Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Will The Coronavirus Crisis Help Legalization Efforts In The Future?

On the Green Entrepreneur Podcast, cannabis champion Andrew DeAngelo talks about how these extraordinary times might affect public policy towards weed.

Andrew DeAngelo is the co-founder of Harborside Health Center and a towering voice in the world of cannabis advocacy and legalization for over 30 years. In the latest episode of the Green Entrepreneur podcast with Jonathan Small, he talks about what his company is doing to protect workers and get cannabis to the people who need it most, how the coronavirus crisis may reverse cannabis bans and anti-cannabis opinion, and how your company can adapt its businesses to the current situation.

Andrew DeAngelo

What is Harborside doing to manage the COVID-19 crisis?

The current situation is something we all have to pay close attention to and do everything we can to keep ourselves, our families safe, and, of course our companies and our industry up on its feet as much as we can. There's definitely going be some hiccups and disruptions, but so far our legal industry here in California and Harborside, we've been able to be named an essential business by our regulatory and government authorities that we answer to. And we're open for business.

Obviously, we're taking precautions for our staff and for our customers, and we're encouraging people to use our delivery service. The Bureau of Cannabis Control has allowed Harborside and others to institute curbside pickup. So you don't have to leave your car, and you just come up to the curb and pick up. And we're still doing in-store pickups and in-store retail sales of cannabis, but we are doing social distancing. Everyone's staying six feet apart. We're disinfecting all of our surfaces multiple times, every hour—your counters, your doorknobs, things like that are being disinfected.

I've got staff that's all they're doing—disinfecting all day long. We're encouraging people to wear a mask. I can't make people wear masks, but I'm encouraging people to wear masks and providing them masks and gloves.

We don't have [enough] testing, of course, in California, in the United States, so it's hard to say for sure. But so far, nobody in our immediate ecosystem has gotten sick, and we've been able to keep doing our job right now, which is to get cannabis to the people. That's our number one responsibility during this crisis.

People need this medicine more than ever. And our job as an industry is to get it to them by any means necessary. So far, Harborside has been able to do that. I know other places like Massachusetts has not been able to do it to the extent that we have here in California, and I hope the governor of Massachusetts and any other place that is prohibiting legal cannabis right now changes their mind and allows us to do our job. Because if we don't do it, it may not be done in a way that the legacy markets may not be taking the safety precautions that we are doing such as social distancing. I think it's very important that we do our political work right now so we can do our sacred mission, which is to get cannabis to the people.

How did cannabis advocates convince authorities to declare cannabis an essential business during this time?

Well, the way it works in California is the local people and the counties make these decisions primarily. The governor says, "Look, I'm shutting down the state for anything except essential services, and then counties and cities deem what is essential for them as we've seen with cannabis being banned in a lot of places in California. Local people have a lot of control, and they have a lot of say over everything that happens in California.

When something like this happens, a virus breaks out, the counties make that decision. The city of San Francisco, I'm told, had a clerical error and they first said that dispensaries would not be deemed essential. And then they quickly reversed that.

Of course, activists like me and others raised holy hell. I don't know to what extent that was helpful to reverse those decisions or not, but in Denver we saw the same thing. What happened in Denver was they were seeing these huge lines outside dispensaries and they realize that it's more dangerous to close them then to keep them open. So they reversed their decision in Denver, and now they're, they're deemed essential services. So it's a very interesting moment. And, so far, are our cities and counties are, for the most part, holding strong. Now we still have a lot of places that have banned cannabis in the first place when prop 64 passed.

I'm hopeful that this crisis will reverse some of those bans and get people to embrace legal cannabis in their community. Because I think one of the things the virus is showing the world is there's a lot of real things to fear out there, and cannabis is not one of them. So if your child can't walk to school at all because the school's closed, how concerned are you about them walking by a cannabis dispensary on their way to school when this is all over?

Will this cause people to look at cannabis in a different way?

Yes. I think perhaps with more relevance, is that people don't view it as badly as they viewed it before because there's something really bad happening right now-- that's terrifying that's killing people that you can't see that's moving very fast. It's disrupting societies, bringing everything to a screeching halt. In an environment like that, when you start talking to people about, well, how do you feel about having a dispensary in your neighborhood? Or how do you feel about people delivering legal cannabis to your community? All of a sudden, the badness that that might've occupied in their consciousness before the virus occupies a different space after the virus.

And I think that's where we might see the most movement. In the last financial crisis, when the economy melted down 10 years ago, there are a whole bunch of municipalities in California that banned it. They didn't want anything to do with it. And then, all of a sudden when their economies were collapsing and all those foreclosures were happening and they couldn't collect tax money anymore, all of a sudden, cannabis became good, and they welcomed them in the community. They taxed us a little bit too much, but I'd rather be open and overtaxed then closed and undertaxed.

The last recession really opened up a lot of markets for medical in California because desperation causes people to frame things differently in their minds and their hearts.

That's the real opportunity I see with this. Hopefully people start seeing this in a different way because we could be grounded for a while here, and we need to get cannabis to the people.

Is this going to stall legalization efforts?

I'm still hopeful. Our first thing is to get through the crisis and hope our industry can show the world that we can do that in a safe and responsible way, and we can get cannabis to the people and we can make sure there's no outbreaks and our little ecosystem. And just step up for the world.

