Cannabis activist and legal market pioneer, Andrew DeAngelo, has been fighting the good fight long before it was trendy to do so. In his thirty years spent working on the front lines of cannabis legalization, his diplomatic and equity-minded approach to policy reform has been instrumental in shaping the market we enjoy today.
Not only did he co-found Oakland dispensary Harborside with his brother Steve DeAngelo (where they helped develop childproof packaging and set standards of lab testing), DeAngelo worked to help to pass Props 215 and 64, which legalized cannabis in California, and also co-founded The Last Prisoners Project, a nonprofit that works to free cannabis offenders.
“I'm working to create better frameworks for regulation and taxation and access to consumers for legal adult-use cannabis in California,” DeAngelo told Weedmaps. “When Harborside opened, we were one of the first six retail licenses for cannabis anywhere in the world. We had a unique vision for cannabis retail at that time. And much of what we pioneered, whether it be lab testing or child-resistant packaging for edibles, senior outreach, any number of other things that we pioneered with respect to public policy and Oakland, have now sort of set the standard for the whole industry.”
Pioneers in the cannabis industry
Prior to DeAngelo's work building Harborside, the California legal market existed in a wild west state characterized by the pre-Prop 64 era. Lab testing had yet to be standardized, meaning products sold legally often had amounts of contaminants or pesticides that weren't being caught because the labs themselves weren't regulated. Packaging had yet to be homogenized. Inventory was a mess.
Through Harborside, DeAngelo and his brother worked to set systems in place for cannabis to operate like any other legitimate industry. “Lab testing is now part of pretty much every framework, everywhere, childproof packaging too. I think the regulators went a little out of control with that particular one, similar with taxes, which we unfortunately also pioneered. Not a lot of people know that, but we pioneered the first local tax for cannabis and Oakland.”
DeAngelo no longer works with Harborside, having exited last year to become an independent strategic consultant for the cannabis industry and focus on his epic nonprofit, The Last Prisoner Project.
The responsibility of the industry and the Last Prisoner Project
Founded in 2019, the Last Prisoner Project is a nonprofit that works to free all cannabis prisoners and help reintegrate them into society. “Our mission is pretty simple,” said DeAngelo.
“Get all cannabis prisoners on earth out of jail and successfully reenter them into society.”
He continued, “There's a whole bunch of ways that we do that and people can learn about that on our website. I'm proud to say the organization is blowing up. We're raising more money than ever. We're actually getting people out of prison. I think our industry has a moral obligation to do that, and it's been an extremely rewarding thing to work on.”
When asked what changes he would like to see in the industry in the next five years, DeAngelo said, “I want to see an industry that has small, medium and large companies owned by Black people, brown people, queer folks, straight women and privileged white men.”
He continued, “We need to show the world that industries can be diverse. No industry in America right now is diverse really, and our industry has an opportunity to lead by example. We're not leading by very good example right now, because only 4% of the cannabis industry is owned by people of color. So, we have a lot of work to do to correct the wrongs of the past. It's similar to getting people out of prison. We have a moral obligation to do this, and it's not that hard.”
Andrew DeAngelo's favorite weed
Here are equity-minded and POC-owned cannabis brands that Andrew DeAngelo can't live without.
The Congo Club
“As you can imagine, I'm supporting mostly legacy-owned, Black-owned, queer-owned, women-owned, or just little micro businesses with my cannabis purchases,” said DeAngelo.
“On the flower side, there's a group called The Congo Club here in Oakland. They're doing something I think is terrific. They have a grower who is a legacy grower who Harborside was buying weed from in the early, early days, and they specialize in landrace strains from Africa like Red Congolese and the Congolese strains.”
Founded by Amber Senter of Supernova Women, an organization formed by and for women of color to foster community empowerment in the cannabis industry, and grown by Red Top Farms, The Congo Club produces high quality flower from rare and sought after landrace strains with a dedication to environmental preservation.
“I love their flower and that smoke because it's a very creative smoke,” said DeAngelo. “I like to take The Congo Club products before I sit down to write.
“Another flower brand I love here in the Bay is SF Roots,” said DeAngeo. “I smoked some of their weed a couple of weeks ago, and it really got my attention. You know, when you smoke a lot of weed like I do, not every batch or every eighth or every joint gets your attention. These folks got my attention right away.”
SF Roots is an equity cannabis brand specializing in fire weed products and uplifting the POC community within cannabis. He continued, “They've got terrific strains, terrific flower, a terrific smoke on all ends.”
Known for high quality products with a focus on cannabinoid isolation, Guild Extracts has made a name for themselves in the highly competitive (and judgmental) world of concentrates, as well as continuing to help push that corner of the cannabis industry into the future.
“Guild is cool because they're hispanic owned-and-operated. There's not many Latinx cannabis companies, so I like to support them,” said DeAngelo.
Blue River Extracts
“And finally, for the super high-end hash that I can't afford to smoke, Blue River Extracts,” laughed DeAngelo. Blue River Extracts is renowned in the industry for their ability to produce solvent-quality extracts without the use of solvents.
Founded by Tony Verzura, a cannabis inventor with over 80 awards in the industry, Blue River produces extracts mechanically, including water, which is all but unheard of. This proprietary method of extraction produces an insane level of terpene preservation, all with zero impact on the environment.
“These concentrates are $70-$90 dollars before you even pay the taxes on them, but it's because they're so handcrafted. The amount of time and energy it requires to achieve this level of concentrate with no solvents used at all makes them worth it.”
Featured graphic by David Lozada/Weedmaps