What You Need to Know About Steve DeAngelo

Steve DeAngelo tokes

Steve DeAngelo and Wanda James will be honored for their work as cannabis industry pioneers at the first-ever MJBizDaily Awards Hall of Fame induction ceremony on December 12 at the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas.

Both have long histories as activists before entering the legal industry, DeAngelo in California and James in Colorado. While the section in the official announcement about the inductions does a good job explaining James' work with her husband Scott and their business Simply Pure in Denver, much is missing from DeAngelo's bio.

Compared to Bill Gates and Henry Ford in the same sentence, DeAngelo is chiefly hailed for co-founding Harborside Health Center, Steep Hill Labs and The Arcview Group, and fighting off the Justice Department when they tried to shut down Harborside, a thriving dispensary in Oakland.

What it doesn't say is DeAngelo was born in Philadelphia in 1958 and started his career in activism by joinng the Yippies in Washington, DC. in 1974.

"My earliest experiences with cannabis came just as the '60s turned into the '70s," he writes in The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness. "It was a time of massive social upheaval especially in my hometown of Washington, DC. Antiwar radicals from all over the United States moved in to abandoned warehouse, set up communes, published underground newspapers and brought new color to the gray streets of the federal bureacracy. Marches, demonstrations, free concerts, teach-ins, sit-ins, love-ins and smoke-ins happened almost every week."

For a decade, DeAngelo ran the July 4 Smoke-In in Lafayette Park in the shadow of the White House. "Tens of thousands of us would light up in public, wafting large clouds of smoke across the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., proudly displaying 20-foot papier-mache joints and sharing six-foot bongs," he waxes nostalgically. 

"Like many young people, I embraced stoner culture as a sort of revolutionary hedonism, rebelling against the establishment that had brought us Vietnam and Watergate."

During that time DeAngelo teamed up with National NORML, also based in DC, to promote concerts and events. He operated out of a large house on Butternut St. in Takoma Park, MD. Known as "the Nut House," it was home to every important marijuana activist at some time or another and was famous for its late-night parties.

DeAngelo played a central role in funding NORML's effort with High Times to produce albums that would benefit the organization. His friend Eric Steenstara worked with this writer on NORML's behalf. They found a supportive label, Capricorn Records, and two albums, Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML and Hempilation 2: Free the Weed, were released in 1995 and 1998. The records raised more then $150,000 for NORML.

Inspired by Jack Herer, DeAngelo and Steenstra subsequently founded the henp clothing company Ecolution. The hemp bubble of the late '90s didn't last, and neither did Ecolution, though their shirts were highly sought after. Steenstra went on to found Vote Hemp and DeAngelo moved to the Bay Area 10 years after Prop 215 legalized medical marijuana in California in 2006. Two years later, he, his brother and a friend launched Harborside, which would become the biggest shop of its kind.

DeAngelo, who wears long pigtail braids like Willie Nelson and a porkpie hat, and gives lengthy speeches, is ripe for parody, as was the case on Netflix's Disjointed when actor Ken Marino portrayed him as Angeleo DeStevens. 

Now his focus is expanding the Harborside brand (the company recently went public) and releasing people arrested for marijuana from jail with the Last Prisoner Project.

So when Steve DeAngelo receives his award next week, raise a joint to all he did to get to this point, not just to his success as a business person in the cannabis space. 

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.