Iconic Harborside Dispensary Is Going Public
But founder and cannabis advocate Steve DeAngelo is a little disappointed it has to be in Canada.
Press releases announcing a company is going public are invariably dense with acronyms and copy-and-pasted legalese but absent any hint of the arduous journey from launch to stock ticker symbol. The recent announcement that Harborside Health Center “is completing a reverse takeover of Lineage Grow Company Ltd. - Harborside Inc. (formerly Lineage Grow Company Ltd.) (the “Company”)” in order to sell shares on the Canadian stock exchanges beginning June 10 left much unsaid.
An enforcement campaign begun in 2011 by federal prosecutors in California hoping to shut down the state's medical marijuana industry pressured at least 500 dispensaries into closing. Harborside was a top target. The government moved to seize the dispensary through civil forfeiture in 2012. A draining four-year court battle ensued but the Department of Justice dropped the case in 2016, a major victory for Harborside and the entire medical cannabis industry.
Harborside going public (ticker symbol: HBOR) only three years after establishing the legal right of the medical cannabis industry to exist in the United States is a major milestone. That Harborside is taking the circuitous path of listing on the Canada exchanges instead of listing directly on US exchanges also says a lot.
The best person to put this symbolically momentous event into perspective is Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside and a long time advocate of cannabis legalization.
I talked with DeAngelo about taking Harborside public, the mainstreaming of cannabis and how he hopes legal cannabis will change society for the better.
Harborside was specifically targeted by federal prosecutors, yet you persisted and prevailed and now you’re going public. It’s a real landmark.
You're right, it is a landmark. The cannabis company which was most targeted by the federal government is now going public on the Canadian Stock Exchange. That is an indication of how far cannabis reform and the destigmatization of cannabis has moved.
What does it say that you are taking Harborside to the stock exchange but in Canada?
The normal mechanisms of commerce aren’t available (to the cannabis industry) because we are in this middle place. A majority of states have reformed their cannabis laws to recognize the medical uses for cannabis but the federal government, against mountains of scientific evidence, continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule One controlled substance. Harborside listing on the Canadian Stock Exchange instead of the New York Stock Exchange is an indication of this stuck place we're at because of the intransigence of the federal government.
Another indication is in places like Ohio where there is a legal cannabis industry but they charge for relatively low quality cannabis two to three times what's being charged for high quality cannabis in Oregon and California because there's no interstate trade in cannabis when farmers in Oregon and California need a national market. The cannabis industry has already created a quarter-of-a-million new jobs in the United States. Just imagine what this industry will be able to do once we have access to all of the mechanisms of commerce, like a public stock exchange and interstate commerce, that all other businesses have.
What do you make of the demonization of THC?
The demonization of THC is just a holdover of prohibition which looked at cannabis a dangerous substance. It's just an archaic point of view that's not validated by the science. What the science teaches us is that THC is in fact a very, very potent and very, very important medicine that needs to be a part of cannabis medicine or we will be losing a large portion of the potential of this plant.
There is a very strong movement towards CBD isolates, which are marketed as superior because it is purely CBD.
Whole plant extracts are far more efficacious and less expensive than isolates. Mother Nature has given us this medicine in a format where we can breed cannabis into almost any cannabinoid and terpene profile we want. Breaking it into isolates is what pharma has done with everything else -- produce these mono-molecules and introduce them into the human body. Mother Nature didn't intend for us to take these molecules without the natural containers that she gave us them in. I strongly urge anybody who is working with isolates now to please take a look at the science. Take a look at the reports of millions of cannabis users. Please don't drive us in that direction, it’s the wrong way to go.
You opened Harborside as a business but business success wasn’t your entire motivation.
Harborside was just another venture that I started to carry the truth about cannabis into the world. I've created a number of cannabis companies. My intention with all of them is to tell the truth about cannabis to the world, and in order to do that they had to make money. But that was never my primary motivation.
How do you feel about the direction the cannabis industry is taking?
When I see pharmaceutical companies and alcohol companies and big banks and investment firms and hedge funds putting their weight and their power behind spreading this plant around the world, when I see a company that would be making an alcoholic beverage instead making a cannabis infused beverage, that’s a big win to me because my number one goal is to get cannabis into the hands of everybody around the world who needs it.
At the same time I'm concerned because these mainstream companies and mainstream investors don't really understand cannabis and why people use cannabis. When people use cannabis, unlike almost any other product, it changes the way they think and feel and make decisions. It's important that cannabis companies and cannabis investors incorporate the lessons that cannabis teaches us into business models. Cannabis teaches us to be generous, so cannabis business models should take care of everybody in the supply chain so all the workers prosper. Sustainability should be a basic threshold. Diversity should be recognized as the core of a really successful human organization. So I hope that cannabis “cannabitizes” the corporate world more than the corporations corporatize cannabis.
What are your hopes for society if cannabis is universally legal and accessible to people? What do you hope would be different?
Well, I think that we'll have a planet to live on and that future generations will have a planet to live on. We are facing a critical situation on planet Earth if the hearts and minds of human beings do not change and change quickly. With cannabis we have a plant that, first, awakens our minds and our hearts and our souls to appreciate nature, then gives us the tool in the form of hemp to build a new green economy. Hemp can provide our plastics, our paper, our construction materials, our fuel and a big chunk of our food. The stakes couldn't be higher. Cannabis came into our hearts so that we can save this planet. And we need to get to work quickly.