Harborside Health Center: Empowering Customers, Educating Society


The potential of medical marijuana to improve quality of life and even aid in the healing and prevention of certain illnesses and their effects is undeniable. However, misinformation and outdated biases create skepticism of the plant’s wellness benefits. While constrained market growth is a major challenge for the marijuana industry, it is really those seeking treatment and enhanced wellness who end up paying the price. Harborside Health Center, well-known for being featured on the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, recognizes the benefits its patients receive from a nurturing environment and reliable, top-line products.

Studies have shown myriad health benefits associated with the use of medical marijuana for conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and pain management. Marijuana has also been shown to curb severe weight loss and nausea associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients as well as spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. But despite the evidence, not everyone is convinced; there remain academic and consumer concerns surrounding the reported health claims of marijuana. Studies are not always fully validated or based on a strong and trustworthy body of scientific evidence; therefore, those studies that do show the positive effects are not taken as seriously as they should be.


Building Trust

In order to address this challenge, there is a strong need in the marijuana industry for continued investment in clinical trial research to build evidence and trust. In addition, the industry hinges on strong advocates to educate the public about the benefits of medical marijuana in order to change negative perceptions. Specifically, the industry needs to develop and execute successful consumer education initiatives that communicate marijuana’s scientifically-substantiated health benefits to offset and supersede anti-marijuana propaganda-driven skepticism.

Dispensaries are in a unique position to educate communities and speak up for patients’ best interests, but it can be a tough balancing act to evangelize the value of medical marijuana while also ensuring a safe and truly healing environment for patients. Further, dispensaries are challenged to adhere to stringent regulations. Harborside Health Center’s California-based co-op is a pioneer in this space due to its mission to change negative perceptions and give back to its customers. A non-profit based out of California that is gearing up to expand, Harborside is already bringing 100% lab-tested products and a safe, healing environment to its members, who leave social stigma at the door.

Consumer trust is evident according to Harborside’s CFO, Ted Rebholz. “Whenever the DeAngelo brothers travel, they are without exception stopped, greeted and thanked profusely by passersby. Does that ever happen to the leaders of other retailers or product companies? Pretty rarely, and only for those who likewise are delivering something incredibly unique to people. Harborside’s brand and store experience represent a very compelling value proposition that Harborside wants to extend into other markets.”

Advocacy Enhanced

While the industry as a whole slowly gains more attention from the medical community, patients continue to face real and often unnecessary obstacles to obtaining their prescriptions. This is in part due to opposing law enforcement officials’ strict guidelines, which can be confusing or overwhelming to some patients. Many patients also feel the stigma attached to medical marijuana and fear-based stereotypes associated with its use. It is a stigma that is only partially unique to the marijuana industry. Alternative medicine and holistic treatments, though used outside of traditional medicine and not substantiated by the FDA, have been used to undeniable benefits but are under constant scrutiny.

Harborside Health Center has identified its market challenges. Its well-recognized and respected brand positions the company for explosive growth given the right investment. Steve and Andrew DeAngelo work diligently and responsibly to evangelize not only their company but those its services benefit. They advocate for their current co-op members, while also spreading their message to people nationwide, actively engaging in the industry and advocating the benefits of quality medical marijuana.

Harborside offers customer-empowering services such as senior outreach, discounts for seniors and veterans, substance misuse programs, marijuana activism, and medicinal resources. In this way, the company offers an empowering environment, which is the first step to radical change. The company is modeling responsible business practices in the marijuana industry, and its customer testimonials show the incredible gratitude patents are expressing for both its commitment to quality products and its focus on their security, confidentiality, and often-limited mobility.


Prosperity in Best Practices

As Harborside grows and the medicinal benefits of marijuana are further substantiated and accepted, the outreach the company displays may set the stage for best practices throughout the industry. Right now, strong advocates and happy consumers mean survival in the industry.

The company is looking to continue reaching wider audiences by expanding its business. “Harborside’s success with patients enables it to generate surplus operating cash to plow-back into further strengthening the brand, its training program, and its bench of management talent. While existing stores are very self-sufficient, Harborside seeks funding for its various growth projects,” Rebholz explained. With further expansion, not only does the company’s brand strengthen, its platform expands.

Best Practices enable Harborside the same way the company enables its members. “Most jurisdictions have limits on traditional advertising like billboards or radio,” Rebholz said. “For us, that’s okay, as it means that word of mouth is key. [We] focus first and foremost on every single patient and customer interaction.” And it is ultimately for this reason that the company is setting a standard for future operations. When it comes to medical marijuana, the benefits clearly exist, but it takes education and advocating forces such as Harborside Health Center to break down preexisting barriers to wellness.

Jen Knox is an educator and freelance writer with a background in technology market research. She earned her BA from Otterbein College and her MFA from Bennington. Jen's creative works have been published in over 70 online and print publications, and she teaches writing at San Antonio College. She is fascinated by the way both business and creative communications are influenced by shifts in technology. You can follow her on Twitter @JenKnox2.

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