At the end of the day, employees can tell who has their back and who does not. They can tell when they are truly valued and when they are merely viewed as labor hours on a spreadsheet. So, take care of them in an authentic way. Care about them. Treat them like family. These are the attributes that create a company culture that makes people take meaning in their work and bring their A-game every shift.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew DeAngelo, Cannabis Industry Consultant and Strategic Advisor, Co-founder of Harborside.
Andrew DeAngelo is a visionary leader with a proven track record of enacting systemic social change and developing best practices in cannabis — he is the very definition of a trailblazer and someone who has proudly walked the road less traveled.
During his almost 13-year tenure at Harborside, where he currently serves as an advisor, Andrew has pioneered legal cannabis business processes and provided groundbreaking political engagement and thought leadership to the cannabis community. Andrew also lends his vast cannabis business and political expertise as a consultant for hire to the global community at large.
Andrew led the design and development of gold-standard cannabis retail by innovating many “firsts” for the industry. These include: introducing CBD medicines to heal severely epileptic children as documented in Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, implementing the first lab-testing program in the history of cannabis dispensing, creating child-resistant packaging for edibles, standardizing inventory tracking, initiating senior outreach, and successfully preventing the federal government from seizing Harborside in forfeiture actions against the company in 2012.
Andrew is co-founder and Treasurer of the Board for the non-profit Last Prisoner Project (LPP). LPP’s mission is to free and re-integrate all cannabis prisoners on earth into mainstream society. Since its inception in 2019, LPP has successfully re-integrated the formerly incarcerated and 2020 will be the year LPP frees its first constituent.
Andrew is also a founding Board of Directors member of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), the premier cannabis industry trade association in California, where he served from 2013 to 2020 building the organization from zero to 500 member companies. CCIA continues to represent the industry in California as it works on reforming Prop 64 to improve the legal and regulatory framework for cannabis trade throughout the state.
Graduating with honors from Chapman University with a BFA degree in Communications & Theatre, Andrew began his political career as an activist while studying for his MFA in acting at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Over two decades as an activist, Andrew worked on a variety of voter initiatives which legalized medical and adult use cannabis in San Francisco, Washington D.C, and the State of California.
As an actor, Andrew starred in the feature film Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore which premiered at Sundance in 1997, and on national television shows like Superior Court (1987); Homicide: Life on the Street (1998); as well as dozens of plays across the United States. Andrew also stars in Discovery Channel’s reality television series Weed Wars (2011, 2012). Between 2002 and 2005, Andrew served as a professor at Chapman University teaching acting.
Andrew and his brother Steve recently formed DeAngelo Brothers Productions (DAB), which intends to produce, support, and distribute cannabis content over a variety of mediums and platforms. DAB’s mission is “to create new mythologies for cannabis in pop culture, smashing the stigma of the lazy stoner and replacing it with fresh and positive representations of cannabis in society.”
As a speaker, Andrew has appeared at the MJBusiness Daily Conference in Las Vegas, ICBC, NCIA conferences in Chicago/Boston/San Jose, Emerald Conference, and the U.S Cannabis Conference in Miami. Andrew is scheduled to present at 2020 conferences across the globe. Courses on cannabis business training led by Andrew are available online through Green Flower Media.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Steve DeAngelo, known as the father of the legal cannabis industry, is my older brother and he is 10 years older than me, so I always had access to cannabis growing up. But, I was trying to be a professional athlete as a teenager so I didn’t take any cannabis until I got hurt at 15 and my dream of being the next John McEnroe died. I was in physical and emotional pain that seemed overwhelming to me at that time. My brother handed me a joint and that joint changed my life. I knew then and there that cannabis would be a big part of my life and work forever. This was 1984, so my journey took a lot of twists and turns over 37 years as we had to, not only trade in cannabis, but change laws along the way so we could come out of the shadows and into the light.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Probably the most impactful story from my time running the day-to-day operations of Harborside was the time I provided cannabis tincture to a child with epilepsy. This was 2011 and no one had ever given cannabis medicine to a seven-year-old before, let alone a child with such a severe case of Dravet syndrome. I had a deep and real fear of getting busted by the Feds as I was doing this work on national television as part of Weed Wars, the first reality TV show about the newly legal cannabis trade in California. I was even more concerned about the father Jason David and his son Jayden. I didn’t want them to get busted. After a lot of deliberation and preparation with attorneys, we decided to go ahead and try to see if cannabis could help Jayden. Well, it did help. Jayden’s seizures were reduced by 90 percent, and the story we told inspired thousands of parents with sick kids to look at cannabis therapy as something to try. And the rest is hip-story, we would say.
What I learned from that experience was that courage pays off. Risk pays off. But not so much in a transactional way, but in an authentic way. To this day, I never made any money from that experience. Other people in the industry created entire companies and brands from that effort, but I got to be part of something that healed a lot of sick kids, that inspired a lot of other people to work on this movement, and gave birth to a team that enabled the dream to come true. That is the most rewarding part of it for me. True heroism is when one person inspires others to do this great work. By that measure, I feel quite proud of my legacy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the mistakes I have made more than once is assuming people like the same weed I do, the same experiences I do, the same display cases I do, the same color paint I do, etc. The preferential bias has caused me to develop tunnel vision and this was certainly the case early on when we first opened Harborside. I would buy a large batch of a product I loved and then it would sit in the vault. And then, I would buy a small batch of something I was convinced would fail, and it sold like gangbusters.
