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New Year, New York, with Steve DeAngelo

New Year, New York, with Steve DeAngelo

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Steve DeAngelo is the true definition of a cannabis advocate. From the first time he was introduced to the plant in the 1960’s he has dedicated his life’s work to its legalization. From his time as one of Washington, DC’s largest distributors of underground cannabis, through his creation of three iconic cannabis companies in California, to his current role as an educator and advisor, Steve has a wealth of knowledge and inspiration to share.  

As you’ll hear in today’s episode, there are various ways to legalize cannabis, some that can actually do more harm than good. In Steve’s eyes (and now in ours after this conversation with Steve) New York is leading the charge in terms of progressive cannabis legislation, and the rest of the world would do well to take note!

Join us today as we take a trip from the very beginnings of the cannabis-human relationship, which began in Central Asia, all the way through to the present, where this wondrous herb is used for everything from chronic pain to sparking creativity. 

The Cannabis Enigma is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access. Music by Desca.

Full transcript:

Steve DeAngelo: New York has done what no other jurisdiction that I’m aware of has done, which is actively create a license category that welcomes legacy cannabis producers into the legal system. It’s revolutionary. I’m just so excited about it. This is where I plan on spending the bulk of my energy in the next couple of years, is making sure that the promise of New York regulations is reflected on the ground.

ANNOUNCER: This is The Cannabis Enigma, cutting through the smoke to have informed, serious conversations for regular people.

Elana Goldberg: Hey, I’m Elana Goldberg.

Codi Peterson: I’m Dr. Codi Peterson.

EG: All right, we got a cool interview for you all today, right Codi?

CP: Very cool interview. One that I insisted you let me join.

EG: Yes, you did. I think this is probably the highest, or second highest level of fangirling I’ve been at since starting this podcast. Mara Gordon is the closest – I think, maybe I was a little bit more fangirling about interviewing Mara, but Steve is a close second there.

CP: Yeah, I know Mara was really early when you entered this space, too. You had the experience to meet a lot of cannabis professionals. This to me is my first cannabis celebrity. He’s so much more than that.

EG: Right. Why don’t you go and introduce him?

CP: Yeah. Steve DeAngelo, folks, is who we’re talking about. He’s more than a celebrity. He’s an advocate, and he’s a legacy stakeholder. He’s so much, so much more than, I guess, a celebrity in cannabis. He’s done so much, going back all the way into the 1970s and 80s, where he was even engaging with the presidency, or the president’s staff around cannabis policy. Then unfortunately, had a couple missteps, which you’ll hear in the episode that unfortunately, he says regrets, and so you’ll hear about that.

EG: Yeah, he’s got some good stories.

CP: He’s got great stories. He’s also now shifting his focus to New York.

EG: Yeah. I expected that we’d be talking primarily about California in this conversation. I was surprised and, really refreshingly so, to hear Steve’s take on the regulation that’s recently been passed in New York, and that we’re going to start seeing the impact of it over the next year or two. The main takeaway for me was that he really loves the program, is very supportive of this legislation that’s been written. He got me excited about New York.

CP: Yeah, it sounds like New York’s really taking a more encompassing approach to accommodating legacy stakeholdership in this market, recognizing that if you look to the state of California, we’ve got a bit of a mismatch between the market and the demands and the consumer. We’ve got a huge, booming, profitable, illicit market, or gray market, or black market, or legacy market. You can come up with any name you want; people who are functioning outside of the law without a license. Then those who are, who are struggling to deal with huge tax burdens, and a lot of red tape. It sounds like New York is going to do it a little bit differently. If you want to hear more about that, you’re going to have to listen to the full episode.

EG: Yeah, definitely. Let’s go straight to it. As always, remember to stick around after the episode for our regulation segment with Americans for Safe Access.

CP: Steve DeAngelo, everyone.

EG: All right. I am here today, joined by my co-host, Dr. Codi Peterson. Our guest for today’s interview is Steve DeAngelo. Great to be with both of you.

CP: Can’t tell you how excited I am to be here today, talking to Steve DeAngelo. A year ago, if you would have told me I’d be interviewing you, Steve, I wouldn’t have believed you. Really excited to have you on the podcast.

