Can an Inclusive Cannabis Industry Include Roger Stone?

Roger Stone's supporters see him as an agent of upset and chaos, bashing a system they see as too corporate and corrupt. But Stone helped elect those same corrupt capitalists. (Seth Wenig/AP)

It was high noon when I arrived at the Alchemy Lounge, a “members-only social club” with a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bud) policy when it comes to on-site vaping. The lounge is located directly across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center, which was convenient for me since I’d just come from the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE)—a marijuana industry trade show with a LYBAH (Leave Your Bud at Home) policy that was really harshing my mellow.

I didn’t leave the convention center (just) to get blazed, however.

After a boycott got him dismissed from the Cannabis World Expo, Stone promised to speak anyway—at a vape lounge near the show.

I made my way over to the Alchemy to hear a speech by longtime political dirty trickster Roger Stone, who was originally booked to give that day’s keynote address at the CWCBE, but got dumped by Expo organizers after a #DisownStone movement sprung up on social media. CWCBE higher-ups at first pushed back against this online pressure campaign, then—facing bad press and a snowballing boycott from sponsors, speakers, exhibitors and attendees—they waved the white flag and put out a press release disinviting their main attraction, without ever saying why.

The closest they came to an explanation was a single sentence that mixed a smug humble brag with a bit of virtue-signaling and just a dash of snowflaking.

“The forums created by CWCBE are crucial to the growth and legalization of the cannabis industry and they supersede the distractions that have surrounded the event.”

Well, at least that prepared statement struck a more diplomatic tone than CWCBE managing partner Scott Giannotti, who earlier made the claim (without evidence) on Facebook that the expo has the most “politically and culturally diverse conference program in the cannabis industry,” before offering to show critics like the Minority Cannabis Business Association “how dumb you people are.”

Perhaps Giannotti was simply following the sage advice of Roger Stone, who includes among his Stone’s Rule’s for political combat the following:

Attack, attack, attack… never defend.

Never Apologize…for Getting the Date Wrong

And speaking of Roger Stone—where the hell was he?

After being dumped by the CWCBE organizers, Stone had alerted friends, foes, and of course the media that he’d give his keynote speech at the Alchemy Lounge instead.

It was well past noon when I overheard a huddle among the ostensible organizers of this renegade speaking engagement. He’s not coming. At least not today. Maybe tomorrow.

Turns out the initial official announcement of the speech got the day wrong. And I wasn’t the only one left hanging. About twenty people showed up, including Omar Navarro, a Republican Congressional candidate for California’s 43rd District, and a member of Roger Stone’s newly formed United States Cannabis Coalition. Navarro departed quickly after discovering the headliner’s a no-show. I stuck around to share a little cannabis with members of the gathering and work through the ethical conundrum that is Roger Stone.

My first foray did not go well. I sidled up on some young wannabe Roger Stone YouTubers and looked for a way to join their conversation. But they were here for the spectacle, uninterested in anything beyond the impending pie fight. They were like the most evil/banal comments section on the internet come to life. I listened as they spewed out a long list of offenses committed by their perceived enemies, immediately followed by a meta-lamentation about how easily offended everyone is these days.

Feeling discouraged and displaced, I found an empty couch in the back of the room where I could get high in peace and collect my thoughts about Roger Stone.

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‘Roger Stone Is a Dangerous Person’

Let’s start by giving the devil his due. An avowed libertarian, Stone has been an outspoken opponent of the Drug War and a cannabis legalization advocate for more than a decade. More to the point, he’s been a close advisor to our current President for going on 40 years, and now says preventing a federal crackdown on legal cannabis is his “first and foremost” goal in politics.

'Stone is welcome to use his First Amendment rights to speak out for cannabis legalization, but he has an awful lot of amends to make before he should be invited to give a keynote address.'
Jesce Horton, Chairman, Minority Cannabis Business Association

To that end, his new organization is a bipartisan “pro-cannabis special project dedicated to influencing federal level decision makers so they honor State’s Rights and state mandated marijuana laws as well as reform our antiquated and failed federal drug laws.”

