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'Weed Wars' Looks Inside the Business of Medical Marijuana With a Colorful Cast of Card-Carrying Characters

by Maggie Furlong, posted Dec 1st 2011 6:00PM
Steve and Andrew DeAngelo, 'Weed Wars'The war on weed just got a lot more colorful.

Despite your own personal feelings about medical marijuana use and the fight to legalize the drug, the folks at Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the largest dispensary on the West Coast (and the largest retailer of cannabis on the entire planet, according to the owners), are opening their doors to show the other side of the story.

Steve DeAngelo, the founder and executive director of Harborside, and his brother Andrew, the general manager, are bringing weed to reality TV with Discovery Channel's new four-part series 'Weed Wars' (premieres Thurs., Dec. 1, 10PM ET).

They're not in the business of dealing a drug -- they provide a variety of wellness treatments and services to their card-carrying clients, as well as a assortment of cannabis-laced products, including edible treats and desserts, lotions, teas, topicals and, of course, a wide range of smokable product as well.

I caught up with the DeAngelos to talk about the issues, the fear that comes with running a business like this and the eclectic characters -- staff and clients alike -- that we'll see on the show, which makes the series reminiscent of a workplace sitcom of sorts.

One stand-out is Dave Wedding Dress -- that's Mr. Wedding Dress to you -- the eccentric Harborside co-founder who, naturally, wears a wedding dress. "Medical cannabis people and patients tend to be very expressive," Andrew said. "The show kind of reveals all these wonderful characters."

"There were some people who did not want to be in the show," Steve said. "Some of our patients opted out. But by and large, everybody at Harborside was thrilled for the opportunity to take our story out to the American people."

But in airing their business to that captive audience on national TV, they know they'll also be sharing details with policy makers and law enforcement agencies eager to pounce on the growing industry. The biggest issue for them, every single day, remains the law.

Steve is very active in lobbying to inform regulation changes, but that doesn't excuse Harborside from legal scrutiny. Not long after production ended on this first season, Harborside was slapped with a bill from the IRS for about $2.5 million; a week later, the Department of Justice focused their efforts on cracking down on dispensaries in California. Harborside is still in business, but if the show gets a second season, things might look drastically different for the business of medical marijuana.

Especially in California, medical marijuana dispensaries are a dime a dozen these days. What sets Harborside apart?
Steve: "We're not just a pot shop -- we're really a full-service wellness center. So when patients come to us, of course they have a full range of cannabis medicines they can choose from, but they can also get holistic health care, there's a library they can go to, and if they have dependency issues with alcohol or tobacco, or even with cannabis, we have a treatment counselor that they can talk to. Also, grow your own medicine classes. We're really a full-service wellness center."

Andrew: "We consider ourselves more of a community service organization. The cannabis is sort of the conduit that gets everybody together, but once they're together, they're going to be doing a lot of other diverse wellness activities. Especially here in L.A., you have a lot of very small storefronts and some are really shady, for lack of a better word."

But why is there such a drastic difference between those small shops and your megastore, by comparison?
Steve: "There's a big difference between the kinds of dispensaries you see in places that have regulations and places that don't. Unfortunately, L.A. still -- despite years of having dispensaries -- doesn't have regulations. That's a great example of why it's important for communities to regulate cannabis."

Andrew: "We want to be regulated! We work with the city to write regulations. It's something we welcome, and I think if you talk to those small, shady operators, they'd be like, 'No way -- we don't want any regulations.' But we don't have anything to hide."

Are you at all fearful that this series will shine an even brighter spotlight on you and Harborside?
Steve: "We've been worried since the very first day we opened our doors. We never know when we go to work in the morning whether we're going to go home at the end of the day or whether we're going to be taken to federal prison. That's an ever-present threat that we just live with. The reason we've taken the risk with this show is because we think that if the American people come to know our family and our patients and the way that we handle
cannabis, they're going to come to support medical cannabis and we can finally end the insanity of the laws that regulate this medicine because people really need it everywhere. In 'Weed Wars,' Americans are finally going to have the opportunity to see what the war on marijuana looks like from the other side of the battle field. They're going to see what really professional and reputable and legitimate distribution of cannabis would look like. And I think they're gonna like what they see."

You are both card-carrying medical marijuana users, which no doubt inspired you to make the treatment more readily available to others who are suffering. What are you personally using cannabis to treat?
"I've had two spinal surgeries on my L5-S1 vertebra, and I'm really trying to avoid number three. Between paying attention to my diet, exercise, meditations and some herbal therapies, including cannabis, I've been able to live a good, full life."

Andrew: "And I have glaucoma. This medicine is helping me keep my sight ... that's pretty important to me."

If medical marijuana were to get a celebrity spokesperson, who do you all think would be the best fit?
Steve: "I think Hillary Clinton. Or Bill Clinton ... maybe he could finally come around and admit the reality of his cannabis use. I'd like to see it be somebody who has some sense of gravitas, and not a show business celebrity. Someone who is respected as a political leader, or a scientist."

Check out this promo and tell us: Will you watch 'Weed Wars'?

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Royal HG

Weed Wars - First Episode 12/1/11

I was compelled to watch this first episode for many reasons, not the least of which is my fascination with this plant called Cannabis. I also happen to use Harborside as a provider from time to time.

I was curious to see how the Discovery Channel would portray the neatest, cleanest, most thoughtful, safe and welcoming environment I've ever been in when procuring my favorite plant (identified, weighed, measured and professionally packaged in it's many forms). And here's what I saw...


Tax problems.
City government problems.
Basement grow problems.
Even what some might see as "personal" problems.

Heck, there were even "entry" video shots where they just focused on a puddle-filled empty parking lot!
Ha! Yeah, right. Show up there and find out for yourself. I've stood in lines OUTSIDE where the security detail checks your legal status prior to allowing you to ENTER the building!! I've never once been there when the parking lot was empty....never.

The point is, if you've never been to nor heard about Harborside and the Discovery Channel was your introduction...take a second look or better yet, talk to someone who's been there.

Seek Truth,
Royal Hippie Gangster

PS Terryn (sp?) is an EXCELLENT bud tender. Educated about the product, a willingness to assess his customer's needs/desires and match that to the currently available strains...and beyond that, he's pleasant to chat with. Whatever he does when he's not helping others is no concern of mine.

December 02 2011 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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