SD: Well, it’s wonderful to be here with you today. Thanks for having me.

EG: Yeah, sure. Codi and I were fighting. We were just telling Steve beforehand, over who would run this interview. We decided we would just do it altogether. We’re going to both shoot some questions at you, and we’ll take it from there. I’ll start if it’s okay with you, Codi?

CP: Please.

EG: All right, Steve, you’ve been dubbed The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry. For our, I don’t know, one or two listeners who don’t actually know who you are and your story, can you just start us off telling us how that came to be? I guess, the question here is, what’s your cannabis story?

SD: Well, sure. Very briefly, I grew up on the East Coast of the United States, mostly in and around the Washington DC area. I fell in love with the cannabis plant as a young teenager. At that time, the early 1970s in Washington, DC, it was the height of the anti-war movement, the Vietnam War in that case. My parents had been civil rights activists in the civil rights struggle, which was still active then. It came very naturally to me that if I thought that something was wrong, that I would stand up and fight to change it, to change unjust laws.

As I fell in love with the cannabis plant, it became very natural to me to become a cannabis activist. I knew that the plant would be in my life forever. I also knew that I wasn’t willing to live my life as a hunted criminal forever. So as a prerequisite to my own personal happiness, a job that I had to get done. I never expected that it would take that long. The first 25 years of that activist career were spent in Washington, DC, doing everything from the most basic kinds of street activism, making pamphlets, getting petitions signed, talking to people on street corners, running demonstrations, smoking in front of the White House and other places.

The culmination of that 25 years of work in Washington, DC, was the passage of Initiative 59, which happened in 1998. It was Washington, DC’s Medical Cannabis Initiative. The city has a voter initiative process, whereby voters can vote on laws. Ultimately, power in the city rests with the US Congress, who can veto any of the laws that are passed by the citizens. That’s what happened in this case. The citizens of the District of Columbia passed a medical cannabis law, with 69% of the vote. The Congress of the United States stepped in and refused to allow that law to be implemented.

CP: Wow.

EG: After 25 years of work.

SD: That’s 25 years of work. Not just 25 years of work, but a whole lifetime of being taught, as an American citizen, that my right to vote was sacred, that my ancestors had fought and died to preserve this vote. That we lead the world in democracy, because we had the right to vote. To see my own federal government step in and steal, because there’s no other word for it, steal an election, that had been a valid election like that, was probably the most profoundly disillusioning experience of my entire lifetime.

That led me to come to California, where a voter initiative, similar to the one in Washington, DC, had passed two years previously in 1996. Unlike in Washington, DC, the state of California was allowing the law to be implemented. We were beginning to see the very, very first beginnings of a legal cannabis industry in California. That’s when I fortuitously landed in the state, mainly out of disgust for Washington, DC, but it was a very fertile environment to land in here.

That 25 years that I’ve been doing activism in Washington, DC, had been financed by a variety of different entrepreneurial activities that I had undertaken. Some of them legal, but many of them underground. During those years, I was one of Washington, DC’s largest distributors of underground cannabis, bringing it in literally by the tractor, trailer, or truckload. I had some business experience when I landed in California, and I put that business experience to work in the new legal cannabis industry, creating a number of iconic companies. 

The first was Harborside, which was really the first gold standard cannabis retail experience. The second was Steep Hill Laboratory, which was the first cannabis analytics laboratory, so we could make sure that the cannabis that we tested wasn’t contaminated. It was safe, that we knew what was in it. We knew what the cannabinoid profile was. Then the Arcview Group, which was the first investment company in the cannabis space. Collectively, those three companies really transformed the business landscape, where cannabis improved, that this new legal industry was viable and was going to grow.

EG: Yeah. Wow, totally pillars in the industry, all three. Are you still involved in all three of them now today?

