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Choose cannabis for wellness, not intoxication: the DeAngelo Manifesto

Book cover

A manifesto, by definition, is not usually easy reading, which is why Steve DeAngelo has combined his eight-point program with scientific and historical details, interspersed with stories about his life.

DeAngelo, outspoken executive director of Harborside Health Centers in Oakland and San Jose, calls this collection “The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness.” Many of the talking points are pillars of Harborside’s business model, starting with “Cannabis is not harmful, but prohibition is,” and ending with “Legalization cannot and will not be stopped.”

This might be a good time to go into the marijuana vs. cannabis debate, but DeAngelo avoids it by using both terms, and others, because, he says they’re all “worth sharing and preserving” to “illustrate the colorful history of the plant.”

History?  That’s right, cannabis was not invented in the 1960s, and prohibition of its use didn’t start with the War on Drugs in the 1970s. The book credits Spain’s Conquistadors with introducing the plant to the Americas. They brought it as hemp, not intending it to be ingested by humans. But local herbalist healers (curanderos) soon found it “efficacious for a wide range of ailments.”

“Prohibition has never been about the inherent properties of the plant,” DeAngelo says, “it’s always been about the people using it,” a statement he backs up with a quote from President Richard Nixon’s top aide, John Ehrlichman: “Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure.”

This is why one plank in DeAngelo’s Manifesto is: “Cannabis should never have been made illegal,” which leads to another one: “Choose cannabis for wellness, not intoxication.”

That chapter states that skeptics, such as “hostile journalists” – Bill O’Reilly is named – “all think medical marijuana is a fraud.” It brings to mind my own interview with DeAngelo. We were in the main lobby of Harborside Health Center, and there were lines at all of the checkouts. I noted that none of the customers/patients were using canes or wheelchairs, and nearly all were young, healthy-looking males. DeAngelo replied that not all illness is physical – PTSD, for example.

DeAngelo says I had fallen for what he calls “the outdated illness concept” of all or nothing – you’re sick, or you’re healthy. He prefers to see “human health actually [operating] on a spectrum of wellness.” If cannabis relieves stress and pain, that’s good medicine.  The same is true when it “enhances enjoyment.” He argues that this natural remedy is far safer for many ailments than highly advertised pharmaceuticals, most of them with “a list of side effects like something out of a Stephen King novel.”

Peter Sagal, known to KALW listeners as host of “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” says in his book jacket endorsement that “Steve DeAngelo is the kind of devoted activist who normally would get hospitals and schools named after him, if he had been advocating something more mainstream.”

With an estimated thirty million Americans using cannabis annually, 23 states with medical cannabis laws, four with legal recreational use, and several more moving in that direction, DeAngelo’s quasi-outlaw image may fade. [Harborside is still in a fight with the DEA.] Either way, Sagal continues, “He might have something more important than a monument – a victory.”

>> Steve DeAngelo will read from “The Cannabis Manifesto” on Saturday, October 3 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, starting at 4pm.