this, should we open today? And then about three seconds passed. And the whole team said, "fuck, yeah, we're going to open today." Um, and, and we did. Um, and, and, and so it's always, we were always very conscious of our prisoners. Um, and from the first day we opened our Riverside. You could come into Harborside, you didn't have any money to buy weed or your medicine, and you could write a letter to a prisoner that we would pay the postage for. And we would facilitate who the prisoners were and where you could write to them. We had a three ring binder with all these prisoners in there, and people would write letters, and we would give you a voucher at the end of submitting a letter to our ombuds department for a gram of free weed. And you would go get a gram of free weed. And so the Last Prisoner Project is sort of the latest and most ambitious, and I hope most effective effort that Steve and I have undertaken to date to remember and not forget our cannabis prisoners. And now that we have an industry that's generating billions of dollars. And now that we have legalization in many, many states in many, many places and countries, um, it is, it is past time, uh, for our industry and our community to get everybody out. Uh, so we started The Last Prisoner Project about, uh, well, I don't know, 15 months ago, a little bit more than a year ago. Um, and it was just me and Steve and we, we, um, we had one or two other people very quickly join our team. And, and, and, and we're still a very small team. And, and our mission is very simple. One, get every cannabis prisoner on earth, out of prison, two, make sure their record is expunged and three, make sure that they can reintegrate into society with housing and a job and job training. And hopefully, um, the Last Prisoner Project can work with others to make sure that that training and that employment happens as much as possible within the cannabis industry, to the extent that the prisoner would like to work in the cannabis industry. A lot of these folks got busted for growing weed or selling weed. Well, that's what we do now. We grow and sell weed. So it makes sense that they already have skills along those lines, and we can train them, um, when they get out so that they can be used to doing that inside a legal corporate environment, business environment. Um, and, and, and, and that's what we try to do. So, so, so the way you get somebody out of prison is with clemency, uh, the way you expunge records is with expungement. Uh, obviously, and, and, and, and we're trying to fund a training program right now, uh, to train prisoners, to work in the cannabis industry. And then of course encourage the folks in the industry to hire, um, the formerly incarcerated. Um, so this is a big mission. It's going to take, uh, tens of millions of not hundreds of millions of dollars. Um, we haven't even raised $1 million yet in our, in our existence. Um, but, but, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm very pleased to report that since Covid broke out, um, we had a big, uh, 4/20 virtual fundraising events, multiple ones. And now since the murder of George Floyd, a whole bunch of industry companies and individuals have stepped up and our donations have grown quite a bit since 4/20, and now we are able to hire a few more people, um, and, um, and, uh, expand our board and make sure that our organization, um, um, you know, is, is more and more effective. We have successfully, um, released a few people from prison. Um, but we've, we've, we've got, we've, we've, we've failed more often than we've succeeded, uh, because it's, it's, it's very, very hard to get the prison bureaucracy to agree to release somebody, uh, from prison once they've been convicted of anything. Um, but, uh, cannabis is a particularly difficult one.

