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Prohibitionists have become drug war profiteers. Equity First Alliance is here to hold them to account.

Apr 19, 2019

Former House Speaker John Boehner’s wanton penchant for bullshit was on full display at this year’s South by Southwest gathering as he took the stage with Acreage Holdings CEO Kevin Murphy to discuss his conversion from tea-party enabler to cannabis reform advocate.

“I’ve never used the product,” Boehner told the crowd, according to numerous reports. “I smoke cigarettes, I drink red wine [and] I have a little bourbon. Not to say I’ll never use [cannabis], but I haven’t yet.”

It was a perfectly scripted moment from a seasoned politician that speaks double-talk as his native tongue. But while Boehner’s not likely to trade-in his Advil PM for a vape pen anytime soon, his year-long image rehabilitation tour seems to be taking hold on the cannabis community.

The chattering class, in fact, has largely declared him safe for public consumption despite a history of legislative violence towards the cannabis plant and any person of color who might dare to use it.

“You can remind people John Boehner was ‘unalterably opposed’ to cannabis reform during his tenure as Speaker of the House,” one such piece recently opined. “[But] Boehner is here to stay in the cannabis conversation.”

The man who put the “do-nothing” in Do-Nothing Congress is now the unquestioned savior of American cannabis reform.

“How are we supposed to believe someone whose voting record has been racist, homophobic, and misogynistic?” Felicia Carbajal shouted down at Boehner during his keynote address at SXSW.

Carbajal is the Executive Director of The Social Impact Center, a 501(c)(3) out of Los Angeles that, in her own words is a hub for organizers and serves as a bridge between government, grassroots, industry, and people. The group empowers underserved communities by developing leaders through education, storytelling, and community building.

Front and center is her work with Equity First Alliance, a cross-section of grass-roots cannabis organizers from all over the country who have come together to address what social equity should look like in the cannabis industry.

“I left out xenophobic, but I got racist in before they shut me up,” Carbajal recalled of her moment with the former House Speaker in a recent interview with PotNetwork News.

“It’s troubling, it’s very troubling that there’s no oversight,” she continued. “I think it speaks to the bigger problem in our country, not just in cannabis.”

Felicia Carbajal

(Felicia Carbajal, Equity First Alliance/ Source Felicia Carbajal)

“Somebody asked me to take a big sack of cannabis from Berkeley to San Francisco...”

One could be forgiven for not knowing Felicia Carbajal, with The Daily Beast identifying her only as ‘the shouting woman’ in its coverage of Boehner’s keynote address. As for The Equity First Alliance, while given its fair share of ink by the press at the event, the group was relegated to a mass of faceless protestors when it came to the headlines about the day.

But like most people affected by John Boehner’s scorched-earth policies, Carbajal has been fighting him for most of her adult life, regardless of whether or not he knows her name.

“I’m a queer person, I got to get married during the window before Prop 8,” Carbajal recalled. “And because I felt so privileged — even though I was a second-class citizen in my country, or that I was still going to be forced to lie on my federal taxes, but it was so messed up that my friends were third- and fourth-class citizens, that I opted to fight.”

“He was instrumental in standing in our way for every single fundamental right we were pushing as queer people,” she continued.

AN LGBTQ leader in the marriage equality movement as well as the cannabis movement, Carbajal’s been organizing since 1995 when in her own words, she was a young queer person who had friends who were sick and dying of HIV and AIDS.

“Somebody asked me to take a big sack of cannabis from Berkeley to San Francisco,” she recalled.

Fast-forward to the middle of 2018; business is booming and, according to Carbajal, there was little to no movement on the conversation of what social equity is supposed to look like in the cannabis industry. She noted that; furthermore, as organizers in the space, there wasn’t an acknowledgment of the work being done to press the issue, nor a general acknowledgment of the need for this type of work in particular.

That’s when Equity First Alliance first came together.

“It started off with, essentially, just this letter,” Carbajal told PotNetwork News. “Then, as we grew, more and more grassroots organizers from across the country resonated with our message.”

Today, Equity First Alliance is an alliance of groups steered by democratic cooperative leadership; a core group of people who are steering this portion of the conversation. One of their first actions was to organize National Expungement Week, a series of 17 expungement clinics across the country pushing for what Carbajal called public benefits. The effort was wildly successful, with the group achieving around $11 million in terms of savings for both the government and, more importantly, the citizens impacted with the restoration of their rights and responsibilities as Americans.

It’s an impressive number and one that Boehner himself would have touted in fundraising letters during his days in Congress. But while the Equity First Alliance was doing their work, the ex-Speaker was selling stock-tips in a slickly-produced infomercial called The American Cannabis Summit.

In other words, he became the ShamWow! guy for the cannabis industry.

Equity First

(Equity First Alliance puts out a call for social justice during SXSW/ Source Equity First Alliance)

“The devil’s in the details...”

To be fair, the issues with the legal cannabis industry are far more profound than just former House Speaker John Boehner. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a slew of other anti-cannabis politicians responsible for the continued propagation of the Drug War on minority communities have now been given free rein to profit from the plant.

And then, of course, there are the business owners as well. At this year’s SXSW, the normalization of MedMen CEO Adam Bierman was cause for protest as well.

