Steve DeAngelo: Cannabis Pioneer and Advocate for True Cannabis Culture

Best in Grow co-founders Andrew Duffy and Jake Levin had the opportunity to sit down with Steve DeAngelo and learn the secret to building engaging and energizing company culture.

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Who is Steve DeAngelo?

With a felony drug conviction and two grey, braided pigtails, Steve DeAngelo is everything but the typical businessman. As a cannabis rights and reform advocate, DeAngelo is one of the most influential entrepreneurs and pop culture icons in cannabis today. As well as being co-founder and Executive Director of Harborside, a legendary and distinguished California dispensary, DeAngelo is also co-founder of The Arcview Group, the first and largest group of high net worth cannabis investors in the world. DeAngelo, awarded for the High Times Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for his four decades of activism in the cannabis reform movement, is known for his compassion for others and extensive business knowledge—a lethal combination in the cannabis industry.

For years DeAngelo, who got his start in the legalization movement hosting smoke-ins in front of the White House, thought that big business, big pharma, and big tobacco would destroy the cannabis industry. Now, however, he speaks to a different tune. Instead of ruining the cannabis industry, DeAngelo sees a future where cannabis and business can continue to help and shape one another. As the founder and operator of one of the most prominent, legal-market dispensaries, DeAngelo is living proof of the ways in which a business can accomplish what activists alone cannot.

"It’s always been about the plant for me. I fell in love with this plant at a very early age. My choices were either to be a criminal for the rest of my life, or to make it legal, or to stop using cannabis — and I certainly wasn’t going to stop using cannabis… Legalization became a prerequisite for my own personal happiness, so I made it my mission."
Steve DeAngelo, President & Co-Founder of Arcview

DeAngelo isn’t proposing that cannabis conform to the ideals of big business, but rather, the opposite. “True cannabis culture”—that is, to use cannabis to further personal health and wellness, to educate oneself, to enjoy culture, food and the arts, and to reject the lazy-stoner archetype pushed by mainstream media— must remain intact in order to flourish.

Best in Grow co-founders Andrew Duffy and Jake Levin had the opportunity to sit down with Steve DeAngelo and learn the secret to building engaging and energizing company culture. As a business that focuses on real-time communication at the company and industry level, they wanted to speak to the best, in order to provide the newest, most relevant information possible for our users, and who better to be that knowledgeable voice than the best in the business himself.

What is cannabis culture?

Steve DeAngelo is dedicated to maintaining true cannabis culture, and so is Best in Grow. We began our interview talking about the basics of what cannabis culture entails and how businesses in the industry can instill this culture in their own organizations.

Currently, “stoner culture” has been picked up, and amplified by, the mainstream media. While one would think that this would be a great source of marketing, as well as a way to educate and expand the industry’s customer base, the type of cannabis culture displayed and described in the media has been reshaped into something harmful rather than helpful.

According to DeAngelo, the biggest, most egregious example of this is a TV show called Disjointed. Featuring red-eyed characters standing in front of the menu at Taco Bell unable to remember what it was that they wanted to order, the show further perpetuates the image that those who use cannabis are “forgetful, stupid, underperforming, non-creative, unambitious, irresponsible dregs of society”. A stereotype that should no longer be associated with those who use cannabis or associated with the dynamic culture true cannabis enthusiasts embody.

“Cannabis has always been a medicine. It prevents, cures, and relieves some of the gravest medical conditions still plaguing humankind, like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. The real criminals are those who deny patients the treatment they need, not those who provide it in defiance on an unjust law.

In reality, there are all sorts of amazing things about cannabis and what cannabis can do that have been reflected in our culture since the beginning of its use in human beings. In the words of DeAngelo, “it sparks creativity and enhances cultural experiences”. It helps a “painter find the right color”, helps a “poet find the right word”, helps a “musician find the right note”. Stereotyping those who use cannabis dulls the importance of cannabis as a medicine and dulls the lessons true cannabis culture shares with those who grew up in the shadow of the plant’s prohibition. As DeAngelo said, “we don’t want to lose this sparkling, charming, quirky, offbeat cannabis culture.”

Steve considers this newfound stoner cannabis culture to be due, in part, to the prohibitionist lens that was used to stigmatize and oppress. Rather than shying away from the shamed culture, people “adopted it as their own way to look at and form their self-identity.”

This is known as the labeling theory, often used in psychiatry. If you oppress and stigmatize, “one of the ways that people respond is by taking that identity and wrapping it around themselves to own it”. However, this acceptance of a false cannabis culture is no longer necessary in our society today.

Business is booming, so to speak. The emerging cannabis industry took home nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017 and will continue to dramatically rise through 2018, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics. Marijuana isn’t just for getting high anymore. Instead, marijuana has become a multi-faceted medicine, rather than just a drug. Its roots are even spreading to the health and wellness industry, thanks to the many people like Steve DeAngelo.

The point is that people’s eyes are opening to what cannabis can do for wellness, mind, body, and spirit. It has become a much more common treatment plan. So why continue to act as though that prohibitionist lens still exists the same way as it did in the past?

Implementing True Cannabis Culture

But how can we break out even more? Start instilling true cannabis culture in your business. What kinds of values do we need to see in the world to challenge and change it in the ways we so urgently need? According to DeAngelo, these values tend to be principles like “generosity over greed,” “being generous with each other,” “valuing creativity over conformity.” All things that cannabis can teach us if we are listening.

The real challenge is “how do you articulate what those lessons are in words that people can understand and communicate to each other?” How do you communicate these important concepts and then integrate these concepts into modern business context?

We can start by building a new kind of industry. A kind of industry that proves that high-quality, serious, and positive cannabis content can be profitable. There is a hugely, untapped audience for that kind of content.

“It’s all about wellness. And I define wellness broadly. Certainly, it can include extreme medical situations, but I also think it includes things like waking up your sense of play, improving an intimate experience, or enhancing the flavor of food.”

That’s where Best in Grow comes in

Best in Grow functions as a retail dispensary management platform. Our technology helps ensure that people with a specific vision, one of true cannabis culture, can disseminate that information down to everyone involved. A customizable software platform used to maximize communication and feedback, Best in Grow ensures constant improvement in the organization, better customer experiences, employee retention, and widespread education on what true cannabis culture is and can be and what that means for society as a whole.

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