Huge amounts of wealth have been created for entrepreneurs and businesses seeing success in the cannabis industry today. However, there are still many people all over the country incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses, and there is so much work to be done as we reckon with the legacy of cannabis prohibition.
Andrew Deangelo has spent decades of his life working to address both of these issues. He’s the co-founder of Harborside Health and part of the Board of Directors at the California Cannabis Industry Association. Perhaps most critically, he’s also the co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, which is laser-focused on getting cannabis prisoners out of jail and reintegrated into society through jobs, training, and housing.
Today, Andrew joins the podcast to share stories about coming up in the nascent cannabis industry, why it was so hard to be a champion of cannabis over the last 30 years without getting arrested, and the power of storytelling to make change in our world.
- Why the frameworks surrounding cannabis regulation and taxation need to be improved – and how a lack of interstate industry creates massive inefficiencies and redundancies.
- How the United States can end “Prohibition 2.0,” stop its war on the gray market, work with its legacy, and create a large, thriving legal market.
- What can be done to help those hit hardest by the war on drugs to build businesses – and how prior convictions create a series of neverending red tape and setbacks.
- The parallel barriers across the alcohol and cannabis industries – and the systems in place that lead to legal monopolies in both.
- Why Andrew believes we’re still very far from full federal legalization.
“It just seemed crazy that we saw people locked up for the same thing that all these companies are now doing to make money.” – Andrew Deangelo
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Green Repeal. I am one of your co-hosts, Rick Kiley. I am of course joined by my partner in crime, Jeffrey Boedges. Hello, Jeffrey.
Jeff Boedges: Greetings from lockdown, gang. Hope everybody’s weathering the storm.
Rick Kiley: And the weather is warm today so it’s nice to have nice weather. Very excited about our guest today. We are joined by someone who’s literally moving cannabis towards legalization. He has a lot of credits to his name. He is a cannabis industry consultant, pioneer, co-founder of Harborside Health. He’s on the board of directors of the California Cannabis Industry Association. He’s the co-founder of Last Prisoner Project and he’s even been on TV. You might have recognized him if you saw Weed Wars. We are very excited to welcome Andrew Deangelo. Welcome to The Green Repeal.
Andrew Deangelo: Great to be with you guys, today.
Rick Kiley: So, glad you could join us from foggy Oakland, you said.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: It’s fog. That’s what it is.
Rick Kiley: So, the first thing I just want to jump in is I read somewhere that you’ve been in the cannabis industry for 37 years, but I saw a picture of you that makes it seem that you look like you’re only 32. So, I want to know how that’s possible. It seems like your entree into this industry started at a young age. Is that true?
Andrew Deangelo: That’s right. My beginning started as a teenager and I do look a lot younger than I am. Perhaps it’s all the cannabis I’ve taken in my life. I’m also an exercise and meditation aficionado. So, I think those things are helpful as well. But yeah, my older brother, Steve Deangelo, a lot of people know about Steve and his cannabis journey and Steve’s about 10 years older than me so when it came time for me to be a teenager and start to experience cannabis, I had a pretty good guide in place already.
Jeff Boedges: I think that follows a well-worn trail of big brothers introducing their little brothers to things.
Andrew Deangelo: That’s right.
Jeff Boedges: And sometimes of dubious nature.
Andrew Deangelo: That’s right. And it’s a lot of fun to have siblings, right? That’s one of the fun things about having a sibling is you get to experience things through each other. And it wasn’t just cannabis, but lots of different things my brother guided me through at that time in my life, and it was a real gift to have him because he was already well into the movement and industry by the time I was 15 or 16 years old, and he was 25, 26 years old. So, in many ways, I was brought up in the cannabis movement and industry. Those days were much different in the 1980s is when I started and there was no legal industry in 33 states to step into. There was no green flower media. There was no Oaksterdam University. There was no any of these institutions that we built since that allow people to sort of figure it out or help them figure it out. So, we had to do all that on our own and the first thing we had to do was change laws because trading cannabis underground is not a very pleasant experience.
The trading of the cannabis itself is actually a lot of fun underground because you build tremendous bonds of trust with people but it’s not fun to hide from the world. It’s not fun to be hunted by cops and it’s not fun to get busted and it’s not fun to get thrown into jail and your life ruined.
Jeff Boedges: You know. Hence your involvement with the Last Prisoner Project.
Andrew Deangelo: Exactly, right? So, we worked to change the laws in the beginning, and then once we changed enough laws and enough places that we could sort of convert our trade into a legal business, we did that. And then as you mentioned, as we legalize cannabis and as we start businesses, you learn that you have to do other things. You need trade associations. You need nonprofit. You need nonprofits to help whether it be getting prisoners out or whether it be a trade association or whether it be improving the frameworks of regulation and taxation, which we’re clearly not getting right anyway.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: We talked a lot about that and the impact it has really on driving the black and gray market so yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: Right. And how are we going to deal with this problem? One way to deal with it is to launch prohibition 2.0 and protect all the people in the legal market and launch a war against the people in what I call the legacy market. I don’t think that’s the right approach. Prohibition 1.0 was a disaster. I don’t think 2.0 is not going to be any better than 1.0. So, I think that we have an opportunity to absorb the legacy market and create one large legal market but the frameworks have to be correct to do that. The taxation and the regulation have to be correct to do that. And the people that make those decisions and the folks that influence the people that make those decisions aren’t quite with that program yet. So, we have some work to do. So, a lot of my current work has to do with things like the trade association. I don’t serve on the Board of CCI anymore. I was a co-founder. I was on the board for many years. I just left the board in January, but I still work very closely with CCIA and NCIA for that matter, just trying to get the industry to become a little bit more politically involved, particularly the large players in the industry and the publicly-traded companies. We could fix all of this if we had enough will and unity to do it because we now have enough income in the legal industry that we can do what all legal industries do, and that’s bribe politicians to get what they want.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Bribe is such an ugly word.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Cajole? Yeah, I feel like the will is there but the unity is you’re right. That’s a very missing thought and I think that the fact that we’re having to work within state-by-state regulations makes it very challenging.
