For decades, the DeAngelo brothers have blazed trails in the name of cannabis progress all over the country and globally. Their experience founding and running California’s Harborside dispensary – at one time the biggest in the world – alone is enough to fill an entire book. And yet their legendary saga as cannabis heroes from the East Coast is far from over.
While the older brother Steve DeAngelo is the most famous of the two, younger brother Andrew has been instrumental in the duo’s success over the decades. He spent years running the day-to-day operations at Harborside, and now with that chapter behind him, Andrew is focused on helping other businesses and the entire industry thrive for the betterment of all.
During a call from his home in Oakland, California, Andrew DeAngelo covered a lot of ground concerning his multi-pronged focus in cannabis today.
Poor Public Policy Ruining Everything
One of Andrew’s most immediate concerns for the cannabis industry is the fragmented effort to create a business landscape where everybody can benefit. “The legacy market – my term for the underground market – is thriving in California right now and in many other places because the framework for legalization is just so poorly done,” he notes.
“The public policy has constrained the ecosystem so much that capital gets deployed and it gets lost. And then the investors get control and then they try to do everything they’ve done in previous industries which doesn’t work because the framework is no good. So then they cut all their staff and they cut all their labor hours and they cut cut cut, and then they can’t do anything anymore. And then it gets worse!”
Andrew has seen a lot of legacy growers in California simply give up trying to enter the legal space since Proposition 64 was passed, which legalized adult-use cannabis in the state. It’s easier for them just to return to the illicit market, and it’s hard for the legal operators to compete against them, he says.
“What I’m trying to do is get the stoners and the suits together. It’s hard because there is a big cultural gap, but both sides are getting screwed in the same way by the bad public policy,” Andrew explains. “If we can get together and fix the public policy – and while we’re at it fix social justice and equity and sustainability within the industry – then maybe we can consolidate our political power and not get sliced and diced by our adversaries like we are right now. Because we all have the same goals in these areas.”
A Strategic Advisor Consulting Ecosystem
While many cannabis operators have grown weary of ‘expert’ consultants taking advantage of them, Andrew DeAngelo brings deep experience and a brilliant track record to the table. Since moving on from his pioneering work at Harborside, strategic consulting has become one of his key focuses, both nationally and internationally.
“And for those bigger clients, such as Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies considering cannabis, when I can’t fulfill all those client needs, I am contracted with bigger, global consulting firms that have a whole team of lawyers and compliance experts, investors, and people who have expertise in areas that I don’t,” Andrew reveals.
“And internationally, what’s happening with cannabis is very interesting and exciting, even more so than what’s happening domestically. My desire is to help shape the global industry because we’ve learned so much from Canada and the U.S., and all the mistakes we’ve made. It would be helpful if the rest of the world did not make those same mistakes, which is why I am engaging internationally with firms.”
Additionally, Andrew has also included other talent in his consulting ecosystem, such as publicists, PR specialists, and communications directors to help clients tell their story and get more exposure.
Bringing Social Equity & Legacy Groups Together
“One of the other things I’m trying to do right now is bring these two groups to work together. Legacy people are generally growers and producers, while social equity people are generally traders in cannabis,” Andrew notes. “So if we can get the legacy people to grow and the social equity people to trade, I think that alliance could be very powerful and could present a healthy, competitive avatar on the playing field, if you will.”
And while this is starting to happen at a smaller scale in some areas, Andrew believes that more momentum on this front is only a good thing.
“The activists have done a tremendous job in getting more people to focus on social equity, and those of us who are entrepreneurs and business people need to make it operational and get these businesses to succeed if we want a healthy ecosystem where the high tide lifts all boats,” he says. “And that includes multistate operators. They need social equity and legacy folks in that ecosystem as well. Because if you don’t have them in the ecosystem, then you’re going to be competing with them in the illicit market and you’re going to lose.”
