Discovery Channel’s marijuana reality show still a go, despite massive tax bill

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:30 EDT
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Despite recently receiving an enormous tax bill from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Oakland’s Harborside Health Center will still be the subject of a Discovery Channel reality show this winter.

“As they say, the show must go on,” Joshua Weinberg, Discovery Channel’s vice president of communications, explained in an email to Raw Story. “Weed Wars will premiere on Discovery Channel as planned.”

Harborside owes the IRS $2.5 million in back taxes, thanks to the recent enforcement of a federal law that prohibits organizations that traffic in “controlled substances” from taking tax deductions.

Those deductions, for things like payroll, workers’ compensation insurance and the like, were taken by Harborside in 2007 and 2008, meaning they owe significantly over the roughly $500,000 Harborside paid in federal taxes both years.

Steve DeAngelo, the dispensary’s owner, said that if the IRS doesn’t change its mind, or if an appeal does not succeed, he’ll have no choice but to close up shop.

In this case, what’s bad for Harborside may hold similarly ominous tidings for the whole medical marijuana industry. The same law that’s being enforced on DeAngelo’s dispensary could also be used against nearly every single other qusai-legal medical marijuana venue in the country.

Thankfully for enthusiasts and supporters, that same logic doesn’t hold true for The Discovery Channel. And thanks to DeAngelo, “Weed Wars” is almost certain to make for an interesting show, even with the IRS bearing down.

A bio for DeAngelo claims his father worked for the Kennedy administration and marched with civil rights activists, inspiring DeAngelo’s activism as an adult. He is also one of the founding members of Americans for Safe Access, a leading marijuana advocacy organization, and Steep Hill, one of a small but growing number of laboratories offering cannabis analysis services.

The Harborside Health Center has been called “the Baskin Robbins of marijuana” by comedian D.L. Hughley, who toured the store in 2009 for a segment on CNN. They’ve also recently launched a second location in San Jose. The center posted over $22 million in revenue in 2010 and boasts that it serves over 94,000 customers as the nation’s largest marijuana dispensary.

Just 16 states have legalized medical marijuana, but already it has grown into a $1.7 billion industry, and experts expect it will double those revenues within just five years.

“Weed Wars” debuts on The Discovery Channel on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 10 p.m. EST.

Photo: Flickr user r0bz.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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