SD: I’m not involved in any of them now. I’m happy to say that as of today, I’m not involved with any cannabis operating companies, which gives me an ability to help and advise many other cannabis companies. I’m at the point in my life where more time has gone by than there is in front of me. It’s really important to me to pass on what I’ve learned, the lessons that I’ve learned to the next generations who are going to be leading this movement into the future. That’s really the space that I hope to be, standing beside and standing behind and advising the new young cannabis leaders in the future.

CP: I love that. That’s exactly the reason we wanted to have you on this podcast, because as this industry has evolved, going back to 1998 when you passed that law in DC, so much has changed in the cannabis industry. In fact, nearly everything, and we’re on the precipice of legalization in the US, I hope. That’s me not being disillusioned yet perhaps, Steve. And on the cusp of legalization in Mexico and other parts in North America really, if you look at Canada, who already legalized. I know that’s really a baby of yours. It sounds like one of the things you’re working on now. Could you maybe tell us more about what the state of cannabis in Mexico is and what you envision for that country and this herb?

SD: First of all, don’t be disillusioned. When I take a look at the progress that’s been made, it’s mind-blowing to me. There were times when I didn’t know whether I was going to die, being the last cannabis activist in the world. In the 1980s it was very grim. It was very lonely. Yes, cannabis will be legalized in the United States of America. It will be legalized everywhere around the world. That is going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. Now, there’s a global movement that’s strong enough to push that change through and we will not stop until we’re successful everywhere.

The situation in Mexico is great. Cannabis is actually legal in Mexico. In Mexico, the Supreme Court has the power, once it has ruled three times that a particular law is unconstitutional in individual cases, to order the legislative branch to pass a law which is constitutional. That happened in Mexico three years ago. Cannabis has been, essentially, legal since then. There is not a legal regulated industry in place yet because the Congress and the Senate of Mexico are still arguing about what that industry should look like, how that pie should be divided, how it should be regulated.

But that process is moving forward. We’re beginning to see the first legal businesses in Mexico be established through a variety of legislative workarounds and legal workarounds. The general consensus is that sometime in the next year, we’re going to see the release of regulations that will lead to license cannabis businesses. Between Mexico and Canada, the United States are surrounded.

CP: Yup. Legalization sandwich. We are going to have to join the bread here and just legalize it. That’s awesome. I didn’t realize that it was legalized through that catch 22, the three legislative moves in Mexico. Super, super interesting. Thanks for sharing.

SD: It is. I’ve always been really committed to a legal cannabis market, and I still am. I have to tell you that one of the really most wonderful things in my life right now is being able to visit places and participate in places where the old laws, like Mexico and really in New York now are gone, right? Cannabis is legal but the new laws aren’t in place yet. There aren’t a bunch of regulations. There aren’t a bunch of licensing requirements. You have this very fertile environment, where there’s basically no enforcement of cannabis laws.

Anybody who loves the plant can put something together, a consumption lounge, a delivery service, a brand, anything, and basically get away with it for a couple of years. That’s just a wonderful thing, where the natural creativity and exuberance and joy and energy of the cannabis communities just flowed into that opportunity. I see it in Mexico City, where there’s just these really vibrant experiences, brands, characters who are involved in the industry. Same thing in New York right now. New York is, for me, the frontlines of the Cannabis Freedom Movement anywhere in the world, because they passed this amazing, very progressive law that’s going to allow for licensing of a massive number of small cannabis businesses. Very different structure of the industry than we’ve seen anywhere else.

As we are moving to that, New York City, which had one of the most intense enforcements of cannabis laws anywhere. It’s like, I can walk down the street now in New York, any place that is legal to smoke a cigarette, it’s legal to smoke weed. I’m sitting on a bench on a street corner, rolling up a fat joint with an ounce of weed in my lab, and New York City cops are walking by and tipping their hats to me, “Have a nice day, sir.”

CP: Oh, I’ll come back in an hour when I’m off duty.

EG: I think that’s almost where we’re at here in Israel. The laws have not been passed yet, but Israelis are a little bit like, “Yeah, yeah. Close enough. We almost passed a law.” But the industry hasn’t started developing stuff. Pardon the fact that in the main cities it’s like every third shop is a head shop that’s just waiting to flip into a dispensary. There’s definitely that, I mean, at least in Tel Aviv, there’s definitely that same smell in the air, literally and figuratively. 

