Q&A With Steve DeAngelo: Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program in the Spotlight

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Steve DeAngelo, owner of Harborside Health Center, is also the financial backer of a Massachusetts medical marijuana dispensary operated by his brother and business partner Andrew DeAngelo.

He’s had an up-close and personal view of the widely criticized application process in that state and has been the target of significant media attention as a result of it.

In spite of the rocky start to the Massachusetts medical marijuana industry – and, indeed, because of it – DeAngelo feels there are several things the cannabis community can learn from the situation. We spoke with him to learn his point of view on the controversy.

Q: What is it about Massachusetts that has made the licensing process so much different than in other states?

A: What we’re seeing is there is a big difference in the launch of legal cannabis distribution in states where the industry came out of grassroots movements like in Colorado and Washington, versus states like Massachusetts or New Jersey where the changes came from legislature without a broad-based patient movement. In Massachusetts, the media and politicians and the community stakeholders are looking at this issue for the first time. They haven’t had 10 or 15 years of patients coming into their offices and presenting different points of view.

Q: The Department of Public Health has drawn lots of fire for its application process. Do you feel this is fairly warranted?

A: I think the heat the DPH has gotten is not justified. Their process was transparent and thorough, so the criticism is unfair and unfounded and is really the result of the unique set of circumstances. You have a rather uninformed and uneducated group of stakeholders and an already super-heated political situation surrounding the regulatory process. You have an embattled agency that is already the target of the media. And finally you have a very competitive application process. It is my belief that a lot of the negativity has been driven by disgruntled unsuccessful applicants.

Q: The Boston Herald has targeted you and your brother in its reporting, specifically saying that your 2001 arrest for distribution should prevent you from owning a dispensary. Other newspapers have gone after other out-of-state owners and consultants. How have you dealt with that scrutiny?

A: The Herald has been opposed to cannabis reform forever and … they are cherry-picking assorted facts and presenting a story that is in line with their pre-planned political view. And then you have the Globe, the paper of record, which I think has been honestly trying to report the facts. With the Globe, it’s a situation where the reporters and editors haven’t dealt with cannabis very much. They don’t understand the science or industry. Because the Herald has been running a story every day, there has been pressure on the Globe to cover it more deeply.

Q: Industry consultants have come under fire for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they’ve worked with multiple clients vying for licenses. Do you think the industry needs to change this practice going forward?

A: I don’t buy into that criticism I’ve heard that it is not appropriate for consultants to work with [multiple groups]. I think there are very few people that truly understand the business of legal cannabis, and some of the consultants who have been operating in Massachusetts are of that few. So naturally, they were solicited by many applicants. That is because their services were really needed.

Q: So what can the industry take away from this entire experience?

A: One of the real lessons coming out of this is that the lens through which cannabis is looked at is going to be different in every individual community and state. Most of our industry’s companies grew up in one geographic location because the laws required us to do that, but now we are spreading our wings into out-of-state markets. As an industry, we are going to have to pay a lot more attention to understanding the lay of the land before we go into business there.