For many activists like myself, the cannabis industry hasn’t felt like home for a long time. Conferences that used to focus on consumers, their rights and the movement to change unjust laws have given way to business-to-business extravaganzas. Many of us feel like strangers in an industry that exists because of us. This came to a head with Roger Stone and the run-up to the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo, held in Los Angeles Sept. 13-15.
I was slated to speak at the event. But then I read that one of the keynote speakers would be Republican ally and Trump adviser Roger Stone. I immediately felt nauseous. I was not okay with holding up someone like Roger Stone as a hero and leader of our movement. I contacted the conference to confirm that this was indeed true, and then dropped out.
It was an easy decision. The way Stone has spoken of women and people of color in public is not acceptable. In my mind, expecting my colleagues of color to listen to what he has to say was like forcing the oppressed to honor the oppressor. The boycott was on.
I contacted SSDP’s Betty Aldworth and Lauren Padgett. We looped in Wanda James, who runs the Simply Pure dispensary in Denver, and also reached out to ComfyTree’s Tiffany Bowden and actress and Women Abuv Ground’s Bonita Money. Together, we alerted all sponsors and speakers that Stone was going to be a keynoter. Mara Gordon from Aunt Zelda’s also dropped out as a speaker, and others followed. Media sponsors joined the boycott, and fiscal sponsors wrote letters to the conference. When Jesce Horton and the Minority Cannabis Business Association reached out to the Expo’s promoters for an explanation, their insensitive response went viral. Now they were on the defensive.
As expected, Stone blamed the left-wing media for the boycott, never once acknowledging that a group of women and people of color from the industry was behind it. He claimed to be an avid supporter of drug-policy reform. This confused many of us. We’ve attended every drug-policy reform conference for the last decade, yet never saw hide nor hair of Stone and his back tattoo of Richard Nixon.
Finally, with pressure from sponsors, speakers, cannabis organizations and others building, the Expo decided to disinvite Roger Stone. I agreed to speak at the event after all. Chalk one up for us activists.
Editor’s Note: When this article was published in Freedom Leaf Issue 29, Minority Cannabis Business Association executive director Jesce Horton contacted Freedom Leaf. He contended that the version of events described above is not accurate. Here is Horton’s account of how cannabis activists derailed Roger Stone’s appearance at the CWCBExpo in Los Angeles:
The successful removal of Roger Stone as keynote speaker at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo resulted from efforts of many organizations, businesses and individuals. My only intention in this rebuttal is to ensure that history/herstory is accurate and reflective of other instrumental voices in this small victory for the cannabis industry.
By no means does this take away from the work of Amanda Reiman or any of the other original signers of the #DisownStone boycott. These advocates’ current and past work in this movement is valuable and important. However, the article’s chronology of events and omission of key facts diminishes the role of others, thus spurring me to respond.
Cannabis leaders of color made a concerted effort that was not covered in this article. The greater purpose of the backlash to Stone was to make a statement about what type of industry we want to create. And, importantly, making it clear that in this fight, “the oppressed” referred to in the article stepped up for themselves and small cannabis businesses everywhere.
People like Wanda James (Simply Pure), Virgil Grant (SCC), Bonita Money (Women ABUV Ground), Marvin Washington (Isodiol), Chanda Macias (NHHC), LaMon Bland (Decode), Gia Morón (Women Grow), Dasheeda Dawson (MJM Strategy) and more showed up in force to see this effort to fruition.
Specifically, Washington, Bland, Morón, Dawson and peers from New Jersey organizations, as well as myself, were at the table in New York City with Rev. Al Sharpton and CWCBE executives negotiating the official departure of Roger Stone. The final removal of Stone came after we all held firm in that face-to-face meeting, and it was solidified with points not all related to the boycott.
Morón, who was an instrumental voice in this meeting, said, “Women Grow had gone directly to CWCBE to voice their concerns about Roger Stone and an executive of CWCBE who made several degrading and misogynistic comments towards a women of color and Horton, which was unacceptable in our view. “
In MCBA’s opinion, Stone has a number of strikes that disqualify him from taking leadership in our industry. His connection to the nation’s biggest drug warriors and assistance in ushering in one of the most restrictive state cannabis industries in the country in Florida played a major role in this discussion.
MCBA made an informed decision to decline participation in CWCBE and communicated it publicly. At no point did MCBA ask CWCBE for an explanation as to why Stone was speaking. Others, like Reiman, did withdraw from the conference before the MCBA announcement and deserve credit for their early stance. This article accurately describes how the events unfolded.
In the end, it wasn’t one thing or one leader that scored this victory for the cannabis movement. Hundreds of people and businesses signed the boycott. Companies like New Frontier Data, MJ Freeway and Marijuana Policy Project cancelled booths. Wanda James blasted a screenshot of the initial response from CWCBE, which gave this campaign legs and stood firm in a public forum while being personally insulted by the CWCBE executive. The CEO of Women Grow released a public statement withdrawing its support and even revoked CWCBE’s membership. There were a lot of pivotal turning point moments and diverse people to equally acknowledge when recording this event. Let’s agree to avoid revisionist history in cannabis.
Much of Minority Cannabis Business Association’s mission is to ensure people of color take hold of leadership positions in the industry. In order to support this, we must recognize their contributions. People of color fight alongside the greater cannabis movement for a better industry and should be equally recognized when doing so. This will help ensure our collective movement grows stronger and more powerful.
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