SD: For our freedom. Yeah, we’ve been waiting a long time for this day. Cannabis people, we’re not waiting a second longer than we have to to reclaim our freedom.

EG: That’s it. Roll it up on a park bench. In our work, we are focused mainly on North America, but we have a few different language sides. We’re looking at really what’s going on in the global space as well. It seems, sometimes, like every time a new country, or state opens – starting off with a medical cannabis program and then moving towards full legalization, sometimes it feels like everyone’s reinventing the wheel themselves. Everyone’s making similar mistakes at the beginning, rather than learning from each other. It connects with what you were saying before about passing your knowledge on to the next generation.

My feeling is always like, we’ve got to sit down. We’re going to put our heads together. We got to look at what Canada did right and wrong all the way through, learn the lessons, compile it. I’m really interested to hear from you, which jurisdictions do you think are doing it best these days, and what can we all be learning from them?

SD: I’m a big fan of New York these days. I’ll just mention a few features of the law there that are really revolutionary. First and most striking, 50%, one half of the entire industry, all of the licenses are reserved for social equity licenses. These are individuals who have been a part of communities, or have had their own lives been disproportionately impacted by the war on cannabis, which in the United States, has been focused on communities of color.

It’s really more than once in a lifetime, once in a nation’s lifetime historic opportunity to correct some of the historic injustices related to systemic racism in the United States. If it’s done properly, it will result in a very large number of people of color ending up owning businesses that they would never have ever had an opportunity to own otherwise. It’s truly revolutionary.

The law also spreads the opportunity much more broadly. I’ll give you one example. There’s a license category, a micro license category that allows cultivators to grow up to 5,000 square feet of cannabis themselves, and directly retail it to their consumer base which mirrors the way that most small growers in the city and state of New York currently operate. They have five or 10 lights, they grow enough weed to supply a customer base of 50 or a 100, or 125 people. They sell directly to their customers very high-quality, craft-grown, often organic cannabis. Spreads the opportunity very widely. It gives consumers a great value for their dollar.

It’s just way better, to my way of thinking, a way better experience, more consistent with the lessons this plant teaches us, than going into a dispensary that’s run by some corporate conglomerate that’s funded by public market money that came from the Canadian markets and has flowed through the hands of 16 investment bankers and those are the guys who are determining what we just grow and how it’s grown and what packaging it’s put in, how the workers are being treated. Is that what we want? Is that what we want? Do we want to recreate the same old corporate model that we have been struggling against our whole lives? I don’t think so.

We haven’t fought for 50 years to see our neighborhood dealer put out of business by big corporations. We fought for 50 years to get the boot off the neck of our neighborhood dealer. I love this feature of the New York law, because it’s a win for consumers. It’s a win for small growers. It’s a win for the state, because it spreads economic opportunity more broadly. You’ll have thousands of people whose other alternatives, if they weren’t exercising one of these license categories, would be to work in somebody’s cannabis factory, or to stay in the underground market.

Here, New York has done what no other jurisdiction that I’m aware of has done, which is actively create a license category that welcomes legacy cannabis producers into the legal system. It’s revolutionary. I’m just so excited about it. This is where I plan on spending the bulk of my energy in the next couple of years, is making sure that the promise of New York regulations is reflected on the ground.

CP: Steve, you have me excited about this. I’m jazzed for New York right now. I think that is so progressive. I think it’s so smart of them to look at the market as it stands today and say, “How can we actually, rather than displace all of these folks and move the money into the hands of few, how can we move current legacy producers, sellers, whatever, into the legal, the licit market and create a living for them and a tax revenue for the state?” It makes complete sense to help bring them online in the legal market, rather than shun them to the black market. So smart.

SD: Right. If we’ve learned one thing in California, it’s this. If you attempt to bring corporate cannabis in, on top of a well-developed legacy cannabis marketplace, legacy will just continue to stay and keep on doing what we’ve been doing for 50 years and outcompete corporate cannabis, just like we’ve done in California. The legacy market in California is four times the size of the legal market. 