I think once we have figured out how to get to cannabis to everybody right now, there may be other things the cannabis community can do to help. Once you've figured out how to distribute one thing, you might be able to help distribute other things that people need.

So, it's an opportunity for us to step up. I hope we'll do that. I hope our industry and our community will take this opportunity to brand ourselves in a really positive way and help. Help the world, help our communities. If we do that, I think people will look at us much differently.

Sometimes I go into a community meeting or a government meeting and people are very nice, but they don't really take me all that seriously. And I'm trying to be serious. I'm talking about serious things. But they still don't take me that seriously. Oh, it's cannabis and all the stigma.

But if we do a good job during this crisis, and we're really there for people, especially mainstream society, I think we have a real opportunity to move the needle. So I am hopeful, but we do have to do a good job right now.

What's your advice to other entrepreneurs out there on how to adapt to this crisis?

On the retail level, curbside pickup and delivery. And if they don't allow delivery where you are certainly do curbside pickup and preorders. There's a whole bunch of POS systems and technology tools to help retail operators move to delivery and curbside pickup. And, if you're upstream from the supply chain, I would really think about how you can help the consumer right now.

And sometimes that might be looking at your pricing. Sometimes that might be looking at your relationship with the retailer like us in terms of what terms you can give us. If you can't do those things, it may be harder, you know? And in California, if you're upstream, you can come into a Harbo side or other retail locations and you can do a demonstration. You can get your products in front of people. You can educate consumers one-on-one right there in the retail space. We can't really do that anymore. So people are going to have to get creative and maybe do things like launch a podcast for your brand or your manufacturing company or your cultivation company.

Think about ways that we can come together and help because we're probably not going to get bail out money from governments. We may need to provide that to each other and to ourselves. In this environment with all kinds of crowdsourcing tools that we might need to deploy. Running out of cash is the biggest threat upstream and even for us, because where do you get more of it right now? It's hard to get capital right now, and if you do get it it's isprobably going to be given to you by a shark with really sharp teeth. And you may not like that. So we have to make sure those fundamentals are strong.

Stay resilient. One of the things that's great about being a cannabis entrepreneur or cannabis operators is that we're used to dealing with crisis. We deal with them all the time. We're used to constraints like banking and cash and all that sort of stuff. So use those skills to get around the current obstacles as best you can.

I think you'll find that managing crisis and having practice doing that will come in handy right now.

Get advice from each other. I will help just about anybody who reaches out to me. I'll give you a little bit of my time. I'm sure a lot of other leaders will do the same thing right now.

It's all hands on deck time. We have to come together as a community and be there for each other. And I think that's probably the best advice I can give right now. Don't build moats, man. Join hands right now.

What are you doing to help the community?

We've been doing a roll it up program for the last prisoner project for a couple months now. That's another nonprofit Steve (DeAngelo) and I are heavily involved in. There's a lot of cannabis people locked up right now who are at threat with this virus. So at last prisoner, we got a petition going. We're going to try and get the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release people. That's an organization Harborside supports to try to help our prisoners. We're raising money for that at our counter, and I'm trying to work on other ways we can raise money for that and other nonprofits to help the community.

Things like food drives and clothing drives that we've done in the past. You can't really do that right now safely. So we've had to put a hold on that. But I'm quite certain that there's other things we're going to be doing for the community.

We've had to take care of our staff and our customers first and make sure they have all the protective gear and all the things they need before we start thinking about access. But u pretty soon we'll be able to start thinking about those things. As a retail hub with four locations in California and delivery in three of them and drive through, and one of them, I can certainly imagine us using our creativity to help in a variety of ways. And Harborside has always done that, and we always will. And I expect programs we'll be rolling out here in the next few weeks to do just that.

What do you think people in prison right now for cannabis possession think about it being a declared an essential business?

Gosh, it would drive me nuts. If I was locked up right now and I was reading all that, it would drive me crazy. I'd be pulling my hair out. Whenever the economy contracts the way it is, it makes fundraising for any nonprofit harder. And so we may experience some headwinds there, but you know, I'm sitting in the comfort of my home office right now and I'm not locked up, and I can at least enjoy this quarantine in the confines of my own home. I can't imagine being in prison and in close quarters with so many in such horrible conditions. It's really unimaginable. I certainly hope it'll help our fundraising. We're already putting money in accounts so people can be a little more comfortable, but I really want to get people out right now.

Is cannabis recession proof?

Yes. In my 37 years of selling weed, it's always worked that way. Whenever there's been a war or a recession or a natural disaster, the demand for cannabis goes up. The question is, can we get cannabis to people right now and and complete the transactions or will that be done by the legacy markets. Or maybe both.

"Recession-proof" is not something I like to talk about. I don't really like to compare too much to alcohol and tobacco, but in my experience doing this for 37 years--whenever there was a crisis, we worked a lot harder to get cannabis to the people and our sales always went up.

But in previous crisis, I was always able to overcome whatever constraints we're in the economy to deliver the cannabis to the people. Right now, it's sort of different with the virus. As long as we're able to stay open and do our job, I think that people are not going to smoke less weed because they're in crisis. They're going to smoke more weed because they're in crisis. As they should. We don't want people doing other compounds that perhaps are more harmful and bring out some of our demons. Cannabis is probably our safest, most harm-reducing compound that people could be doing right now in quarantine. So essential is the word that comes to mind.