Kannaboom (00:42:32): Is it basically a public pressure that you're bringing to bear and can listeners help amplify that? Is it social media? Is it telling stories about people who are, are in and who have been in for a long time for, you know, having an announcement on them or something, what tools do you have to get people released?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:42:51): Well, the good news about, um, your listeners, um, making a difference with Last Prisoner Project, unlike the politics of cannabis that we were talking about a moment ago is this, you can actually be effective, the politics of cannabis. Sometimes you can try really hard and you end up losing, uh, and that can be really a bummer with Last Prisoner Project. You try really hard and something good will come of it. Um, and whether that trying really hard is in the form of a donation, we will use that donation to help people, um, or whether that's, uh, in the form of volunteering, uh, you can go to Last Prisoner Project slash get involved. I think it might be something other than get involved, but, um, um, but I think it's get involved and, uh, you can, we, we make it so easy for people to get involved, whether you're individual or a cannabis company, we have several programs, you click a few buttons and all of a sudden you've submitted, you've signed a petition, or you click a few buttons and you can get the address and name of a prisoner that you can write a letter to, or you click a few buttons and you can make a donation, or you can click a few buttons and you can go to an event or volunteer, um, and, uh, wherever you, you, you happen to live. Um, and, and sometimes that means writing a letter to the governor, um, or, or, or to a local official and asking them to do something with respect to clemency or expungement or re-entry. Um, so there's a myriad of ways that people can help. And it feels really, um, you know, it's, it's, it's one of the reasons I started, I want it to be part of Last Prisoner Project was because it gave me something effective that I can do that will make a difference. And that I don't have to experience these continual frustrations of trying to fix the politics. This is, it's very hard for anybody to disagree with our mission. I haven't heard it. I haven't heard anyone stand up and say, you're wrong. We have to keep those cannabis people in prison. Um, um, um, they're a threat to society. I just haven't heard that. So it's really hard for people to disagree. It's really hard not to get consensus on this. Um, and, and, and, and, you know, we've always known that that, that social justice is a big issue. And now that social justice is, is, is, is sort of dominating the headlines and, and, and, and a lot of people's attention. Um, I'm glad that that LPP is, is, is ready to, to grow with that. And, you know, your listeners to know there's lots of groups working on social justice, um, um, you know, I love what Campaign Zero's doing. Um, I love what Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is doing, I love what Families Against Mandatory Minimums are doing. Uh, there's groups that, um, um, are, are, are, are run by black and brown people, um, that we should support. There's all kinds of groups doing this work. Um, LPP is just one. Uh, and, um, our, our mission is very, very focused on cannabis. So I think, you know, what we do is slightly different. Um, but there's a lot of, uh, groups working on this. They all deserve, um, your listeners support.

Kannaboom (00:46:20): Okay. We'll put some of those in the show notes, for sure. I agree with you. I mean, in this moment right now, it seems like a lot of people in this country have awoken a little bit to some of the inequities, definitely supporting some of those organizations now is the time to do it. I think there's still upwards of 600,000 arrests per year for cannabis in this country. Right. And, and I don't have the data in front of me and on how many people are still incarcerated, but as you said, this is, this is a big job.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:46:47): Yeah. I think our, our, our organization, is, it's very hard to count because the way convictions are memorialized in the record, uh, it's very difficult to unwind. What happens is the way, the way the system works is you get busted with some weed and you're, it's in your car. So then you get another charge for using the highways and the, and the crime. And, oh, and then you happen to have an antique shotgun sitting on your wall at your house that they, you know, search because they searched your car and then you get hit with a weapon charge. Uh, and then all these charges pile up on each other. Then it's very hard to know, you know, what is the originating thing that, that, that, that made the, the arrest happened in the first place. So, um, so it's very hard to count. Uh, but 40,000 is the number we think, um, is, is the best, best, educated guess we can make. And that's just people in prison. There's a whole bunch of people on probation that probably are more than 40,000, um, many more. And then a whole bunch of people that would already have convictions. Um, and, and, and which is probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions. So...

Kannaboom (00:48:05): And just that can mess you up, right? I mean, if you have a felony conviction, you can't vote, you can't probably can't get a mortgage and all that stuff.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:48:12): Right. You can't get a loan, you can't get a mortgage, you can't get a lease, you can't get an apartment, you can't get a job. It's a, it's a real, real problem in the United States. The stigma that an arrest record has is tremendous. Um, and in the United States, and it's really hard for anyone who has not been in that situation. I mean, imagine you get busted with a half ounce a week when you're a kid, when you're a teenager, when you're 19 and, and, and, and where you live in Texas. So it's a felony and you got locked out for, I don't know, six months, a year, two years, three years, four years, depending on the color of your skin, how poor you are, what kind of lawyer you had. Um, and then you do your time. You get out and now you have this, and then you, and you just had a half pound, a half ounce a week, right. Um, uh, and, and you like to smoke weed, and all of a sudden, you can't get a job. You can't get an apartment, you're going one place and another, you can never get this thing off of your record. You can't get this, this ball and chain off of your ankle, as you try to rebuild your life. And it's just terrible, terrible injustice that is afflicted on people. And, and, and that, and certainly cannabis folks, but, you know, other folks, I mean, we lock up people for writing a bad check for $10.

