An Interview with Steve DeAngelo, the “Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry”

Posted by – September 04, 2015
Categories: Health & Healing Interview Society & Politics

Steve Photo


As founder and CEO of Harborside Health Center, the largest cannabis dispensary in the country, Steve DeAngelo is an undisputed national leader in the cannabis reform movement. Having spent the better part of his life dedicated to activism and advocacy for cannabis reform, DeAngelo presents a timely and important call to action in his new book, The Cannabis Manifesto.


NAB: What inspired you to write The Cannabis Manifesto?

Steve DeAngelo: My forty year love affair with the cannabis plant.

For most of my career, I’ve been speaking to small audiences, handing out leaflets that nobody read, putting on demonstrations where there were more cops than protestors, sending out press releases that never got read, for stories that weren’t written or published. I persisted for a long time, under often difficult circumstances, certain the day would come that the world was ready to hear the truth about cannabis—the opportunity to write and publish this book now is irresistible.

What is the greatest influence on your writing?

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Ringolevio by Emmett Grogan inspired me to live a life worth writing about—and gave me the courage to persist through its challenges and pain. It taught me to question dogma, embrace audacity, and demand authenticity.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer taught me why cannabis is the most valuable plant on the planet, to never cede the high ground, to have faith in your own passion, and never let the bastards get you down.

Aprodite’s Daughters by Jalaja Bonheim forced me to confront my own misconceptions and sexism, showed me the strength in vulnerability, and gently led me toward intimacy.

What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from The Cannabis Manifesto?

Be bold. Commit to what you believe in your heart is true, and always believe in your self. Social change is possible and necessary, but it demands courage and persistence. Never give up.

How do you write? Do you have a daily routine?

I’ve been developing the concepts and collecting the stories in The Cannabis Manifesto for most of my life, but the bulk of the writing was done in three months. I wake up at dawn almost every day, have a cup of tea while scanning the New York Times, check my Twitter feed, then sit down and start writing. I write as long as I can, generally 6–8 hours, typically stopping when my body rebels from computer burnout, or I get afraid of writing over already good passages. It’s probably not a good way to write a book. Were there not so many other demands on my time, I’d give it my undivided attention for a year or two.

What are you working on next?

I’d like to write about cannabis investing, entrepreneurship, and innovation next. Eventually, I hope to write a complete autobiography. And if I wasn’t so busy burying prohibition, I would sit down and write a character-driven, Hollywood-style screenplay telling the story of how and why cannabis was made illegal in the first place—a tale rich with drama and meaning.

What have you learned about human nature that isn’t common knowledge?

People trust you more when you admit your own mistakes.

What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you?

Different people would be surprised by different aspects of my life. Some might be surprised to learn that one of my favorite things to do is play trains with my granddaughters; others might be surprised by my love of country; some might be surprised I was once a communist; and others would be surprised that I am now a free market entrepreneurial capitalist.

I’ve always marched to my own drum, down some strange and marvelous paths, and imagine almost anybody would find something surprising about me if we talked long enough.

What book is on your nightstand now? 

Home Grown: Marijuana And The Origin of the Mexican War On Drugs, by Issac Campos.

The question no one asks, the one you’re itching to answer is…

The question no one asks is how my mother came to give birth to me at precisely 4:20 PM—two decades before the term became the international code for cannabis. I can’t answer the question, but I think it would make for an interesting discussion.




Almost 30 million Americans report using cannabis in the past year. More than 800,000 people will be arrested this year for cannabis crimes, and this country will spend an estimated $8 billion keeping marijuana illegal, while use rates have remained steady for decades. In The Cannabis Manifesto, Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center, the world’s largest medical-cannabis dispensary, presents a compelling case for cannabis as a wellness catalyst that must be legalized.

The Cannabis Manifesto answers essential questions about the plant, using extensive research to fuel a thoughtful discussion about cannabis science and law, as well as its biological, mental, and spiritual effects on human beings. With a cultural critic’s eye peering through the lens of social justice, DeAngelo explains how cannabis prohibition has warped our most precious institutions—from the family, to the workplace, to the doctor’s office and the courtroom. In calling for a realistic national policy on a substance that has been used by half of all Americans, this essential primer will forever change the way the world thinks about cannabis, its benefits, and the laws governing its use.

Tags: Alternative & Integrative Therapies Cannabis Herbalism Social Change Steve DeAngelo Jalaja Bonheim

About the Author

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2007, Julia was delighted to find out that “professional book recommender” was a job. She has been working in marketing and publicity with independent Bay Area publishers ever since. She joined North Atlantic Books in 2014. She lives with her husband and two very nice cats in Oakland.