Jeff Boedges: Exactly. That’s why it’s good. The NCIA is definitely doing I think is probably the leading seems like to me national industry organization. But I think Ricky nailed it. It’s just with everything being fragmented by state, it is hard to get everybody on the same page because the laws that are impacting everybody are so different then people have different priorities. I mean, you got states out there where it’s not even legal for medical yet. They’re way behind places like California.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah, it’s this silo effect. I was on an investor call with Global Go the other day and they were talking about this silo effect where basically you have a complete industry in each state, but you don’t have any kind of Interstate industries.
Rick Kiley: Correct.
Andrew Deangelo: And what this does to any supply chain, I don’t care if it’s widgets or weed, is very disruptive and it creates redundancies that are not efficient and it’s not a free market. It’s not free market and the absence of a free market, it is very hard to move goods and services around in an efficient way that provides access and price competition to the legacy market. So, they’re more back to the legacy market.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. So, these are challenges and it seems like the way the place that you’ve put your personal stake in the ground is trying to address one aspect, which I think keeps coming up to prevent legalization in some of these states like we know from what’s been going on both with us in New York and New Jersey is a criminal justice reform aspect. And you’ve founded this not-for-profit, The Last Prisoner Project. You’re trying to help people who have been put in jail for cannabis-related offenses, get them out of jail. And I’m just wondering if you could talk about that for a little bit because I think it’s really important for the moment that we’re living in. So, maybe give us a little background about that and we can talk about how that might help move progress forward.
Andrew Deangelo: Well, one of the things I’ve been trying to do since I’ve been dogged by this fragmentation that we talked about a minute ago, and the lack of unity, part of that is the silo effect of every state, but part of it is just we’re fragmented. And our industry is not united. We don’t have consensus on the way in which to improve the frameworks and the way in which we should be regulating and taxing cannabis. So, Last Prisoner Project, I wanted to create consensus around something that everybody can agree on. Steve and I also we’ve always been connected to cannabis prisoners mainly because we have been cannabis prisoners ourselves and we’ve had to bail out a lot of our friends over the years. We’ve had to help them out in legal defenses and we’ve just been in this system for decades dealing with this and you get sick of it.
Rick Kiley: I’m glad we have your phone number now.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. Now, with the industry getting legal and publicly-traded companies and all of these wealth being created, it just seemed crazy that we saw people locked up for the same thing that all these companies are doing and making all this money and wealth. And we saw 40,000 prisoners to our best ability to count them. It’s not easy to count them, but 40,000 people still locked up for weed in the United States and clearly, culturally, the United States is beyond prohibition. Legally, the Federal Government and all these states have to catch up but culturally, we’re done. We’re past it. It’s over. So, the Last Prisoner Project is an effort to try to get them out. And what’s nice about the Last Prisoner Project is we’re very focused on just cannabis prisoners, getting people out, getting their records expunged, and reintegrating them into society with jobs and training and housing and basic things like that. And it’s a very hard thing to disagree with.
Most everybody in our community has said, “Wow, that’s a great idea. I support that.” And we’ve been at it for a year-and-a-half and just really since 420 has the organization build some significant momentum on the fundraising side and we’ve released some prisoners.
Rick Kiley: That’s awesome.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. We’ve released prisoners. One of our lifers, a guy named Craig was released just last week, and he was serving life.
Jeff Boedges: For weed? You get life for weed someplace?
Andrew Deangelo: Yes, believe it or not. And then Michael Thompson who is still serving life for weed in Michigan, he’s in his late 60s, African-American man. Three pounds of weed, he sold to undercover cop 25 years ago and he had sold some weed previously and had previous…
Jeff Boedges: So, it’s a three strikes. Are these three strikes, you’re out sentencing?
Andrew Deangelo: Yep. Three strikes and if your third strike is for weed and your first two strikes were for weed, guess what? You’re in jail for life for weed, which is just unbelievably unjust.
Jeff Boedges: Well, it’s just silly.
Andrew Deangelo: And complete perversion of justice and taxpayer resources and everything up and down the line. There is no singular moral argument for Michael Thomas to be in jail, nor is… There just is no argument for it whatsoever. So, our website, LastPrisonerProject.org, you can help Michael Thompson and other prisoners. We have petitions. We have letters. You can write them. If you’re a cannabis company, you can plug into some programs we have to raise money for Michael and other people. And we make it pretty easy for individuals and cannabis companies to plug in and help.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, that’s cool.
Rick Kiley: That’s great work. That’s some really important work.
Jeff Boedges: I mean, every cannabis company out there should have one strain called Michael Thompson. And every time you buy, the profit from Michael Thompson goes to Michael Thompson’s defense fund.
Andrew Deangelo: Well, I mean, it’s a great idea. The problem is there’s 40,000 of them and then we’re going to have 40,000 strains all competing with each other.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, though. That’s a good point.
Rick Kiley: Well, then just do the Last Prisoner strain and some portion of the profits go to it. I think it’s an interesting idea.
Andrew Deangelo: No. Well, you guys are storytellers and marketers and actually, the people who do that for LPP are developing very similar ideas right now. And I think the world will start to see some of those things manifest. We do have to think it through carefully and make sure we’re doing things in the right way so that we can pay as much equal attention to all our constituents and make sure they’re not in a situation where they have to compete with each other. Or if they do that it’s done in a coordinated way where everybody’s feeling good about it. That’s important. So, we’re distilling all those ideas into a fine essence. But you’re right, telling the stories of the actual prisoners, I can get on shows and talk about the intellectual arguments of Last Prisoner Project until I’m blue in the face but until you hear Michael Thompson, watch his video or hear his actual voice, which you can do on our website too, that’s what’s going to move people to action.
It’s not me being intellectual. It’s our prisoners being emotional and hitting people in the heart. Our movement has always advanced when we hit people in the heart whether the HIV, AIDS crisis or the children with epilepsy or the prisoners. When we hit the public in the heart, everybody understands exactly how unjust cannabis prohibition is and we can activate people and get them moving.
