Pot has been in prohibition for a lifetime. Through the years cannabis activists have risked their own freedom in the hope that one day we would be free to choose a strain without fear or pain.
If you’re sitting down right now enjoying a legal puff, you can thank the heroes and heroines of the counterculture.
Denis Peron and Jack Herer were some of his closest friends. He helped edit ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes’ and in 1987 went on a book tour with Jack across Midwestern colleges spreading the good news.
He believes that harmony can be restored on this planet through the plant.
He has given his life to the cause and is now reaping the rewards!
Please welcome the ‘High Times Lester Grinspoon’ lifetime achievement award winner…
Activism In The Blood
Abruptly woken from their sleep, a very young Steve DeAngelo and his brothers were hastily ushered into the family car and driven away at speed. The road was rapidly filling with smoke and flames could be seen in the distance. When his father pulled the car over, Steve lifted himself up to look out the window. In the middle of their neighbours front yard was a cross, on fire, burning.
“I remember arriving there and the smell of gasoline still hanging heavily in the air and how terrified this family was.”
His parents were involved in ‘Blockbusting’. It was a ‘fair housing’ movement to block segregation in the suburbs. Steve’s baptism of fire into the world of activism had begun early.
Later that year, on Wednesday August 28th 1963, the then 5 year old and his family would march with thousands of others to the Lincoln memorial in Washington, to witness the momentous ‘I have a dream’ speech by the late, great Martin Luther King Jr.
His family home would also serve as a safe house for freedom writers like Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney to propagate their ideas. Steve says:
“It acted as a staging ground for support work, before the journey down to the deep south.”
First Encounter With Cannabis
In the early 70’s, Washington was a “real cauldron of descent” as thousands and thousands of activists encamped in Washington DC looking to end the war. Steve would skip school to be with the activists and voice his support. Being with these activists meant being around cannabis.
“What really struck me, was that they were passing it to each other, one to another, to another, and another, and they didn’t even know each other.”
When Steve started smoking cannabis as a teenager his parents had a negative reaction.
“My Parents were of the pre-hippy, pre-beatnik civil rights movement.. My father did not have a problem with cannabis, but he did have a problem with me doing something illegal.”
His parents were politically progressive but untouched by the hippy movement.
Burning The American Flag
In support of the anti-war demonstration his school went on strike and refused to go to class. “During the gathering of that strike I burned an American flag.” This caused a huge issue with his parents and the school board. It was suggested to send Steve to a mental institution for evaluation. “My Mother had no interest but my Father was leaning towards the idea.”
Steve of course had other ideas…
Thirteen and fearful of being put in a mental home, Steve ran away.
“I went to Greensboro in North Carolina, a college town… I hung out with the students.. I found couches to sleep on but I realized very quickly that it was not sustainable”.
After nearly 4 weeks away from home with no contact, his parents received a phone call.
Not from Steve as hoped, but from the Metropolitan police. Steve had been arrested at a ‘White House Sit In’ demonstration.
“As soon as my father got me out of the police station I bolted away from him. He chased me and it ended up in a fist fight. He was bigger and stronger than me and so he won that one’”
Steve was hauled back to his home but unlike a lot of his friends, he was not locked up in a mental institution.
“I was grateful to my parents for not locking me up, but now they were searching my room, taking my stash and were cooperating with school authorities who were suppressing me!”.
Yippie Smoke In.
In 1974, 16 and fed up with with the rules imposed on him, Steve left his home for good.
He become the lead organizer of the ‘Yippie 4th of July Annual Smoke In’ which he led for 10 years. His voice and the movements were getting louder and louder.
Steve saw the 70’s as a great time for the counterculture movement.
“In the 1970’s a tremendous amount of progress was made in the movement. Decriminalization bills passed in around 14 states. In 1978 Jimmy carter endorsed nationwide decriminalization of cannabis.. Coming into the 80’s optimism was high…”
“He [Reagan] reinvigorated the war on drugs and was hugely successful in doing so. Most cannabis reform laws were reversed. Decriminalization bills and urine testing at workplaces was introduced. It was a dark and difficult time. I cannot forget the ads on TV with an egg cracking [with the voiceover]- this is your brain on drugs… Funds for NORML had dried up… The Movement was in disarray. To us it was a time of intense repression.”