Fortunately, in New York, the regulators have realized that the old strategy of trying to put the legacy market out of business to replace us with corporate interest will not work. I mean, my jaw hit the ground when I started talking to regulators in New York, and I started using words like, legacy and talking about how important it was and they started nodding their heads and agreeing with me, because that’s never happened anywhere else before. It’s tremendously exciting.

Now, we also have to counterbalance that with the situation in California, where over-regulation and over-taxation has resulted in the legacy community being completely, almost entirely excluded from the legal marketplace, with devastating consequences. Today, you have a situation where the only people that buy legal weed in California are tourists, or people who are so stupid that they can’t figure out how to buy weed at half the price from their next door neighbors on either side of them.

CP: Or grow their own.

SD: Yeah. Or grow their own, right? I mean, it’s pretty easy. There’s this very, very clear dichotomy. Now, if you take a look at what California did, where there was an effort to keep legacy out of the legal market, and you look at what New York is in the process of doing, which is welcoming legacy in, we’re going to see two very different paradigms for the world to follow. Two very different kinds of examples. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to bring the New York example back to my home state of California.

CP: I look forward to that day for sure. I think that the barriers to entry and the taxes are really promoting people to leave the legal market and go make a better living and not be slammed with taxes and all the craziness that happens to legacy market folks who try to come into this corporate industry and they get squashed.

It’s a really good transition into my next question. I want to hybridize my interest in what we’re talking about, is it’s actually regarding a little bit of Harborside. Really, Harborside stood for medical cannabis. Cannabis was declared medicine for the first time, really in 100 years, or 75 years, when California did it in 1996. Harborside was a big part of, yeah, retail, but also this medical cannabis. Are we losing some medical aspects of this and the commoditization of cannabis, as you mentioned, in this corporatization, etc? Or is medical cannabis as good as ever and patients are being served?

SD: A number of things are happening. First of all, medical cannabis patients are not being served, certainly not in the state of California. Where the price of cannabis is so expensive and dispensaries, legal dispensaries where cannabis is laboratory tested, that medical cannabis patients were the first people to leave the legal system. They would come up to me in grocery stores. People who had been coming into Harborside for 10 years. They would come up to me, literally with tears streaming down their faces and say, “Steve, I’m sorry. I had to stop coming to Harborside. You guys took such good care of me for so long, but I just couldn’t afford it anymore. I just couldn’t afford it.”

The very people that we passed the laws to protect to make sure that they did not get contaminated cannabis that was going to endanger them, because of their compromised immune system, are now in the underground market, buying untested cannabis that potentially could be life-threatening to them. It has been a complete disaster for medical cannabis patients. You’ve seen a similar trajectory in every other medical cannabis to adult use state.

Worse than that, is that now, the idea that there are two types of cannabis, medical cannabis and recreational cannabis. Cannabis that makes you better and cannabis that just gets you high has been ingrained in the public consciousness. It’s just complete garbage, okay? Anybody who really loves this plant understands that we all use it for a variety of reasons, in a variety of different times, in a variety of different places. If you think about it with a clear head, not looking at it through a prohibitionist lens, you realize that almost all of those uses are wellness uses. Whether we’re talking about Alzheimer’s, or chronic pain, or insomnia, whether we’re talking about extending your patience, sparking your creativity, waking up your sense of flay, putting you in closer touch with nature, teaching you how to resolve disputes more peacefully, helping an artist find the right color, or a musician find the right note, or turning an argument into a discussion, or a walk through the park into a spiritual experience. None of this is just getting high, boys and girls. It’s all wellness. It’s all about enhancing and deepening the most important and significant parts of our lives.

The whole idea that there’s such a thing as recreational cannabis is a gross devaluing of the human relationship with this plant. The largest neurotransmitter system in our bodies, present in every single one of our organs, including our brains, is the endocannabinoid system, which produces chemicals that mimic almost precisely the chemicals that are produced by the cannabis plant. It is not recreational. It is not just about fun. It is one of the most profound relationships that exists in mother nature.