Jeff Boedges: So, do you ever see a time where there might be like a mass expungement? Like, let’s just say take the state of California, where they would say, “All right, we’re automatically going to review everybody who’s currently serving a prison term for a cannabis-related offense.” Would they ever just do that and maybe kind of to say anybody who didn’t involve guns or didn’t involve anything…
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Non-violent cannabis-related imprisonment, we’re just going to expunge all of them.
Jeff Boedges: Yep.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. Well, we’re pushing hard. And in fact, Nevada just did 15,000 expungements.
Rick Kiley: That’s amazing.
Andrew Deangelo: I think it was an ounce or less was what you had to be busted for to qualify for that. And of course, you had to have no other charges. I think it was just a possession charge.
Jeff Boedges: And they put people in prison for an ounce of pot?
Andrew Deangelo: In Nevada 10, 20 years ago, you’re darn right, they did.
Rick Kiley: It was like that everywhere. It was like that in New York City not too long ago, in the 90s.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: I guess I’m in denial.
Rick Kiley: If they found a dime bag on you and especially if they found a dime bag on you and you were black, you were just taken right to jail. I mean, that’s what happened.
Andrew Deangelo: If you were white, okay, you were taken right to jail. Now, if you’re white, you could probably bail yourself out.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You got out the next morning.
Andrew Deangelo: The next morning or maybe two or three days later, depending on what day of the week you got busted. Right. But if you’re black or you’re just poor, doesn’t matter what color of your skin. If you’re poor, you can’t make bail. You might sit in there for months, man, for a dime bag because of what Giuliani and those guys did with stop and frisk. Okay. And it wasn’t like there weren’t people like activists like me and my brother ringing the alarm bells when stop and frisk started. And there were plenty of people saying, “Hey, this is going to target black and brown and poor people.” There’s lots of people saying that. It was ignored. And now we have the data is in and we were right. So, we just have so much work to do, guys.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, it feels though we’re in a moment in this nation, I mean, we’ve seen a ton of, let’s say, long overdue momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement that opinions of people are starting to change and awakenings are coming around the industry and it feels like to me this conversation that you’re saying works when you can tell the individual’s story, who’s been in prison and people connect with that, but that might apply to larger groups of people. I think that’s going to start becoming more accepted. But I’m curious because when we talked to some folks who are working on the legal side, trying to get some legislation passed and trying to get adult-use legalization passed in some states, one of the holdups is the communities that have been impacted by these laws, the stop and frisk, and others that have really been minority in poor areas.
Jeff Boedges: Disproportionately targeting minorities.
Rick Kiley: And so, some of the thoughts is that as we look to Implement legal institutions and allow for licenses for people to sell, to grow, that some of that maybe should be aimed at minority business owners that we should do that. I’m curious if you’ve had some involvement in that conversation if you think that that’s part of the solution. Is that anywhere? Do you think that that needs to happen in order to sort of help make that sort of reality?
Jeff Boedges: It’s sort of ancillary to LPP because you get one side that’s working on people who are already incarcerated, but you got another one which is more proactive, which is trying to create avenues for people that have a legitimate way to like making a living.
Rick Kiley: Taking some of that tax revenue that the states will make off of the new legal cannabis and aiming at both supporting those communities have been impacted. And then I think getting some minority business owners involved in the industry. Just curious if like that’s on your radar or at all?
Andrew Deangelo: Oh, yeah. It’s more than on my radar. It’s something I’ve leaned into as an activist for a long time now. Listen, my brother, Steve has a felony conviction for cannabis and when other states started to legalize after California did medical in 1996, and even California had a big problem with the law enforcement lobby, in the beginning, the idea was if you had a felony conviction, you weren’t allowed to participate in the industry. We got kicked out of Massachusetts because my brother has a felony conviction. He wasn’t even on the application for Massachusetts. I was on the application. I don’t have a felony conviction for cannabis but our application was denied because it was assumed that my brother was involved because I was involved and we were denied that. Well, cut to a few years later and now, the same elites in Massachusetts who denied us are tripping over themselves to give licenses to people who have felony convictions, particularly social equity folks. And they should be jumping over themselves to do that.
But the hypocrisy and the evolution that had to occur, this should have been done quite some time ago. We were arguing to, but the argument we made was, “Look, you can’t be a champion of cannabis and not get busted at some point over the last 30 or 40 years.” It’s just very hard to do those two things, right? And so, in fact, getting busted might actually be like a college degree is to, you know what I mean?
Rick Kiley: It’s a qualification.
Jeff Boedges: I see here on your resume you’ve never been in prison so I’m sorry.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah, it sounds crazy or backwards, but actually there’s a little bit of element of truth into it.
Rick Kiley: It’s funny. I pictured the interview where you go through the criminal background check and they pull it up and they’re like, “Well, I see you only have a misdemeanor. I’m sorry. You’re definitely not qualified.”
Jeff Boedges: Geez, you don’t even speed. You don’t even drive too fast.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: Or like the particulars of the bust, “Boy, you are stupid.” Oh man, couldn’t you hide the weed a little bit better?
Jeff Boedges: We got the video from the body cam here and clearly you have no idea what you’re doing.
Andrew Deangelo: So, that would be a sort of a different kind of interview, right?
Jeff Boedges: This is for your show. I think you put this on your…
Rick Kiley: This is your next TV show, right? Not Weed Wars. It’s Weed Interviews.
Jeff Boedges: Bad Weed Smugglers.
Andrew Deangelo: But all joking aside, so now we have a community of people that have been harmed by the drug war and now the conversation is, hey, let’s get these folks into the front of line. Let’s make sure that they get licenses, not just get licenses, but let’s make sure they succeed as businesses. So, those conversations are happening. The difficulty is a lot of these social equity, well, all of the social equity programs today are being designed by politicians and bureaucrats. They’re not good at it. And the academic community, which is usually involved in designing things like this are not involved. And the elected officials don’t want to get the academic community involved because the academic community gets federal money and federal grant money and they’re scared. They’ll scare the feds and the feds won’t give their universities any more money and so they can’t get them to figure it out. And so, they bungle along with their red tape. And they just drown the whole program in red tape. Here in California, we’ve taken the tax money, we put it into a fund, the fund is not small, it’s $30 million but the red tape that’s involved in getting that money if you’re a social equity candidate or licensee is insane.
