Harborside Health Center

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The purpose behind GREEN STATE FEATURES is to showcase current medical cannabis entrepreneurs and establishments that are setting the foundation for secure and safe-access for medical patients in medical cannabis states (Green States). This can provide credible and realistic insight on how medical cannabis can be properly controlled and regulated within borders of any green state, and maybe one day, even in Texas. History is being made right before our eyes, so it only makes sense that we should learn from our fellow states about ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’, for it is these states who are leading the way for what compassionate care should be.

On April 13th, The Austin420 had an opportunity to speak with Stephen DeAngelo, an inspired and well-respected speaker with at least four decades of activism and advocacy in the cannabis reform movement. These days, what has brought Stephen DeAngelo to the fore-front of the medical cannabis movement, has been his vision and creation of Harborside Health Center (HHC) in Oakland, California, where safe access, compassionate and responsible use of (lab tested) high quality medicine is offered to patients in great need of relief from a wide range of medical conditions. “We see a huge range of different medical conditions here at Harborside.” Stephen stated. “Our patients come in all ages, with all medical conditions, all races. It’s really quite remarkable to see the diversity that’s present at Harborside. The medical conditions we work with range from very, very grave illnesses like Brain Cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis, and Cerebral Palsy. We have patients who arrive at Harborside in motorized wheelchairs and have a special lift that we use to lift them into the facility. We have other patients who are using cannabis for more of everyday ailments like insomnia, depression, stress, appetite issues. We’re fortunate here in California, that the law allows the doctor to authorize the use of cannabis for essentially any medical condition that it’s useful for.”

Born in Philadelphia in 1958, Stephen was raised in Washington DC where his father worked for the Kennedy administration. Influenced by his parents’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his experience when his dad worked for the Peace Corps from 1967 to 1969, at age 16 in 1974, Stephen dropped out of high school and joined the Yippies. He also became the key organizer of the annual July 4th marijuana Smoke-Ins in front of the White House. After spending many years as a street activist, learning about event planning, stage management, and promotions, he pursued a career in the music industry, becoming an independent concert promoter, nightclub manager and record producer. Arriving in California in 2001, he immersed himself into the local medical cannabis scene, becoming one of the original founding members of Americans for Safe Access (the premier advocacy group for medical cannabis patients). “I think that I would not have been able to do the Harborside project had I not had decades of cannabis activism under my belt. My activist perspective both informed what the vision of Harborside itself was, but more critically I think, it allowed me to interact with the city officials in Oakland and with the community in Oakland and it allowed me to be able to build a great deal of positive support for Harborside.”

Gaining recognition for its laboratory tested medicine, low income care package program, patient services such as, an Activism Program, a Cannabis Friendly Substance Misuse program, classes in Grow Your Own Medicine and Responsible Cannabis Use, to a free holistic care clinic, which offers 100% free services for therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy, yoga, reiki, and nutritional counseling, Harborside has set a standard where the patient, indeed, comes first. In gaining this recognition, HHC has also gained a great respect from the community and law enforcement of Oakland as well. “We contribute to the community in a lot of different ways.” Stated Stephen. “We’ve got a great relationship with the Oakland Police Department. They have been through Harborside taking a look at our security measures and giving us advice on how to make our operation more secure. In return, I helped train some police officers in how to tell the difference between a legal medical cannabis transaction and an underground illegal cannabis transaction. We were just awarded a Golden Plate Award from the Alameda County Food Bank. We collected the largest amount of food of any organization in the county, collecting over 7500 pounds of food at the Alameda County Food Drive. We donate to local charities, community institutions like museums. We participate in the Mayor’s Queen of Oakland Program, so we have a team of employees designated to a part of the city that we clean up ourselves. Of course, we’re quite actively involved in all of the discussions that are going on in Oakland about the right way to license and regulate cannabis. So, I am frequently talking to city council members or appearing in front of the city council and giving our perspective, the patients’ perspective in those conversations.”