I made the same mistake managing people and teams. I assumed that people wanted to be commanded and controlled because that had worked for me in an underground environment for a long time. When your freedom is at risk from a team member behaving right, you tend to lead them with a heavy hand. But that method fails in complex retail environments that have a lot of constraints. Command and control cannot move fast enough, motivate people deeply enough, or develop a level of trust needed to bring out the best in people.
After going home frustrated, sad, angry, and feeling ineffective, I realized that I needed to find a new way of leading and working. I had to open and change my mind and biases. I had to be more curious. I had to lead people with trust and shared consciousness, not command and control. I had to lead like a gardener not like a general. Once I started this leadership practice, things quickly improved for me and the team.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Last Prisoner Project is my latest non-profit. Our mission is to free cannabis prisoners, get their records expunged, and help them reintegrate into society with job training and other services. We also advocate for cannabis legal states to create laws that allow us to do this work in a much more streamlined way. As one can imagine, the system creates many barriers for the release of prisoners, even those who should never have been incarcerated in the first place. It is a sad state of affairs.
We are trying to get people out immediately due to COVID-19, so the urgency could not be higher. Cannabis prisoners should not be in jail, to begin with, and they certainly should not die there due to the virus. People can help by going to our website and signing our petition, www.lastprisonerproject.org.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1989 as a 21-year-old college graduate, Dennis Peron gave me a place to sleep and fronted me some cannabis. Dennis was an old friend of my older brother Steve and he took me in when I knew not one soul in San Francisco. Given that his house at that time was a mecca for gay men and I was straight, it was a big act of kindness for him to do that. He would always say to me, “Andrew, it is OK if you’re straight, as long as you don’t flaunt it.” It would always make me blush. He loved that.
He was a real mentor to me in my 20s as I studied in graduate school. I got to help him collect signatures, buy and sell cannabis, and play a very small role in those early efforts to legalize medical cannabis in the early 1990s in San Francisco. Dennis was a man of love and he always made time for young people to give them words of advice and to be a father figure many did not have at home. He was one of the kindest people I have ever known and I am a connoisseur of kind people.
This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?
Do something good for the community and world then tell the story of that far and wide. It is very hard to do traditional marketing with cannabis. Something that is charitable, or sustainable, or local is well within reach. Oftentimes, it helps to pick one thing and stick to it. I know of one cannabis company that decided to lean into food banks and they have donated to food banks for years and they just passed their one million pound threshold. They got huge press for this, their brand got out there far and wide, and good vibes were associated with the brand. The founders got to look in the mirror and smile, which is the best feeling in the world. This strategy really helped Harborside build our brand and connection to our community. The creative part of this is the way in which you tell the story of the good you are doing. Featuring real-life examples of people who actually receive help and making them the stars is my most innovative advice. We often fall into the trap of making the marketing story about ourselves instead of about our customers or community.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
- The potential to create a more compassionate and sustainable world with a cannabis economy.
- Creating safe, affordable access to cannabis for everyone on the planet.
- Releasing all cannabis prisoners on earth and restoring justice for all.
- Absurd regulatory and tax frameworks for legalization effectively ensuring a lack of public access and two markets, one legal and one legacy.
- See CA, MA, MI, Canada, etc.
- Continued long term Federal prohibition, Schedule 1 status, and lack of reform on banking, 280e, etc.
- Legacy growers, dealers, and long-term cannabis communities being shut out of the legal cannabis industry by corporate and government interests, large barriers to entry, or absurd I.P being granted for a plant and then enforced.
- It comes down to good public policy, which we don’t have at the moment.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- It is not easy owning a cannabis business. This is one of the biggest misconceptions. See Canadian public markets for lots of stories on that topic.
- Invest in experts in government relations, compliance, and people in the immediate neighborhood. I comply, therefore I am. Harborside lost out on some potential licenses because we had an in-house team do something lawyers should have done.
- Take care of the customer. If you look around the industry today, we just are not doing this the way we need to. Harborside got on the map because we took this very seriously on a daily basis. If cannabis teaches us nothing else, it is that we are here to serve others. Start with your customers.
- The team is the dream. Only your team can take care of your customers. Only you can take care of your team.
- It’s about weed. This basic principle can often be overlooked by newbies to the industry who do everything else, but the cannabis, well. Even the cannabis curious become the cannabis stoner soon enough. Make sure you have high quality and good value products and a wide selection. You are competing with the legacy market, your product is already more expensive — it better has quality and value.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
All the basic things like competitive pay, health care, retirement, and Employee Assistance Programs are essential. At the end of the day, employees can tell who has their back and who does not. They can tell when they are truly valued and when they are merely viewed as labor hours on a spreadsheet. So, take care of them in an authentic way. Care about them. Treat them like family. These are the attributes that create a company culture that makes people take meaning in their work and bring their A game every shift.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If by the time I lay my head down to rest, this world has moved beyond growth and transactions to something closer to peace and love, I will feel like a job well done. I worry that we are going to grow and transact our way to extinction and that would be a real shame as it took 13.6 billion years to get this far. My work with cannabis has really been about sowing the seeds and creating the conditions for this type of large scale positive change.
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