In San Francisco, you can’t even spend the money on inventory. You can’t spend the money on weed. Well, what effin good is it if you can’t spend the money on weed or inventory? And then they’ve gone even further, and now they’re saying, “Oh, well, we’re not going to give you the money upfront. You have to submit a receipt and we’ll reimburse you.” Well, what good is that if you don’t have the money to pay the thing in the first place? You’re not going to be able to get reimbursed.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m sure it’s hard for someone who’s recently released from prison to grab a loan to help cover their cash flow and all that sort of thing as well, access to that. I think it’s got to be a huge problem.
Andrew Deangelo: Just the application for the licensing is so complex and so involved that even Harborside has to hire a bench of attorneys to do it. And when we haven’t, when we tried to do it ourselves, we haven’t submitted winning applications, and that’s us, white people, pretty sophisticated, pretty well-educated, didn’t have to serve 5, 10, 15, 20 years in prison. My brother got a pretty big, bad bust. Some bad things happen for a year or two but he didn’t get locked up for 20 years. So, people don’t have the skills to navigate this process. And the more red tape you put into it, the more difficult it is for people to overcome those barriers to entry. A better model is like what happened with the stimulus checks in the pandemic. You just send it to everybody. You just send it to them. Is there going to be a little fraud that way? Probably. Are you going to send some checks to dead people because the computer system screwed up? Yeah.
Rick Kiley: I heard that’s what happened today.
Andrew Deangelo: Probably. Okay. But the money will flow and it will flow fast and there won’t be 10 million forms that you have to fill out to get it. And you do the best you can to watchdog it but if you watchdog it so much that you drown the thing in red tape that none of the people that the money is intended for can access it, you’ve just shot your own foot right off your leg.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. What I don’t understand is the conundrum because like the states benefit from these companies’ success through the taxation and all the fees that are associated with it. It’s in the state’s interest to help people get this done. So, it’s flummoxing to hear what you’re talking about that even – so I don’t know if our listeners know but like Harborside Health Center is a pretty well-established cannabis retail concern like you guys have been around the block and the fact that someone, an organization of that scale and scope would have difficulty navigating a licensing process to get into another state or something like that. I just don’t know what it means for the independent retailer who just wants to start his local medical practice or an operation and that must be really f*cking frustrating.
Jeff Boedges: It’s not quite as easy as starting your own brewery, it doesn’t sound like.
Andrew Deangelo: Well, I mean, the thing is it prevents participation and then what happens is very large players that can have a compliance department and a legal department with not one or two lawyers, 5, 10, 15, 20 lawyers.
Jeff Boedges: And then they have a whole firm behind them.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: And so, this is the challenge and the reason it’s so difficult, the reason applications are so hard, the reason there’s so much red tape is because the politicians and the bureaucrats are terrified of cannabis. They’re terrified of cannabis.
Rick Kiley: It’s so weird because the historical template is there. I mean, you mentioned prohibition 1.0 and what that did to the country, and it obviously created all these challenges as ultimately untenable. And then I think recently as Jeff just said, it’s a lot easier to open a brewery. Like New York state where we live, basically had a holdover law for people that wanted to do micro distilling. So, distilling I forget what the number is, but it’s like less than 5,000 barrels of liquid, I have that number wrong so people can call me and tell me, but for people that just wanted to like start a micro distilling operation like to get the license, it somewhere was historically like $50,000 that you’d had to plunk down in cash before you even start the project. And then New York State basically changed it and said that that license is now like 250. And they’d made that change in like I’m going to say the mid-aughts.
And the New York micro-distilling industry has boomed. There had been with great products, whiskey popping up all over the place. And New York’s benefited, I mean, I think the administrative system has been in place because the laws and the oversight organizations have been there for years and years and years but that template is there. The template for adult-use dispensary run operations, if you use like the distilling model, which is like you can make and sell on-site and produce everything there and you’re subject to the oversight and people can come in and out and have to like transparency and visibility. It boggles my mind that that could not just simply be applied to what’s going on here. It just like the template already exists, and it’s maddening.
Jeff Boedges: But don’t you think a lot of it has to start with the Fed, in my opinion, because as long as it’s federally prohibited, the states are really kind of being extremely cautious and I think that’s why it’s such a…
Andrew Deangelo: Well, I mean how long did it take? It took how many years after the end of alcohol prohibition for that micro distillation license to happen in New York?
Rick Kiley: Seventy years, a long time.
Andrew Deangelo: Man, it cannot take 70 years for us to go through the same evolution. No way. I mean, that’s just not tenable for cannabis. So, yes, I think you’re right that maybe we can look, I get troubled with too many comparisons to alcohol because cannabis ultimately is a wellness product and you don’t have an endo alcohol system in your body but you do have an endocannabinoid system in your body.
Rick Kiley: Right. That’s fair.
Andrew Deangelo: I worry about it a little bit, but there are some useful parallels because we are talking about psycho actives and intoxicants at the end of the day and do you have the freedom to put intoxicants in your body or don’t you is an ultimate philosophical question that we were going to have to answer as a human race here and that we’re debating right now but maybe the micro distillation license you just mentioned or perhaps other micro licenses in the alcohol business can serve as modeling for cannabis.
Jeff Boedges: For home growth. For home growers, I think it’s essential and I think that’s one of those things, too, that people they get out and they start doing it. It really, in my opinion, debunks a lot of myths because I mean, remember, when they didn’t want to have micro-brewing or micro distilling because they thought, “Oh, it will be rampant and everybody be out selling booze on the corner.” Truly, it hasn’t happened.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. It was put in place so that people stopped making bathtub gin that would get people sick and hurt them like that was the reason it was there and just no one revisited it.