I have to admit how hopeful and inspired I became throughout the course of this interview. Gaining such insight was a blessing, especially from someone with such an extensive background in the movement. I asked Stephen about what advice he had concerning an individual wanting to create a clinic (in a green state that allows dispensaries) and wanted to follow the Harborside example. He replied, “For people who are considering getting involved with medical cannabis, I’d say, that the very first and most important thing to do is to develop a network of supporters in your community, to reach out to organizations and to individuals, especially those that you might not typically think support cannabis and try to develop a wide base of supporters as you can. The way that medical cannabis happens in communities is by building a very broad-based of community organizations that can play a very good ground-game. That’s what is really required to make progress on this issue.”

These days the issue of medical cannabis has progressed into a national debate, being taken on a more serious note than ever before, as the beneficial need for this medicine is only steadily growing greater throughout the nation. The only way we can obtain the change we are seeking is by working for that change, by exercising our right within the legislative process, and by showing proper etiquette in consideration for patients with legitimate debilitating conditions; patients who have a beneficial need for this medicine. “We have a problem in the United States with cannabis in general, being far too restricted, but the group that we need to take care of, first without question, are the medical cannabis patients. We need to get cannabis to the patients who are in most in need of it first! I also think that it’s very important that we address the stereo-typical images and language that’s used to describe cannabis. For example, you might notice that in the course of this interview, I’ve never said ‘marijuana’, or ‘pot’, or ‘weed’ or any other words like that. I’m very consistent. I use the word ‘cannabis’. The reason I use the word ‘cannabis’ is because that’s the scientific designation for the plant; by using the word ‘cannabis’ I remove the emotion and the distortion that goes along with those other types of terms. The people who come to Harborside who get their medicine are patients, not customers, they are patients. It’s also reflected in the way that we recruit and train our employees. At Harborside, we train our associates in an idea called Patient Care, Patient Care vs. Retail Sales, so we never up-sale a patient, we never rush through a transaction. Our staff is trained to a provide a calm and unhurried selection process for all patients and the success of that transaction is not determined by the amount of the transaction or by how quickly it happens, rather it’s determined by the degree of satisfaction that the patient has of that medicine once they take it home.”

The degree of professionalism at Harborside in providing lab tested medicine has enabled Stephen to create Steep Hill Labs in 2007, California’s premier medical cannabis analysis laboratory for safety screening and quality assurance. With 16 medical cannabis states, by law research can now be conducted and the sooner that this research is acquired, the sooner we can uncover the scientific truth about cannabis. What we’ve been stating all along, that Cannabis does indeed carry vital properties of therapeutic and medicinal value. “The testing program was designed just to ensure, at the most basic level, that the medicine we gave to patients was safe and that it didn’t have any dangerous contaminants in it, and we wanted patients to know how strong that medicine was before they purchased it. Beyond that, I have already learned some very interesting things in the course of the testing program. One of the first things we learned was that there was very little CBD in the medicine that was being presented to us by our patients. That was a great concern to us because there’s been so much research in the last few years about the medical benefits of CBD. So what we did in response to that was that we tested 2,000 strains of cannabis, found the 9 strains which have the largest quantities of CBD in them, provided cuttings of those strains to are most trusted growers and have those growers grow those strains out. So now, when patients come to Harborside, we always have at least 1 CBD-riched selection of medicine for them.”

I can’t say enough how inspiring and insightful this conversation with Stephen DeAngelo turned out to be. What has made Harborside Health Center (HHC) stand apart from all the others in Oakland has been their level of professionalism and most importantly, their level of compassion. To shed some light on them, only sheds light on what eventually could be, maybe even here in Texas one day. Harborside is a vision that became a reality and is now setting the standard of what the future of medical cannabis could look like.

Stephen thanked me for the time and closed with a final comment.

 “To all my brothers and sisters out there, in Texas, there is a huge amount of public support for cannabis. Even in Texas, a majority of people support medical cannabis. And so I encourage you to organize in your communities and when you’re ready, invite me down there, and I would be glad to come down to Texas and speak some truth to power.” ~