The journey of a superhero is commonly shaped by a series of events: An unforeseen childhood tragedy, the influence of a do-gooder, a loss of identity, and a transcendental experience. The timeline and flow of events may differ, but all roads eventually lead to that one serendipitous moment when the Superhero finally understands the purpose of his existence with absolute clarity.
Andrew DeAngelo’s life story fits this description perfectly.
Widely recognized throughout the cannabis industry, Andrew was a prominent entity in the space long before the green rush came into existence. Over the course of almost 40 years, Andrew has had an incredible impact on the cannabis community as a whole: as an proponent for legislative change, he was instrumental in working on voter initiatives leading to the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in San Francisco, Washington DC, and California. He was also a founding member of the Board of Directors for the California Cannabis Industry Association, the industry’s most influential trade association, where he served from 2013 to 2020.
Additionally, as co-founder of Harborside Health Center — one of the first of six medical marijuana dispensaries to open in California — Andrew was a visionary in creating a number of ‘first’ best practices and compliance standards now required for cannabis retail: he implemented the first lab-testing program in the history of cannabis dispensing, standardized inventory tracking, and created child resistant packaging for edibles. He was also one of the first to usher in the use of cannabinoid medicine under a doctor’s supervision to children suffering from severe epilepsy.
Andrew’s footprint in the cannabis industry has been forever documented in the first television reality series about legalized cannabis trade in California, Weed Wars. However, what he is most passionate about is his work with social justice. His biggest endeavor, ‘The Last Prisoner Project,’ founded with his brother, Steve DeAngelo – famously known as ‘The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry’ – was created in 2019 with the purpose to bring restorative justice to the industry through advocacy and policy change, and rebuild the lives of people who have suffered from cannabis criminalization.
His most current project, “The Stoners and Suits – Building A Bridge Between Activism and Capitalism,’ is his latest literary piece and the overarching theme of his life’s purpose.
Andrew’s story begins as the youngest of three children born into an upper middle-class working family, where at the age of two, his life was forever altered by the death of his brother, Daniel – the middle child — who at the time was just six years old. The eldest brother, Steve, was 12; ten years Andrew’s senior.
‘That experience had a huge impact on our family and me and on my brain development. Whenever a child dies in any family, everyone is forever affected by it, and our family was no exception.”
The death of Andrew’s brother added duress to a marriage that was already in a tenuous state. His older brother, Steve, created another element of stress to the household. His involvement in drugs and protest of the Vietnam War caused conflict with his parents, particularly his father, making living at home ‘an untenantable situation.’ Steven moved out of the house by the time he was 15; Andrew was just five years old. His parents divorced shortly thereafter leaving Andrew in the custody of his mother.
His mother went back to school and entered the workforce to take care of herself and son. As the youngest in a family of eight children, Andrew’s mother was the only one to survive a premature death from drugs and alcohol. She ended up developing narcolepsy in her 50’s and twenty years later, dementia. As Andrew’s sole caretaker, her influence on him was noteworthy and has served as the backbone of his life’s purpose: “My mother was the one that gave me my gift for empathy and my gift for serving. My mother taught me at a very young age that the reason we are put upon this earth is to serve.”
Andrew found his first love in high school with tennis. Unfortunately, an injury at the age of 15 put him on the sidelines for six months, extinguishing his goal of pursuing the sport as a professional career. The loss of this dream, coupled with the physical pain and emotional trauma from his childhood took a hard toll on his mental state, leaving him depressed and with an identity crisis.
“…I knew there was no way I was going to be a professional athlete, and if you’re not a professional athlete you’re either going to be a gym teacher the rest of your life or you’re gonna teach tennis to soccer moms for thirty years at country clubs and I didn’t want to do that. Those paths did not work. And so I had this identity crisis and I was depressed.”
His brother Steve, aware that his younger sibling was suffering, offered Andrew a joint. Andrew was no stranger to marijuana; he had grown up watching his older brother grow, sell, and use the plant, but as Andrew stated, “…the athlete in me didn’t want to take that joint, but the pain and the crisis and trauma I was experiencing in me did… then once I experienced the effects of it, immediately, I felt better, not just physically, but I felt hope. Life was good again. My spirit felt alive again.”
It was in this moment that the course of Andrew’s life was forever changed, and his purpose found.
In a burgeoning industry fragmented between government policy and corporate responsibility, Andrew has dedicated himself to being an agent of change and in service of others. Through the tailwinds of success and pitfalls of failure, he has continued to travel unerringly down a path that was laid out for him long before he could see the journey’s end. Similarly to the life of the fictional Superhero, the narrative of Andrew’s career was predetermined by a series of events that fortuitously lead him to recognize his life’s passion and mission: To heal the world with cannabis.