CP: You’re spot on. This is my favorite topic. You just pushed a button that I cannot vibe back. The endocannabinoid system is inherently tied to nature. In fact, there’s some really good papers looking back 600 million years, and actually trying to correlate what this slow evolution of receptor signaling was, and how important the endocannabinoid system was, way before humans walked the earth, way before primates were even a thing. The little fishies that eventually crawled onto land and turned into us had an endocannabinoid system.

Cannabis was this pretty smart plant and learned that it could make these molecules and humans said, “Hey, this plant has a lot of uses. It’s food, it’s fiber, it’s all of these things.” A relationship was born; one that I’m thankful for to this day. My favorite topic for sure.

SD: Yeah, and there’s just the relationship we’re reclaiming. If you take a look at the dispersal of cannabis from its birthplace in Central Asia, all around the world, what you find is that there’s an association of cannabis with human spirituality. Moving east, if you take a look at religions, like Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Taoism, all those spiritual systems were inspired by, at one time or another, incorporating cannabis into their spiritual practice. Moving west, you see the same story. You see the same things in the spiritual practices of people of Mesopotamia, of the Greeks, of the Egyptians.

Few people know this, but ancient Greek society, which is considered the basis, the philosophical basis for “Western civilization,” was a deeply psychedelic society. We now have historical, archaeological evidence that the Greeks were consuming massive amounts of cannabis, and other psychedelics. Things that we would call basically, Ayahuasca today. The wine that they were drinking at the wine festivals, right, it was wine only because that’s the word that they were using, when it actually was, in most cases, an infused botanical infusion, frequently had cannabis in it, frequently had other botanical visionary plants in it. The whole basis of Western civilization came from a society that was consuming psychedelics massively.

EG: But was it medical cannabis, or was it recreational cannabis?

CP: Was it recreational?

SD: Very interesting here. Without going too, too deep into history, the very first free clinics that we know about in the western world were called the Temples of Asclepius. Asclepius was a deity, a healing deity in the Greek pantheon. The treatment at the Temples of Asclepius, anybody could go there, it was completely free, you would go in, you would drink a potion. That potion would put you into a trance. You would stay in the trance that evening. You would talk to the temple attendants, the priests, the priestesses, they would ask you a series of questions, and then recommend to you a series of holistic treatments; changes in your diet, exercise, prayers that you could say, sound familiar?

EG: That’s the model we should be basing all medical cannabis programs on really. Well, probably medical programs in general.

SD: The medical symbol that you see all around the world with the wings and the serpents, that was derived from the rod of Asclepius. That is where that symbol comes from.

CP: Oh, wow. Tying it back all the way to medical cannabis.

EG: That’s in your logo, right Codi?

CP: It is in my brand logo. That’s true. It’s Acadias.

EG: Well, now you know.

SD: That’s where it comes from.

CP: That’s really interesting. I can tell you’re a history buff, Steve. That’s great.

SD: Yeah, I’m a cannabis buff, and that’s led me to experience tribes in all sorts of places.

CP: All canna everything. That’s awesome. Elana, you’re up. I hope we can get one more question in with Steve and then be respectful of his time.

EG: Definitely. I guess, I want to circle back to your story, Steven, and ask you, in all of these years as an activist, looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

SD: Oh, there’s thousands of things that I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I’ll give you one example. This goes back to 19, to the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter is President of the United States, with the Cannabis Freedom Movement; has quite a good relationship with Jimmy Carter. In 1978 he comes out publicly in favor of national decriminalization. He also allows the government of Mexico to start spraying a pesticide on weed down in Mexico. Some of that pesticide contaminated weed makes its way into the United States. We are really, really angry at Carter about that, because it feels like a betrayal to us.

I’m a young street activist. I put up all these posters, you know these really angry posters with rifles and stuff on them. They’re all over the city. Well, there was a guy that was working in the Carter administration and the Freedom Movement, like I said, had a fairly friendly relationship. There was a top-ranking aide in the White House, who came to a party that was hosted by Normal, the largest reform organization. He went upstairs, and those were the cocaine days, so he went upstairs to the cocaine room at the party, where somebody saw him snorting cocaine. This was a guy named Board. 