Kannaboom (00:49:36): We kill people in the street for passing a $20 counterfeit bill. So, yeah, there's a lot to reform there. You were in, you mentioned Weed Wars and I haven't seen it, but I'll, I'll definitely be looking for it was, it was something with the Discovery Channel.

Andrew DeAngelo (00:49:52): Yeah. Weed Wars is a little bit ancient history now, but I'm at the time in 2011, it was the first reality TV show ever made about the cannabis industry. Um, in those days, California was still the only medical state. Um, and it was a real inside look at Harborside and what we do in the dispensary and the people we help our patients. Um, I'm most proud of the little boy with epilepsy, Jayden, that he was the first, the first cannabis tincture ever given to a child with epilepsy happened on Weed Wars. We started that whole revolution with kids with epilepsy and the whole CBD revolution. So, um, yeah, and we tell that story, you know, it was typical, you know, it, there are some things that I really loved about Weed Wars. There's some things that I didn't really love about Weed Wars. You know, obviously we didn't have control over the edit of the program, uh, and we didn't have any control on how Discovery Channel promoted the program. Um, but to this day, people, uh, come up to me and thank me for it. And, and I think what the program did more than anything was show people that you could have cannabis in your community. You could do it openly, with pride and the community would benefit from it and nothing terrible would happen. And in fact, a bunch of really good things would happen. And we were able to show that in a very honest and transparent way and the world saw it. And so if you're, you were living outside of California that time, you were basically in a, in a, in a prohibition reality. And to be able to see sort of these crazy people in California had figured out how to do this, um, in a safe and, and responsible way that brought benefits. It really opened people up and inspired them to get into the cannabis industry and to petition their states and their hometowns to enact cannabis law reform. And it really created a domino effect. You know, we're all standing on the shoulders of others. And I think what Weed Wars did, it really allowed a whole bunch of other smart people to feel safe coming into the industry. And it provided some strong shoulders for those folks to stand on. And now I think the thing that really makes my heart soar is that any dispensary that I've walked into the United States and indeed the world, uh, there's a little part of Harborside in there. There's a little part of what we created, um, in, in that operating system. Uh, and, you know, someday someone's going to come along and reinvent cannabis retail, and there'll be a cannabis retail 2.0. Uh, and, uh, but for now I'm very proud because, you know, I see that influence, uh, all throughout the, uh, cannabis, uh, retail industry. And it pleases me, uh, and, uh, fills me with pride.

