More Than a Manifesto

Steve DeAngelo in a black hat and suit beside his book

The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness (Paperback)
by Steve DeAngelo

Foreword by Willie L. Brown Jr.
North Atlantic Books/ Random House
Copyright 2015
Available for purchase on:


Longtime consumers of cannabis may be inclined to bypass Steve DeAngelo’s The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness (North Atlantic Books; Sept. 2015), assuming they are not its intended readers. That would be a shame, because the book offers a variety of benefits, much like the extraordinary plant that is the subject of its 200-plus pages. Although styled as a literal manifesto, DeAngelo actually has created more than a declaration of personal “intentions, motives, or views” on cannabis or defined a “new paradigm for wellness,” though both objectives are more than met. As valuably, the 57-year-old founder and executive director of Oakland’s celebrated Harborside Health Center deftly weaves personal and public history into a dramatic narrative that tells a tale of malfeasance by elected officials and others who, over the years and to this day, created incalculable harm to individuals, families, and society. He accomplishes the task in a self-assured tone that manages to avoid vitriol or condescension yet seethes with low-key outrage while simultaneously espousing a progressive worldview that embraces cannabis as a universal blessing. It’s quite an achievement, even if one uses it as just a reference guide or an educational tool, which may be its raison d’être, when all is said and done.

The timing of the book’s release is interesting, coming as it does in what many believe are the waning months or years of federal prohibition. One might expect a “call to action” by an activist who’s been in the fight for decades to have been written long ago, but in fact it could not have been told any sooner. This is the story of DeAngelo’s arrival at a very special place in his own understanding of the unique nature of cannabis—a journey that, as he notes in the preface, “…unfolded in pace with the trajectory of cannabis, from the margins of American society in the 1950s to the counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s to industrial hemp in the ’80s to medical use in the ’90s to state-regulated distribution in the 2000s.”

The more he learned about cannabis, the more his “understanding of it evolved.” The insights gleaned from that edification make up the eight chapters of his treatise. “In The Cannabis Manifesto,” he writes, “I distill these forty years of experience into eight simple statements of belief… The following sections explain and support each of those major principles with a combination of personal anecdotes, history, science, and common sense.” That the book also proposes “a new paradigm for wellness” at a critical point in the legalization movement is also significant, and is probably why the phrase is highlighted in the subtitle.

In the chapter titled “Choose Cannabis for Wellness, Not Intoxication,” DeAngelo explains, “Like most people, I used to be locked into an outdated illness concept of human health that views us as either sick or healthy. If we are sick, we go to the doctor, who writes a prescription or recommends a procedure, after which we are supposed to recover and go back to being healthy—if we’re lucky.

“But over the last few decades,” he continues, “it has become evident that human health actually operates on a spectrum of wellness. That spectrum occupies the space between perfect health and acute sickness, and it is where most humans spend the majority of their lives.”

Cannabis, rather than the “variety of pharmaceuticals” prescribed by “the average MD,” provides a “better alternative” through its “power to preserve and restore homeostasis throughout the brain and body,” he affirms. Pointedly, his experience operating the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary taught him “cannabis is a gateway out of addiction, not a gateway in.”

The book’s final chapter, “Legalization Cannot and Will Not Be Stopped,” suggests the tipping point has come and gone. While DeAngelo’s insights into the nature of the plant add powerful arguments in support of rational and responsible regulation, he is engaged enough to know not all regulatory schemes are equal.

If there is an aspect of the man somewhat absent, it is DeAngelo the entrepreneur, a facet he acknowledges only in passing, as if it were a mere byproduct of his higher calling. The omission is clearly deliberate but feels evasive, a rare off-note in an otherwise harmonious vision that is highly recommended for cannabis advocates and a must-read for opponents and fence-sitters.

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