There was a big scandal. One of the people who was in the room, who was a cannabis activist, alerted the news media that this guy had come to the party and had snorted cocaine. As a result, the guy had to resign, and there was this big scandal and the movement’s relationship with the Carter administration was completely destroyed.

Now, back in those days, I supported that, because I was like, “They’re poisoning our people. They’re putting this pesticide on the street. It’s absolutely urgent. You have to do everything that you can to stop it.” Now looking backwards from a different perspective, I think that we could have had a positive relationship with the Carter administration for the remaining two years that they were in power, and the federal government. Those two years ended up being a really critical time for our movement. Because in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected. He pushed back all of the progress that we had made in the 1970s.

I asked myself, how much stronger would we have been during those two years if we had not been arguing amongst ourselves? Would we have been strong enough to resist the Reagan juggernaut that rolled over us that basically destroyed our lives until we passed Prop 215 in 1996? Could have been a very, very significant error that we made there.

CP: It’s crazy how at the time, you thought it was the right move, and you’re sticking it to the man and that was it but hindsight and wisdom shines through in the end, I think. You’re right, I mean, Carter was the only president who was really starting to roll back and Minnesota actually decriminalized in the 1970s under Jimmy Carter’s permission to do so that he gave, which is just pretty cool. A lot of people don’t recognize that either. 

SD: Yeah, exactly. Look, the mark of a successful movement is that you can look backwards, and you can identify your mistakes. You can learn from them. Because if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t still be here.

EG: Yep, that’s it. Super important. Well, Steve, thank you so much for joining us on The Cannabis Enigma Podcast today. We really appreciate your time, and even more so your contribution to this industry that we know and love and all really appreciate being involved in and watching and doing a little part in helping it bloom. Thank you so much.

SD: Well, it’s been wonderful being with you. Let me just close out with a call to action. In the past couple of days, my dear friend, CEO, Michael Steinmetz of Flow Kana, one of the most progressive cannabis companies anywhere in the world, has called on all cannabis companies in the state of California to join him in withholding tax payments to the state of California, and so the state of California fixes the broken regulatory system in this state. He has pledged that his company is going to take the state. It’s an incredibly courageous step that I call on every company in the state of California to support Michael Steinmetz and Flow Kana and join the tax strike today.

CP: That’s awesome. I really wish Flow Canna and everyone get behind in that support. We have a broken system that’s not serving patients, and then it’s serving the few and not the many. It’s time for change, Steve. I feel like, that’s been your mantra for what sounds like, going on 50 years in the cannabis space is this plant deserves to be treated justly, because it can really help humanity. Thank you again so much for joining us on The Cannabis Enigma Podcast. Thanks for listening.

SD: Thanks for having me. Be well.

CP: We’re here with Heather Despres from Americans For Safe Access. Thanks for joining us today.

Heather Despres: Thanks for having me here.

CP: Absolutely. What I really want to dive in today is something that I’m learning about in school right now, and that’s microbial testing. They’re looking for microbes on my cannabis. I’m sure they’re going to find some. Is that okay? How much is okay? How are laboratories making sure that patients are safe from these bugs? Sometimes bugs, but really, I mean, littler bugs, microscopic bugs.

HD: Right. I mean, this is a plant. It’s a living species. It’s going to have certain bacterias on it, funguses.

CP: Like you and me.

HD: Just like you and me. People don’t want to think about the little bugs on their eyelashes, but they’re there. They serve a purpose. They’re there in the cannabis plants. We don’t want to have things like spider mites, or mold, or rot, or things on our medicine, but a certain amount of normal aerobic bacteria is going to be present.

There’s various types of microbiological regulations. The United States Pharmacopoeia has different guidelines, depending on whether the product is a pharmaceutical drug, a dietary supplement, or even an over-the-counter drug. I think one of the things that we’re starting to see in cannabis is really this differentiation, depending on the classification of products. 

Certainly, products that you’re inhaling directly into your lungs, you want to make sure that you are not inhaling potentially harmful bacteria, molds, funguses, microbes into your lungs, because, especially if you have lung issues, it’s not going to be good. Your lungs are a pretty important organ in your body. You really don’t want inhaling toxic things into them. 