Kannaboom (00:53:27): That's really cool. You guys kind of did the prototype viable dispensary and helped change the narrative around what was possible. So thank you for doing that. That's the kind of thing that can influence, you know, millions of people in the long run. So I want to segue from all the experience you've talked about at Harborside with LPP, with all the things you've done and are helping dispensaries. What's the next thing you're onto now?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:53:53): Thank you for asking. Yes, I am now an independent consultant and strategic advisor for cannabis entrepreneurs, cannabis companies, big companies, small companies, um, I'm enjoying, um, helping legacy folks. And, um, and I'm also enjoying helping some social equity folks. I do volunteer some of my time to social equity folks. Um, and you know, all of these things I've learned over the years with Harborside, whether it be policy and politics, or whether it be retail operations, or whether it be how to manage a team of people with trust and shared consciousness. So you don't have to be a command and control leader. You can, you can lead in a way that inspires people to show up every day and you don't have to be a boss. Uh, you can be, um, you can, you can create a, something that, that, that goes beyond the, the boss, the supervisor / report relationship and into something that, that feels more like a team that's on a mission together. Uh, and, and, and those teams perform better, uh, over time. Uh, so, or whether it be helping people understand what good weed is and what mediocre weed is. Um, all of those things, uh, I can help people with and, and I'm available to help people with, and people can go to my website and learn more Andrew De Angelo.com. And, and it's, it's, it's, it's a good pivot for me. I, I could go start another big cannabis company right now, but I just, I've just come out of 13 years of doing that, uh, for Harborside. Uh, and, and I really want to help other people do that rather than going out and doing that on my own, the organizations I want to start now or are more like LPP, um, uh, and, and sort of trying to, to help, uh, more disenfranchised folks, um, um, get in. And so that's what I'm doing these days, um, between LPP and the consulting work, and, um, some creative projects. I am sort of dipping my toe back into, um, storytelling and creative projects. Um, I hope to have, um, some announcements on some of my creative projects I've been working on the last year or two really, really soon, um, for everybody to get excited about. Um, and I hope to be able to tell some of the stories again, you know, I started off as a storyteller. I had to get off of that path and, you know, legalize weed and, and, and, and kind of show everybody that it's okay to, to be in the open and do this. Uh, and now that we've done all of that, um, I'm sort of feeling the bug to, to tell all of those stories of all of my own journey and Steve's own journey, but also the journey of people like Dennis and the whole movement and going all the way back to the jazz age. And it is time for us to tell the stories now, um, uh, because that's how we're going to reduce the stigma, the way Michigan's going to get dispensaries in all of those places that have banned dispensaries same thing in California, same thing in Canada, the way that's going to happen is by reducing the stigma, the way we reduce stigma is by telling stories, again, hitting people in the heart. Uh, and when people like Weed Wars, Weed Wars was a story. It was a story that showed people that you can do this too. Um, and you know, I want to tell some stories that show that cannabis people aren't just, you know, the typical stereotypes we've seen in pop culture, the last several decades. Uh, I want to create new stereotypes for, uh, cannabis in pop culture. I want to, I want people to make different associations. I want people to associate cannabis, people with achievement, um, and innovation and success and leadership and solutions for society. Um, that's the kind of associations I want cannabis people to have in pop culture. That's the kind of associations we deserve and we've earned. Uh, so I'm excited to work on that, uh, too. Um, but right now I'm making a living as a consultant and advisor.

Kannaboom (00:58:37): It seems to me, you're, you're uniquely qualified. I mean, you're at the intersection of all this stuff and lived through the politics of it, and you understand the commerce and certainly the culture and how to tell those stories and the equity piece of it's very happy to give you a forum here and to check in with you, as you announce some of these things and help you amplify those. So we can find you at Andrew DeAngelo dot com. And I assume you're on Twitter as well.

Speaker 4 (00:59:07): Yup. Uh, Twitter is, um, Andrew under slash DeAngelo, same with, uh, IG and I'm on LinkedIn and I'm on the Internet Movie Database too. If people want to check out my creative career, you can go to imbd.com and I'm actually listed Andrew David De Angelo, on that platform.

Kannaboom (00:59:30): Are we going to see you on the screen some more, or are those some of your creative projects or is that hush hush?

Andrew DeAngelo (00:59:36): Yeah. Yeah. I hope to, I hope to, you'll see me behind the scenes and celebrate other people on the screen. And you'll see me on the screen a little bit too. Um, uh, you know, I think that one of the things the world can look forward to over the next five or 10 years is learning a lot more about the DeAngelo brothers, personal stories and the stories of our friends and associates over the years and all the different things we did both as outlaws and as an activist and as entrepreneurial entrepreneurs and now political operatives, um, uh, it's, it's quite a journey. And, uh, uh, so, so I think people will get to hear some of those stories more and more over the course of the coming years.

Kannaboom (01:00:24): Well, it's a great American story, and I can't wait to see it and, um, share it with. And so thank you so much, Andrew, for taking the time. Maybe we'll have you back on again someday when, uh, when you have some more projects to talk about.

Andrew DeAngelo (01:00:34): Oh yeah. I'd love to be on Kannaboom. Thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 2 (01:00:38): You've been listening to the Kannaboom Podcast with host Tom Stacey, if you like the show and want to know more, please check us out at Kannaboom with a K dot com, and please leave us a review at Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next week.