According to Andrew, when big cannabis companies are losing out to an illicit market, their first inclination is to launch prohibition 2.0, where they bust everybody who doesn’t have a license. “So that’s what I worry about is that we will have a civil war between the suits and the stoners as this thing gets further consolidated with the bad public policy. And the people who are sitting on cash will gain more control and ownership.”
Why All Cannabis Players Need To Unite Before They Compete
Andrew points out that in California, for instance, at least 75% of all cannabis transactions occur on the illicit market. “And that’s true in most of the legal states. Yet, even if we can fix the public policy framework within each state, without interstate commerce, we are not going to have an official supply chain, which creates too much duplication and redundancies, and it’s going to drive up the price,” he notes.
“And this brings us back to the problem of having to compete with the legacy market. All the issues in cannabis are connected, and they have to be intelligently examined and designed as best we can to create one large legal market instead of two markets that are going to be at odds with each other.”
This friction, Andrew explains, creates unwanted issues on all sides of the industry – and the community that surrounds it – where everybody loses. “Legacy people who have been growing and selling weed their whole lives are not going to stop. Nor should they. It’s our job to get them in and make sure they can take care of themselves and their families, and there is plenty of demand for cannabis that we can do that. There’s plenty of room at the table – especially when you start talking about industrial hemp.”
Hemp is supposed to be part of the transformation from a dirty, polluting economy to a clean, sustainable economy, Andrew continues. “Just last year we had a hemp bill in Sacramento that would have allowed everybody to grow hemp and CBD in California. It would have been tested, and it would have been great,” he says. “Well, a few companies already growing and selling CBD hired a bunch of lobbyists and got the bill killed. That’s not helpful. It’s bad behavior. There is a lot of this, and it’s up to us to get our political house in order. Nationwide, the hemp industry contracted this past year, and there are a lot of farmers who are hurt and angry. We screwed up.”
Bottom line, if the industry is going to stabilize and thrive, all players need to consolidate their political power and make their voices heard. “We’ve got to stop letting the mainstream political parties slice and dice us like this. It’s terrible,” Andrew says.
Releasing All Cannabis Prisoners
Social justice has always been a strong pillar for the DeAngelo brothers, and their latest effort may be their greatest: the Last Prisoner Project (LPP).
Cofounded by the DeAngelo brothers along with Dean Raise, the nonprofit’s mission is to get people out of prison, expunge their records, and reenter them into society – hopefully with a job in the cannabis industry and an apartment, so they’re not homeless.
“These are folks who never should have been put into prison in the first place. Prison is a traumatic experience that really saps your skills and stunts your growth as a professional, so we try to support them as much as we can as they reenter society,” Andrew explains.
Launched just 18 months ago, the project has come a long way – and there is still much work to do with the ultimate goal being to release all cannabis prisoners across the world. “Obviously we can’t do it alone, and there are other groups working on this issue as well – and doing great work – such as Cage-Free Cannabis and The Equity Alliance. It takes a village,” he says.
Andrew reveals that LPP has gained more momentum since the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. “It’s up to people who look like us [caucasian] to make the final difference in isolating the hatred that is in people’s hearts – to make sure we eradicate it or make it very painful for people to express that hate.”
Creating New Stories & Education Around Cannabis
In Andrew’s efforts as a cannabis activist and entrepreneur, one of the most consistent challenges he’s come across is how afraid people are of cannabis. The large number of local bans against cannabis sales throughout California is a prime example of this.
“I spent two years in communities all through California that were banning cannabis, trying to talk some sense into them, and they are terrified,” he notes.
This cannabis fear amidst communities in any state is why Andrew encourages legal cannabis businesses to embrace community engagement in order to build much-needed trust while also supporting cannabis education for everyone.
“We have to educate, we have to reduce the stigma, we have to create a different story, and it’s just going to take time,” Andrew says.
This need for new storytelling in cannabis has become another of Andrew’s primary focuses. Some of the big projects here include developing a new TV series with Doug Fine called American Hemp Farmer, as well as working on the recent documentary film CBD Nation.