Jeff Boedges: And taxes. They wanted to tax revenue.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. I mean, look, I think the Fed issue is definitely omnipresent when we’re talking about cannabis and cannabis supply chains and making them efficient and making them work right and making them inclusive of small, medium, and large operators that are both private and public all working together as a team to serve the market. That’s what it’s supposed to be. And I think alcohol learned the hard way that too much centralization, too much consolidation, too many barriers to entry really screwed up the market. And it did not create quality products and it did not…
Jeff Boedges: Certainly, didn’t create innovation and when you have the United States and you can buy three different kinds of whiskey, that’s not a lot of choice. It creates a legal monopoly.
Andrew Deangelo: Right. And we’re seeing this not just in alcohol, but many, many, many, many industries where antitrust laws just haven’t acknowledged, let alone enforced. But the idea is and the reason is because big centralized systems often have more efficiencies that allow for lower prices and so that’s the big argument. The problem is that model doesn’t take the ecological cost of that system into the product itself and therefore, those costs get passed on to taxpayers and everybody else. And so, it’s actually not a free market. The costs are being manipulated because the true costs of the product are not being captured by the price of the product.
Jeff Boedges: Well, if you could imagine any other farming product, and at the end of the day, in my opinion, cannabis is a farming product, if nothing else is managed like this and keeps the price artificially high that keeps a lot of innovation out of the market, and it certainly, I think prevents a lot of small operators like what we’re talking about here from being, I mean, you could have a family farm that grew weed. I mean, all these farmers that can’t, I mean, they can’t get any money for soybeans anymore.
Rick Kiley: Or they get paid not to grow them.
Jeff Boedges: They get paid not to grow.
Rick Kiley: So, get paid not to grow the soybeans and invest in your weed, man.
Jeff Boedges: Well, if the government wants to pay me not to grow weed, I probably go ahead and take that check.
Andrew Deangelo: Well, I mean, if we just look at the carbon sequestration benefits of hemp production, and cannabis production, and you just step out from the 30,000-foot view and just look at the planet earth and all the farmland on the planet earth, if we could plant something that we’d capture carbon and if hemp is number one thing that we can plant that will capture that carbon and make sense to plant as much of it as we possibly can.
Rick Kiley: Hemp is number one? I did not know that.
Andrew Deangelo: As a carbon sequester, yeah, it’s the number one carbon-sequestering plant that grows annually. It grows annually.
Jeff Boedges: Is it a perennial? I’m sorry. I should know this but is cannabis perennial?
Andrew Deangelo: I know but it has a season.
Jeff Boedges: Seasonal. Yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. It’s like corn. You plant in the spring. You harvest it in the fall. Yeah, I mean, wild cannabis grown on the side of the road is probably perennial.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, I would think to a degree.
Andrew Deangelo: Assuming that conditions but probably what happened is you drop seeds and new seedlings grow and it kind of works like that.
Jeff Boedges: Circle of life. Yeah, sure.
Andrew Deangelo: In the wild, and I’m not by any means a hemp grower or agriculturalists. You have to talk to my friend, Doug Fein, if you want to learn about that.
Rick Kiley: All right. We’ll get him on next.
Jeff Boedges: We’ll get him on the show.
Andrew Deangelo: But yeah, in places like New Jersey and New York, what I’m really worried about that you’re going to make the same mistakes we made in California and you’re going over-regulate and overtax and then all of a sudden, you’re going to have maybe 10% or 20% of the entire market in the legal system, and you’re going to have a very robust legacy market and it’s going to be very, very, very hard once those two markets have been established.
Rick Kiley: Well, the retail prices or medical in New York are high. I mean, they are significantly higher than what you’re referring to as the legacy market. I call it the guy but it’s cheap.
Jeff Boedges: My guy, yeah.
Rick Kiley: It’s cheaper to get from the guy than it is to go into the medical dispensary, which is a shame like that gap shouldn’t be there because the product that’s professionally sold through the medical dispensary, it’s much more controlled and you can feel comfortable that it’s safe and not going to have something wrong with it. Your vape pen’s not going to have vitamin E acetate or anything like that, and you know these things. So, it’s a shame and I hope you’re right. I hope they get it right and learn from it. But if you don’t mind, I wanted to switch gears for one second because you and I have something in common in that we have both been actors. I studied like theater and math when I was in college and I work producing and directing and acting for a little while before I started this marketing business. And I’ve seen that you’ve been a professor of theater before and of course, you’ve been on TV and you’ve acted in theater and film. The reason I like experiential marketing because it’s basically storytelling, producing theater but you’re connecting the audience to a brand. And I’m curious how you feel that your work in theatre and film has impacted your life as someone working in cannabis. Do you feel like you draw on it regularly? Is it something that that you use?
Andrew Deangelo: Absolutely. When I was 15, 16 years old, I got bit by the cannabis bug and the theater bug right around the same time.
Rick Kiley: They always seem to go together. I don’t know why.
Andrew Deangelo: Well, in the 1980s the only kids in high school that smoked weed were the theater kids and some of the more radical kids, the heavy metal kids and the skateboard kids, those kids but I didn’t connect with them as much as I connected with the theater kid.
Jeff Boedges: Plus, you have to act not high around your parents. That’s a really very good training ground.
Andrew Deangelo: Yes, exactly.
Jeff Boedges: No, I’m just really hungry for Fritos, ma.
Andrew Deangelo: Or the, “I noticed your eyes are bloodshot.” “Well, I was swimming at the pool at school today.”
Rick Kiley: It’s only 3 degrees out there.
Andrew Deangelo: So, that’s how it kind of worked for me. And then when I went to college, I studied theater and acting and I was pretty obsessed with it. When I was studying the humanities in college, the last thing I wanted to be was a businessman or a corporate person, even though I was selling weed in the dorms while I was going to college. I wanted to be a creative. I want to be an actor and a storyteller. And I thought that was nirvana, this weed thing and the selling this weed, that’s my day job. Like some actors or waiters, I sold weed. But then as I moved through my career, particularly in the late 80s, early 90s, I learned very quickly when I went to theater school, that the American Theatre was a pretty sober place. And it was kind of looked down upon to be smoking weed and certainly talking about cannabis legalization and selling cannabis openly. I was very open. I walk into a room saying, “Hey, anybody needs weed? Let me know.” And then the teacher would come in and class would start.
