“Weed Wars” and Steve DeAngelo have America buzzing

Pot. Weed. Smoke. Grass. Mary Jane. We could list them for hours, unless we inhaled. Then we might lose our train of thought; too much ganja will do that. But the right amount will also alleviate many ailments, argue its proponents.

One of the most knowledgeable advocates, Steve DeAngelo — the country’s most successful legal distributor of marijuana — only says “cannabis,” both on his new Discovery Channel series Weed Wars (which airs on Thursdays at 10pm ET/PT) and while talking. “I have a very close, personal relationship with the cannabis plant,” he says in the first of four one-hour episodes.

His interview is more like a lecture from someone accustomed to expounding on a topic he knows quite well. DeAngelo, 53, is on a mission to make cannabis accepted.

“If American people saw the truth about the cannabis plant, then they would understand it is a good plant, not an evil plant, and would support changing the laws, DeAngelo says. “If the American people have a chance to meet me and my family and see how we treat patients, they will support changing the laws.”

DeAngelo is executive director of Harborside Health Center, a sprawling emporium of various cannabis plants and products in Oakland, Calif., and the subject of Weed Wars. Last year, Harborside had an annual revenue of $20 million, and has over 80,000 patients. In addition to following DeAngelo and his staff, the show follows the journey of the plant itself, from seed germination to harvesting.

Buying pot here is about as far from a corner drug deal as possible. To buy marijuana legally, California requires a written recommendation from a state-licensed doctor. When new patients go to Harborside, the staff verifies the doctor’s recommendation by checking with the state medical board, then with the doctor’s office.

The clean, well-lighted facility is a result of California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Oddly, California also was home to an anti-cannabis law early in the 1900s. The current law opened the door for medical marijuana, and despite controversy, 16 states have passed similar legislation.

At the forefront of this movement has been DeAngelo, with his two long braids and encyclopedic knowledge of all matters hemp. “It can enhance human welfare and wellness in a wide variety of ways ranging from being a very, very effective aid to health and wellness to being an eco-friendly raw material for replacements for timber, cotton and petroleum,” he says. “You can make plastics out of hemp. Some of the very first plastics were made out of hemp. The first Model T windows were made out of hemp. There is a very famous picture of Henry Ford taking a hammer to a car made out of hemp polymer.

“On the medical side, a great deal of research has been done on cannabis’ palliative effects,” he continues. “It’s also a very potent preventative and curative.”

Scripps Research Institute reported that THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, appears to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. These findings were published in reputable medical research publications.

Still, so many people are not using it to ease mind-numbing pain, as cancer patients on the show are, but rather to giggle while watching cartoons and eating chips. DeAngelo knows the drawbacks.

“Like any psychoactive substance, cannabis can and will be misused, just as people will overeat, overindulge with the computer or become dependent on prescription drugs,” DeAngelo says. “It is possible to overuse. At Harborside, we have a trained addiction counselor free of charge. I feel society has a chance to get it right with cannabis. We got it wrong with tobacco. We can advise people on how to use [cannabis].

“People could potentially — especially young people — rather than engaging in activities in further developing their career, spend too much time ingesting cannabis,” he continues. “Even if they fall into that misuse, it is generally pretty easy to stop. It takes a little while to find the proper relationship, like with drinking, and then you get the balance. It can be a problem, but I don’t think it is a super-serious problem.

“I see it as an extremely safe, widely efficacious [plant] that should be viewed as the first-line treatment as opposed to the last resort,” DeAngelo says.

Weed Wars airs on both Discovery Channel and Discovery Fit & Health.