“When one of the biggest companies in the U.S. has allegations that are so horrific in terms of spewing hatred, horrible business practices, language that they’ve used, and wage theft it makes it really difficult for some of us who are very triggered by the trauma we’ve experienced and some of the ancestral trauma to have to, then, be put into positions and places where we see this portion of the conversation running rampant, where there’s no checks and balances, where these people cannot pay us a living wage, where these people who are mandated in the state of California to have a collective bargaining agreement but they don’t want to,” Carbajal told PotNetwork News.

And her point is well taken. As the media continues to promote the growth of opportunity in the cannabis industry, the growth of wealth, the growth of jobs, [this outlet included] key demographics continue to be excluded from the conversation.

“I don’t even know a lot of people of color who want to take some of these opportunities at this point because of the lack of corporate social responsibility with some of these brands,” said Carbajal, “with their behavior and their lack of values.”

It’s no surprise that legal cannabis has gone the corporate route; that men in suits and ties make millions of dollars on Wall Street for doing the same thing for which people of color sit in prison today. As Carbajal noted, the corporate mindset has always been there and always will be. What is tough to see, especially in the cannabis industry, is greed.

“It’s people who lack certain values that think that they can just pivot from whatever career that they were doing, half-assed, and come in — I’m being honest, half-assed — and pivot into this space and learn how to exploit it,” said Carbajal sounding frustrated.

She continued: “We’d like to see the industry take a more active role, because one of the things, and my chief complaint, and I believe the chief complaints of Equity First Alliance, in particular, is that we’re getting a lot of lip service. Meaning, they’re saying exactly what we want to hear, and they’re whispering the sweet nothings, but there’s no action behind it. There’s nothing that we can really sink our teeth into. They’ll say, ‘Well, oh, we passed Prop 64,’ and, ‘Oh, but there’s going to be expungement. It will happen — it has to happen by next year.’ ‘Oh, we signed community benefit plans that get us the [in the] door with the community,’ yet, there’s no accountability? There’s no oversight on any of that.”

Part of the problem is that the public doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on, Carbajal tells PotNetwork News. Prior to this interview, she was fresh off of a call with the City of Los Angeles. The city had a surplus in excess of $10 million. Officials had allocated $5 million to the LAPD that could have gone towards social equity programming. Instead, according to Carbajal, they allocated $1.5 million to the Department of Cannabis Regulation, with the safe assumption the rest will be allocated to LAPD.

“The devil’s in the details,” she said.

SXSW Protest

(Protestors march at SXSW/ Source Equity First Alliance)

“Do the math, capitalists, do the math...”

“Less than a mile from Travis County Jail, where people of color are still disproportionately incarcerated for cannabis possession, multibillion-dollar conglomerates that are disproportionately controlled by white men will speak at SXSW about dominating the cannabis marketplace,” read a statement released last month by Equity First Alliance about the group’s protest of the event.

According to Carbajal, a group from Equity First Alliance was going to participate in SXSW prior to the notice of John Boehner’s attendance.

“Ostensibly, we were going because we thought we’re going to find some good people who are going to want to help fund and support our work,” Carbajal told PotNetwork News. “And then, the John Boehner portion of the conversation manifested, and a lot of us just couldn’t live with ourselves, because we knew that this conversation that we’re having about equity isn’t just about weed, it was about something so much bigger.”

As was widely covered by the press, Boehner and Murphy’s talk was somewhat of a hit with the hoi polloi of cannabis — a public relations vaudevillian act staged down to the twin blue blazers the two men wore. They threw around terms like ‘ganjapreneur’ while scoring easy sympathy points while standing on the backs of veterans.

Perhaps overplaying their hand, though, Murphy and Boehner argued respectively that they had nothing to do with jailing people for cannabis crimes and that the government needs to do something about cannabis reform.

"Lawmakers in Washington have to look up and realize that the federal government is way out of step," Boehner told CNBC before his SXSW keynote address. "It's time for the federal government to get out of the way."

That, of course, is the same federal government that Boehner led a co-equal branch of from 2011-2015, a time when he had a chance to make a difference but chose to do nothing. Meanwhile, his record in Congress speaks for itself. It’s the career of a man who, as noted by the Equity First Alliance, who consistently opposed criminal justice reform, civil rights, LGBTQIA+ protections, environmental protections, and public education.

“SXSW and our efforts there were just a telling blip of what’s to come to everybody else in the industry who can’t get their shit together,” Carbajal told PotNetwork News.

She continued: “We’re going to come, and we’re going to call them out, not just via social media, we’re going to do our due diligence and include those community groups and community members who don’t agree with how this rollout is happening.

“And we know that we have a lot of allies, from criminal justice, from social justice, from immigration reform, from LGBTQ and gender non-conforming communities — we have a lot of allies. We want the industry to know that we have a lot of allies, weed doesn’t.

“When they say 60 percent of the population is okay with legalization, that’s fine; I think that’s great. I mean, California’s Prop 64 had 57 percent in favor and guess what percentage of the population is actually supporting their efforts financially? Less than 20 percent.”

Carbajal let out a small laugh. “Do the math, capitalists, do the math,” she said. “You’re not even able to capture 80 percent of the populous because of your greed, because of your insensitivity and because of [your] inability to even be ‘good’ capitalists.”

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