Rick Kiley: This was at college or like after college?
Andrew Deangelo: This was an acting school because it was in San Francisco. I was in acting school. But even in college, I was selling weed in the dorm so I had to have some discretion so I didn’t get busted but the nice thing about being a student is you’re in the world of academia so you can frame your activism in the world of ideas and hypotheticals. Whereas in acting school, acting school is different because you’re in a conservatory. It’s like going to Juilliard and it’s not really a school. It’s more of a collection of freaks that are all working together to create something as super-talented people, the most talented people I’ve ever been around were in acting school. But it was a very sober place and I felt a lot of stigma as a cannabis person, and my opportunities were severely limited because of that. And so, people really loved my cannabis and I was really good at the cannabis part. And of course, my older brother and I were working together. So, the cannabis trail was just the path of least resistance for me because I couldn’t get arrested in American theater but I was totally capable of getting arrested in the cannabis world.
And then the activism led to laws changing and then that led to opportunities to come out of the shadows and into the light. And then when you go from an illegal business to a legal business, what happens is, all of a sudden, the skills you need to be successful are different than they were, and you have to develop these skills and you have to develop yourself as a leader and as a manager, because the public is coming into your shop and buying weed and you have a team of people that are servicing the public selling that weed. And you have to train them, not just the team, but the customers. And it’s a whole different set of skill sets that I had to learn. And coming from the theater and the humanities gave me the curiosity and the emotional intelligence I needed to navigate that shock to my system where all of a sudden I’m above ground and I have to deal with job descriptions and HR laws and maybe somebody sues me and all these complicated interdependencies that exists in a legal business.
I had to lead and manage them on the day-to-day and the discipline of the actor, the discipline to go into the rehearsal and to go work out your body and your voice, all of that discipline I learned in acting school served me so well when we opened Harborside. And when we first opened Harborside, you had to be a patient to work there and it was very hard to find really excellent, well-trained employees. It was very hard to find someone with a college degree to come work at a cannabis shop in 2006. So, part of what I had to do is develop people’s skills and talents along with developing my own. And the acting, training, and the directing and the collaboration that comes from theater was critical in the success of Harborside, was critical in the success of developing those skills. I would not have been able to do it if I had not been an actor.
And then when Weed Wars happened, the first reality TV show about weed, then it all came together for me. And you can probably appreciate this, Rick, whereas like, okay, all that money you spent in college and acting school is now going to actually pay off for something that is in front of a camera on TV and it’s all coming together inside a cannabis company. So, that was and of course…
Jeff Boedges: It was your destiny, man.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah, but that journey I just described when I was struggling to get jobs as an actor, and I was encountering that stigma, I thought I was going to die, man. I wanted to be a great actor. I want to work as an actor so badly, and when I lost that dream, it was crushing. So, I’m thankful that my brother and I were able to cultivate ourselves and get to the point where we were able to tell the story of Harborside in that show and bring it all together. And that was a real blessing. And it was very skillful play for us to get to that point. We also benefited from some luck and some just serendipity.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, that’s great. Anybody who starts a small business, you need a little bit of luck, no doubt.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. But I think there’s a degree of entrepreneurialism that I think is really integrated with people who are willing to create and put something up on stage. And so, I always find that connection there. And the art of telling stories is how we sell any product. And so, I see those applications all the time and what we do and I think, Jeff, and I talk often about the challenge of telling a cannabis story. That’s new. I mean when we go and like we’ll create an event, we create an event for a Scotch whiskey brand, and people walk into and it’s like a tasting program and we’re trying to educate them about whiskey. We find like people walk in with all these preconceptions. They think, I don’t know what whiskey to drink. I don’t know how I’m supposed to drink it. What’s right, what’s wrong. There are rules. I don’t know.
Jeff Boedges: Also the one I think really salient, Rick, is the fact that when we first started working on whiskey, I mean, if you were seen drinking a whiskey, people thought, “Oh, god, this guy’s a, he’s a drinker. He drinks whiskey.” So, it had a real stigma the same way you’re talking about with cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And there’s a lot of barriers to entry: cost, taste, lack of understanding. And so, like when you can tell the right story and create this engagement with the brand, you demystify the product, you break down the barriers, and you create huge passionate fans who then become advocates. So, like that’s always our approach to creating experiences is to be able to immerse people, understand the brand, find what they connect with, and set them up to advocate for it, and convert their friends. So, what I’m wondering is cannabis as an industry is really, really at its infancy and there are a lot of barriers to entry, I mean, much more so than alcohol, the preconceptions about the type of person who uses it, and what that person looks like and does for a living. There’s the legal concerns and all that. And so, I’m wondering when your approach to telling the story about the industry or the product, what’s the story that you like to tell? What’s the story of cannabis that you want to make sure is getting across to people?
Andrew Deangelo: Well, it’s a great question. I mentioned this a second ago but the story of cannabis that I always tried to message to people is the wellness part of cannabis. So, no matter what your intention when you hit that joint or take that edible, no matter what your intention is, you will get some kind of wellness benefit from the interaction of that cannabis. And that’s universal and that’s unique.
Rick Kiley: That’s something that most people do not know and maybe don’t believe, like do you find you get pushback when you start with that communication to people that there is a built-in wellness benefit to using cannabis?
Andrew Deangelo: Oh, yes, particularly outside the California bubble. Inside the California bubble, we’ve done a pretty good job of educating people about cannabis as a wellness product. That’s why Governor Newsom was the first governor to declare cannabis essential when the pandemic hit. It’s because we have branded cannabis as a wellness product in California, but outside of California and even in Southern California, really, I get the same kind of rolling of the eyeballs and, “Here we go. It can solve any problem.”
Rick Kiley: Well, how do you break down that barrier then? What do you do when presented that opportunity?