Right now, what we’ve seen, as far as cannabis product testing goes, is we’ve seen a lot of states default to some of these USP regulations. A lot of that is due to a lack of scientific research on cannabis itself. We know that that is an ongoing issue. That’s one of the challenges that states face, is how do we put a regulation in place when we don’t really have the scientific information to back that up? That’s why we see this default to the USP. Some states will default to the American herbal products, the Pharmacopoeia. The cannabis monograph, also has some recommendations and they differentiate it by product type, whether it’s inhalable product, whether it’s a transdermal product.

CP: Is USP these monographs. These are guidelines set forth by experts in the field, associated with governing bodies, but not really law. These are essentially guidelines and standards. These are things that pharmacies follow as well in the hospital. I have to comply with good manufacturing practices, and I have to comply with USP 795 and 797 and 800, exposure to hazardous drugs, all sorts of stuff that really fits into this cannabis sphere as well. Is there such a thing as harmful inhalables? Or what are we looking for in particular? I guess, what should consumers be looking for when they’re just examining a certificate of analysis?

HD: Well, so what we’re looking for can oftentimes be different from state-to-state. Some of the basics, E. coli. E. coli is everywhere. It’s a ubiquitous bacteria. There is the Shiga toxin producing, or STEC E. coli is the one that most states are looking for, because that is the one that leads to the 01H157, that is the harmful, harmful bacterium.

CP: It’s harmful. Yeah, there you go. It’s not a nice version.

HD: Yeah. Salmonella is a big one that most states are looking for. Again, something that is going to be harmful if you’re ingesting it, if you’re touching it and then you touch your face, that is going to be – if you’re ingesting it, or smoking it, you don’t want to smoke that. There are some people out there who think, “Oh, well I’m igniting it and burning it. Shouldn’t that just kill all the bacteria?” That’s not necessarily the case. Because even if you’re just, for example, lighting the top of your bowl, you’re sucking the air through all the stuff on the bottom that’s not lit. All of those microbes could be coming into your lungs that you could be inhaling.

CP: Yeah. Particularly dangerous for the immunocompromised, but the patients with asthma. Just in general, I think most of us would agree inhaling spores from yeast, or microbes we would tend to avoid, especially ones like salmonella, which for the listener is the bacteria often found on raw chicken. Yes, they’re testing your weed for the bacteria normally found on raw chicken, because people are gross and don’t always wash their hands.

HD: That comes along to the good manufacturing practices. This is how your product is cultivated and maintained, how it’s stored to make sure you’re not adding any additional stuff onto it. Yeah, so we see some states, you know, apart from E. coli and Salmonella, which most – I think, most states who have testing all agree on, we see things like, total yeast and molds. Those are set to higher limits, and those are oftentimes product specific. It’s a tighter limit for products that you’re inhaling, versus products like a topical that you’re just rubbing on your skin, that may not have so much of an effect on you.

CP: Right. There’s already E. coli on our skin, so a little bit more from the lotion shouldn’t hurt. Just kidding, but that is the general gist. We have different levels of sterility, depending on which way a medication is going to be delivered. For example, in the hospital, if we give you a medicine IV, we treat that very differently than a medicine that we’re going to give you by mouth. Not to deviate too much from cannabis, but I always highlight, this is how my skills as a pharmacist have really served me in cannabis, because so many of these things overlap. Even the regulatory bodies, like USP, are working for the same industry.

For those who love nerding out, I’m sure you’re really bummed, but this is the end of our segment and you’re going to have to catch us next week after the next episode of The Cannabis Enigma. Heather, as always, love chatting with you.

HD: Thank you.
EG: I’m Elana Goldberg. This episode of The Cannabis Enigma Podcast was executive produced by myself, with production assistance from Dr. Codi Peterson and Ed Weissman, and edited by our friends at WeEditPodcasts. If you enjoyed the episode, feel free to like, rate and share. It helps other people find the podcast, and it’s really nice for us as well.

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