Opportunity to Grow
Opportunities for activism became a lot more constrained. With no education and a desire to learn, Steve saw this as a time to grow. He took advantage of this period and went to college.
By 1984 he had completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in American studies and completed it in 3 years!
Political routes being closed at the time, Steve started doing cultural activism through his work that also paid the bills at the same time.
He was, in effect, creating safe spaces for alternative counter culture expression to continue in the changing landscape of Washington DC.
“I’ve always seen myself as a cultural revolutionary, more so that a political one”
“From 1979 to 1982 I did a lot of work.. I renovated a theater in downtown Washington .. I worked in venues…. . in music and festival production. I would put together 3-day camping festivals for cannabis smokers.. All to bring people together.”
It was all about the creation of those safe spaces for the cannabis community to come together.
“ We needed to gain validation from each other at a time when mass media was repeatedly saying we were dangerous ‘stupid stoners’. People needed a space to come together and look in each others eyes and say no, you’re not a monster. What you are doing is right!!”
The Dark Side
Steve’s Intention was to study law and in 1985 he did just that. He very soon felt disillusioned however as he learned of the incremental nature associated with changing laws. Too slow for Steve.
In the summer following his first year in law school he joined a law firm as an intern.
“On day one I was given an assignment. To break the co-op agreement of a building. The building in question just so happened to be the same building that housed the theatre he had renovated. Relatively inexpensive, the co-op housed a lot of his friends and artists.
To accomplish the task would mean having his friends and other artists kicked out.
Steve refused to do it and walked out of the internship, and out of law school forever.
“If those were the type of compromises required of me I wasn’t interested”
In 2006 in Oakland California Steve established what would become the largest dispensary in the world with over 300,000 patients. A safe place that focuses on people’s wellness. A place where not only cannabis is sold but alternative therapies are performed also!
He even helps those who cannot afford to buy the herb by offering them a chance to do some advocacy work for an hour, after which then receive a free gram of herb.
Although legal at state level, cannabis is not yet on a federal level.
Operating successfully since 2006, Steve was shocked when the Federal government issued proceedings against Harbourside, looking to seize their property. They would remain in litigation for 4 years. In 2016 the feds finally dropped their case.
In 2007 Steve opened the first commercial medical cannabis testing lab in America. Medicinal cannabis would now be checked for quality and potency to appease regulators.
Harbourside worked with their growers and gave them legal protection which allowed them to emerge from the shadows and grow cannabis outdoors in natural sunlight using organic, pesticide free techniques,reducing electricity consumption, and providing quality cannabis.
When Obama got elected Steve knew he had 4-8 years to “Roll the ball so far down the road that no one will be able to roll it back on us”. In Harbourside Steve constantly met entrepreneurs with great ideas but no funds. His good friend Troy was a fundraiser for the marijuana project and met a lot of high net-worth individuals who wanted to invest in the cannabis industry.
Steve knew for the cannabis industry to genuinely progress, it needed to be legal, profitable, and politically engaged.
He also knew the only way it could happen was to engage the same mechanisms of commerce that produce and distribute mainstream goods around the world.
“We knew that the political class is ruled by the elite financial class and if we could find a way of getting the elite financial class to support cannabis reform they would push the politicians.”
To date Arkview has invested over $230 million in over 200 venture projects. Projects that look to improve every aspect of the plant cycle from seed to final products.
Big business takeover?
It is clearly evident that the big players have entered the cannabis market.
Steve sees big business reaping the rewards from decades of counter culture effort.
“It’s painful to see but it is a lot less painful than the idea of people around the world needing cannabis but not allowed access .. it’s also a lot less painful than [seeing] people around the world being locked up for it.”
Steve has a huge amount of faith in the plant. He sees the corporate takeover of cannabis as a “Trojan horse that has been rolled into the heart of global corporate culture. Now they are greedily opening their presents from the horse, but in doing so are bringing this plant to the furthest corners of the world.”
“People will then get access to the plant … it will change the way people think and the way people live. We know this. Health and safety benefits. Crime, suicide,binge drinking all go down. The plant works its magic wherever it goes and this plant is going everywhere!!”
Steve’s Future Goals
– Everyone who needs this plant to have safe and affordable access.
– Everyone who was locked up for this plant and oppressed to be freed
Good luck with your goals Steve and thank you for your years of service to the cause.