2 Minutes With … Steve DeAngelo, Senior Advisor at Life Is a Ceremony
Steve is a senior advisor at Life Is a Ceremony retreats, where Earth's peaceful warriors, healers, shamans, artists and change makers commune in nature, work on personal development and solve systemic issues. This takes place in a village of elders among Jamaica's most potent and powerful resources: visionary plants and the healing powers of nature.
Steve is noted for co-founding Harborside Health Center (one of the first legal cannabis dispensaries in the U.S.), Steep Hill Laboratory and the Arcview Group (acannabis investment network).
During the 1970s, Steve helped the annual 4th of July White House Smoke-In grow to national prominence. In the '80s, he was a co-founder of the legendary Hemp Tour (precursor to the Cannabis Action Network). In the 1990s, Steve helped organize Initiative 59, Washington D.C.'s medical cannabis law.
We spent two minutes with Steve to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.
Steve, tell us …
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Washington D.C., and now live in Oakland, Calif.
How you first got interested in cannabis.
I first saw cannabis at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in my hometown in 1969. Strangers were passing joints, which made a deep impression on me. It was one of the first times I had ever seen that kind of sharing in public. Nobody would hand one to me, because I was just 11. But I figured out how to deal with that problem pretty quickly.
One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.
Creating and leading Harborside Health Center. In 2006, we received one of the first six commercial cannabis licenses ever issued in the U.S., and for many years we were the largest medical cannabis dispensary on the planet. At its core, Harborside is an alternative economic system, providing small growers with a decent living and patients with the best medicine in the world at affordable prices.
A recent project you're proud of.
In 2019, I was invited to visit Rastafari Indigenous Village, the first Rastafari community in Jamaica to incorporate visionary plants like psilocybin and ayahuasca into their spiritual practice. During the economic crunch of Covid, RIV survived partly by conducting psilocybin ceremonies for some of the Canadian companies promoting retreats in Jamaica. Post-Covid, the Village wanted to build guest facilities to host visitors. So, we worked together for the past year, and now the village has six beautiful cabins and all the infrastructure it needs for retreats and ceremonies.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.
Cannabis marketers have an almost impossible task, because overtaxation and overregulation have made legal cannabis incredibly expensive, while simultaneously reducing its quality. So, how do you convince consumers to pay twice as much for a product that is half as good as what they can get on the unregulated market? No amount of celebrity endorsement, online influencers or glitzy packaging will be effective enough to counter that basic dynamic. Cannabis marketers should encourage their bosses to purchase from small craft growers to keep the supply chain as short as possible, cut prices to the bone and lobby like hell to get rid of the taxes and regulations that are crippling the legal industry.
One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.
The development of the unregulated market for THCA cannabis. THCA is a naturally occurring cannabinoid that converts to THC when heated. It is legal in all 50 states. So, even Texas and Florida you can walk into a smoke shop and legally purchase cannabis—that in many cases is high quality—at reasonable prices. It's a brilliant example of the unstoppable energy and ingenuity of the community. We will get cannabis to the people no matter what obstacle is put in our way.
Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately.
Jason Flom. He is CEO of Lava Records and a longtime music producer. He is one of the most visible and energetic supporters of the Innocence Project, which was one of my main sources of inspiration for the Last Prisoner Project.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
Godfather of Harlem. I love the way it shows the interaction between culture, underground commerce and the struggle for social justice. It was real, seemed fairly accurate and was endlessly entertaining. The phenomenally talented creator of the show, Paul Eckstein, recently passed away— but he will forever be an inspiration.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Peter Tosh. His music was the soundtrack of the cannabis revolution. In the darkest days of the 1980s, the most dangerous and discouraging time for cannabis activists, I would put his album Equal Rights on the turntable, cue up "Downpressor Man," gird myself, and go out to sell more weed and make more revolution.
In the visual arts, I recently discovered the artwork of Kerry James Marshall, who does amazing paintings of African-American life that counter the negative imagery of Black people that is all too common in American arts and culture.
Your favorite fictional character.
Someone worth following on social media.
Your main strength as a marketer/creative.
I excel at projects that have never been done before, conceiving new business models that accomplish social goals, crafting brands that communicate a social mission—and inspiring consumers to support those brands.
Your biggest weakness.
I'm a passionate person, so sometimes it's difficult to control my emotions. I have a very fast trigger finger—too damn fast more often than not.
Something people would find surprising about you.
Despite the confidence I project in public, I have moments of deep doubt and depression, and sometimes I question my self-worth. I just turned 65, and sometimes I struggle with the notion that my best days are behind me. And I grieve intensely for my friends who have died or who are still in prison, all my companions on the road, and those who didn't make it this far.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
I would probably be an assassin of tyrants or a pleasure activist.