Andrew Deangelo: Well, again, I can present all the intellectual arguments with respect to science and activism and racism and all the different isms that are associated, and sometimes that will work or usually it doesn’t. It’s when I say, “Oh, look at this video of this kid with epilepsy. Look at this video of this senior citizen who’s got rheumatoid arthritis. They’re crying because their arthritis was relieved by a topical that they spread on their hands that didn’t even get them high.” And when I do that, when I plug in the video and I roll the tape then I get a change and then people go, “Wow. I didn’t know that.”
Rick Kiley: Got it. Yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: And then once we get, “I didn’t know that,” then the windows open and then we can do the intellectual arguments.
Rick Kiley: Right. People have to connect with someone who’s had personal experience. And once they do that, they’re open to it.
Jeff Boedges: We started this conversation by saying, “Yeah, I’d hit him in the heart,” and I think it’s the same thing. I think I hear what you’re talking about is actually get past the logic barrier, a little bit of the preconceived notion barrier.
Rick Kiley: No, but that’s just something I want to remember. It’s a good thought that these personal stories in this early infancy stage of cannabis that these personal stories of people’s wellness, success with cannabis are going to be key to unlocking people’s potential understanding and adoption of the, well, not even adoption, acceptance of the product first, and then adoption. It’s a great, great insight. And I’m happy we got to it. I want to talk and we’re starting to get close to I think the end of our time, but I want to talk about one more thing because I think it’s relevant to the moment and something that you’ve mentioned before, but we’re in the middle of a global health crisis, doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, unfortunately.
And then I was talking with someone who summed it up like once this crisis hit, half the nation is going out and buying guns and the other half is planting a garden. And I’ve read from you, you talk sometimes about your healing gardens and in relation to cannabis. So, I’m wondering if just for a minute you can talk about sort of the healing garden aspect of cannabis, your belief in it, and what your approach to it is. Because going gardening is like taking off right now. People are planting everything. So, I’m just wondering if you might share with us a little bit about that.
Andrew Deangelo: Thank you, Rick, for asking me about the healing garden. I put that out when the pandemic first hit, and not a lot of people ask me about it. So, I’m thankful that you picked up on it. Yes, the healing garden is something many people in America have a little bit of space in their backyard or maybe they have a balcony. Or maybe they have access to a community garden if you live in a dense place like Brooklyn or New York. And those gardens can play a huge role right now as the food supply that we’re all used to engaging with becomes stressed under the conditions of the pandemic. And one of the things we’ve learned is cannabis people has to be as autonomous and self-reliant as possible and to help each other in our own community as much as possible. So, planting some vegetables or some herbs or some cannabis if you live in a place that’s legally allowed to grow your own cannabis, most places that allow that, you can only grow six or maybe 12 plants in your backyard or balcony.
But if you have the opportunity to do that, I encourage people to do it because relying on the mainstream food supply and even cannabis supply right now, while we’re all working very hard to make sure those supply chains stay intact, it’s probably a good idea to start creating some redundancies. And so, I’ve got a little vegetable garden in my backyard. I know my brothers got one going. We didn’t go out and buy any guns.
Rick Kiley: All right.
Jeff Boedges: Good. Neither did we. I got a garden and no guns.
Rick Kiley: We’re all on the gardening side of the equation here. I think I’ve only got tomatoes and spinach right now.
Jeff Boedges: Although those chipmunks keep eating my frickin cilantro. I might have to change my mind.
Andrew Deangelo: I know, man. Well, you learn. You learn about the gardening ecosystems like I have to put all these eggshells to prevent the slugs from eating my cabbage right now. I don’t know. The slugs love the cabbage, but they don’t like eggshell. So, if you spread eggshells on your ground, that’s kind of like I don’t know it’s like a minefield for slugs.
Rick Kiley: You got a chicken coop out there too?
Andrew Deangelo: No. No chicken coop. Can’t quite do chicken coop but, yeah, the idea is not only do you do something that can help sustain you and your family and your neighbors through this time. You get your hands in the soil. You start to connect with slowing your mind down and getting in touch with nature and being outside and all those things can be healing in and of themselves. I’m not particularly good at growing vegetables, I got to tell you. And so, I’m like well here I go watering the lettuce again. And let’s see if I’ll get to eat some of it and then I’ll pick it and then I’ll eat it and it’s all bitter and it’s not sweet like lettuce is supposed to be and it’d be frustrating. I’ll still eat it though. And so, you get to learn this new thing. I’m a city boy. I never did anything like this before and it’s been fun to sort of stumble my way through it and learn. And then I hope if I get good at it, I can share my bounty with my neighbors. A lot of my neighbors are folks that are retired and I hope to be able to share some of the bounty with them and just spread that message that as a community we can do things like that and not just with food, but with charity of all shapes and sizes right now.
One of the things cannabis teaches us, especially our community that’s been under assault for so long is to stick together and help each other out and be generous towards one another. I think that generosity that Americans are showing towards each other sometimes get drowned out and all the noise of resistance and protest and division and disunity, but it’s there and it’s happening on the day-to-day all over the country in every community and it’s useful to remind ourselves that that’s really our duty and obligation right now. If we rely on the government, shame on us, man. It’s time to take matters into our own hands a little bit and start creating our own solutions. So, that’s the idea behind the healing garden and I’m thrilled that people are doing it all over the country and making their own sourdough bread and all the rest of it. Maybe we’ll get in touch with some of these practices again and maybe it’ll help us be more whole and happy people.
Jeff Boedges: Wouldn’t that be nice?
Rick Kiley: That would be lovely. To be clear, though, is there cannabis growing in your garden? Is that legal? Is that part of the California program that people who are either medical patients can grow their own plants because in some states we learned that actually is allowed if you are a patient?
Andrew Deangelo: Yes, in California it’s allowed. That was enshrined under the Medical 215 law in ‘96 and if any politician tried to take that away from the California cannabis community, they would have a pitchfork up their ass so fast, it’s not even funny. So, I think that that’s pretty safe in California. Yeah, I have a few plants growing. What I like to do with my home garden is make my own oil capsules because I’m 100-milligram a dose person and there’s always regulations you can only have 5 or 10-milligram doses in California right now in legal market so I like to make my own higher dose oil.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. That’s quite a bit higher. That’s 25 milligram dense.
