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While it’s debatable whether marijuana is a so-called gateway drug to more dangerous and addictive narcotics, there’s little doubt that medical marijuana represents a gateway to the outright acceptance of pot. For proof, one need look no further than Weed Wars, Discovery Channel’s illuminating new series about the day-to-day operations of Oakland, California’s Harborside Health Center, the world’s largest medical cannabis dispensary.
“I have a very close personal relationship with the cannabis plant.” Steve DeAngelo, the long-haired owner of Harborside tells the camera during a cut away interview. “I knew intuitively it was not an evil plant.”
AUDIO: Snoop Dogg Records Title Track for ‘Weed Wars’
While the federal government has not given its blessing to medical marijuana, voters in California did so back in 1996 when they legalized the sale of weed to treat a variety of conditions. The ensuing years have seen an explosion of dispensaries across the state bringing what had long been California’s leading cash crop even more out of the shadows while enriching doctors who have doled out hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for pot.
“We have some patients that come in here who, um, have less clear medical issues.” Terryn, a mellow sales clerk and licensed pot grower says during a tour of Harborside’s impressive retail facility.
Patients flood the dispensary 365 days a year from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. seeking pot remedies to treat everything from nausea cased by chemotherapy to depression to insomnia.
“Everybody who works at Harborside Health Center is a legal a medical cannabis patient, so they’re all quite familiar with the medicine.” says DeAngelo says, who is happy to be filmed doing bong hits.
STORY: Medical Marijuana Show Premieres on Discovery Channel This Fall
Part activist, part hard-nosed businessman, DeAngelo’s evangelical fervor for cannabis comes off as simultaneously genuine and self-serving.
“Whether or not they realize it, most regular cannabis users are using cannabis for the purpose of enhancing their wellness,” DeAngelo says of his 80,000 registered patients. “They may be using it to spark their creativity, or their libido, or get a longer nights sleep, all of those things are legitimate wellness issues.”
The question that dominates the show’s premiere episode, however, is whether a new city ordinance raising taxes on dispensaries will force Harborside to declare bankruptcy. “I just learned that we’ve got a tax bill for a million dollars that’s due a week or ten days from now” Steve tells his brother Andrew, who is Harborside’s general manager, and Luigi, the operation’s CFO.
It’s the kind of “dude, no way” twist that you might find in Seth Rogen flick, and gives rise to several hand-wringing cut away interviews with Andrew, who you swear might have been that stoner guy in your college dorm.
STORY: ‘Weed Wars’ Stars Are On a Mission
As with shows like Deadliest Catch or Storage Wars, that introduce the country to little known, fascinating environments, Executive Producer Chuck Braverman (Beverly Hills 90210, Abused ) has tapped into a setting and a cast of characters that you likely haven’t encountered on television before. Whether the travails of Harborside and its employees will make for engaging viewing over an entire season, or whether the feds will simply lower the boom and put the operation out of business before we can find out, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the first few episodes deliver something unique for reality television, and which a sleepy-eyed Andrew DeAngleo sums up pretty neatly.
“You can never forget, every day you get to walk home not handcuffed, is a good day.”
Watch a preview of Weed Wars below:
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