Andrew Deangelo: I know. I know. I know. I’ve been taking cannabis for a long time and so my tolerance is somewhat high.
Jeff Boedges: Pretty high, yeah.
Andrew Deangelo: I’m pretty high but I do need cannabis edibles every day. I take several capsules of 100 milligrams throughout the day and so that’s how I like to use it. And then when I want to have a smoke, I’ll go into Harborside and I’ll find some nice extracts or water hash or flower. I’m not so much into the distillate and the single-molecule stuff or the – not single molecule but not whole plant. I guess you say isolates.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Andrew Deangelo: I like the whole plant formulations.
Jeff Boedges: So, are you doing your own extractions then at home? How do you make your own oil?
Andrew Deangelo: Oh, I just cook it in vegetable oil at a slow and low burn and extract the active ingredients into the oil and then I put the oil in the capsules.
Rick Kiley: Right. So, it’s not the vape pen oil.
Andrew Deangelo: No, no.
Rick Kiley: It’s the ingestible edible oil. You’d make brownies out of it or cookies potentially.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. It’s vegetable oil that’s been infused with active ingredients and I put the oil in a capsule. I don’t want to eat a whole lot of calories. I’m 52 years old. I got to watch my waistline a little bit. So, I like to just take capsules because there’s no calories in them.
Jeff Boedges: What’s the best oil do you think? Is it Crisco, something like that? Shout out for any brands out there?
Andrew Deangelo: I like the MCT oil, you know? Olive oil is good too. It’s a little more expensive. MCT oil and olive oil are more expensive. You can just use regular old corn oil or regular old coconut oil if you want. I like the more refined oils because I’m a snob when it comes to these things.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That was my next question. How long have you been such an olive oil snob?
Andrew Deangelo: Oh, yeah, man. Well, I have Italian heritage so, of course, in addition to being a cannabis snob, I’m an oil snob.
Rick Kiley: We’re all snobs about something but you sound pretty down to earth to me and it’s awesome. It’s been really awesome talking to you. We tend to end this podcast the same way every episode. It’s called The Green Repeal for a reason. We are believing that federal legalization is going to happen at some point but it’s a matter of when and what needs to happen. You seem to be someone who is pretty tied into what’s going on. Curious if you have a thought looking at your crystal ball. Do you believe that federal legalization medically or for adult use or both will happen? If so, when? Let’s put your bed up on the big board here.
Andrew Deangelo: Right. A lot of people there is a school of thinkers that believes Trump will as a Hail Mary win the election, remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. I don’t see that happening personally. And if Biden becomes the next president and the democrats get the House and the Senate, I think we may see some movement on banking and I think we may see some movement on some other incremental reforms. I’m not sure we’re going to get to the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act under a Biden administration without a whole lot of Blue Ribbon Commission studying it. We have to study it. We have to study it for a long time because we’ve only had 20,000 scientific studies on the cannabis plant and Lord knows, and we’ve already had commission report done by Governor LaGuardia in the 40s and then we had the other one done in the 70s by Nixon, of the Shafer Commission Report, which was also exhaustive. And guess what, there’s going to be the Biden version too.
And you know what, the Biden version is going to come to the same conclusions as Shafer and as the same conclusion as LaGuardia, and that is to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. So, maybe by this Biden’s the end of his first term, we might see it. We might see it.
Rick Kiley: So, four years. You got a four-year window.
Andrew Deangelo: The democrats have to get the Senate or it will not happen. If the Democrats do not…
Rick Kiley: You think even medically?
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. Because Mitch McConnel doesn’t want anyone competing with hemp in Kentucky.
Rick Kiley: I see.
Andrew Deangelo: And he’s the gatekeeper man if the democrats don’t. And he’s proven a very effective gatekeeper. He will stop it. He will block it. If he can block a Supreme Court nomination nine months in a sitting president second term, he’s going to be able to block federal weed legalization. I hate to break it to you boys and girls, but he will.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, we still don’t have the result of the Kentucky primary Democratic candidate but I believe it’s either Charles Booker or Amy McGrath. And if you have interest in federal cannabis legalization, you might want to…
Jeff Boedges: Throw some money down their way.
Rick Kiley: Throw a little money that way. Let’s see if we can ditch Mitch if that’s the case.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: We don’t tend to get too political on the show but I think we can all agree that if we are pro federal legalization, Mitch McConnell has to go.
Andrew Deangelo: Or at least not hold this position of majority leader.
Rick Kiley: Fair enough.
Andrew Deangelo: It would actually be kind of fun if he was still in the Senate and we got federal legalization through and he had…
Rick Kiley: He had to just watch the whole thing?
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah, he had to sit there and eat it.
Rick Kiley: No, but like that was the bet. They wrote the law. They put in law. They made a copy and Mitch had to eat the whole thing and they printed it hemp paper.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. And we’ll even infuse it with CBD so he can get a little…
Jeff Boedges: Chill the hell out.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. He can chill out a little bit.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. I think he’s one of those guys that really need to learn to smoke a joint once in a while.
Andrew Deangelo: Yeah. I mean they all do, all of them.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today. This conversation has been a lot of fun. Good luck in all your endeavors, especially with the Last Prisoner Project. It’s really important work. If somebody wanted to say send a donation that way or get some information, where would you send them?
Andrew Deangelo: Sure. If you want to donate or plug in to Last Prisoner Project, just go to LastPrisonerProject.org. Poke around the website. We make it really easy for people to help.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Jeff Boedges: That’s great.
Rick Kiley: Great. All right. Thanks so much for joining us on The Green Repeal, Andrew. We’ll talk to you soon.
Jeff Boedges: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew Deangelo: Thanks, Rick. Thanks, Jeffrey. Nice to be with you today.
Jeff Boedges: Our pleasure.
Andrew Deangelo: All right. Bye.