So is this a guy we really want to kick to the curb?

Absolutely, says Jesce Horton, founder of Portland, Oregon-based marijuana cultivator Panacea Valley Gardens, and chair of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, who sparked the boycott with a Facebook post.

“When you bring someone on as a keynote speaker, you’re giving that person a platform to speak not just for themselves, but as an acknowledged leader,” Horton explained when I contacted him by phone after the Expo.

“Roger Stone is a very dangerous person to lift up in that way because of his long history of racist and misogynistic rhetoric; his role in advising and helping to elect some of the nation’s biggest drug warriors; and his involvement in Florida in helping usher in one of the most restrictive cannabis laws in the nation—one that effectively locks out small business. So I welcome Roger Stone to use his First Amendment rights to speak out for cannabis legalization, but I think he has an awful lot of work to do and amends to make before he should be invited to give a keynote address to the industry.”

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Chaos Is His Business

Controversy, of course, is nothing new to Stone.

While only a teenager, he testified before the Watergate grand jury about his work for the infamous “ratfuckers” on Richard Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President. Later today (September 26), he’ll voluntarily testify before the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In between those landmark investigations, he’s made a highly lucrative career out of advising hardline Republican candidates and peddling influence on behalf of a rogue’s gallery of dictators and despots. His Washington, DC, consulting firm was dubbed “The Torturer’s lobby” on Capitol Hill.

Another of Stone’s Rules: Nothing is on the level.

Stone supports gay marriage, abortion rights and Juggalos. He lifts serious weights, dresses like a dandy, and advises saving your carbs for booze.

For kicks, he hangs out with InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and speculates about whether President Trump is being poisoned and mind-controlled via spiked Diet Cokes.

He’s gotten himself banned from CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News for his “incendiary comments,” which include everything from accusing the Bush family of trying to kill Ronald Reagan to hurling nuclear-grade racist and sexist invective at his political rivals.

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Yeah, but What About…

Patrick H. Moore helped organize Stone’s appearance at the Alchemy Lounge. (He would introduce Stone from stage the following day, when he actually did show up.) Moore listened to me recount Stone’s many transgressions, then responded: “And how is that any different from Al Sharpton, a man who built his career on racially charged comments?”

'How is Stone different than Al Sharpton, who built his career on racially-charged comments?'
Patrick Moore, event organizer

Moore looks like a wild-eyed old-school hippie pot activist, and in keeping with that persona passed me a vape pen while I took in his rap.

For starters, the question isn’t out of left field. While Moore and I talked, in fact, Al Sharpton was giving the keynote CWBCE speech back at the convention center. And Sharpton has certainly used words like “homo” and “cracker” in the past. During the 1991 Crown Heights riots he told a crowd “if the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

And—oh yeah—in 2004, Al Sharpton enlisted none other than Roger Stone as a key advisor in his run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Remember, nothing is on the level.

“That kind of hypocrisy shows the boycott’s not really about Roger Stone,” Moore says. “I believe it’s a mix of business interests aligned with key elements of the left community that’s vying to control and dominate this new blossoming multibillion dollar industry.”

Moore pulses with an energy shared by those who believe they possess secret knowledge. He tells me his cannabis activism goes back to the 1996 campaign to pass Proposition 215, which made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana.

But last November, Moore opposed California’s Prop 64, which legalized recreational cannabis. He felt the measure was too restrictive, and would lead to a corporate takeover of the industry.

“Prop 215 changed the whole world’s conversation about cannabis as a medicine,” he says. “Real” legalization could have done the same for the industry, according to Moore, by creating a new economic model that empowers people rather than enriching big business. Except that the major activist organizations and a good chunk of the industry are all part of a “globalist agenda” orchestrated by billionaire George Soros.

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Who You Calling a Globalist?

Whoah—now that’s a red flag. The word “globalist” has often been used as an anti-semitic dog whistle by those who want to covertly express anti-Jewish sentiments. George Soros is a favorite boogeyman for all manner of racists and white nationals. And “globalist agenda” conjures right-wing conspiracy theories about who “really runs the world.”

Moore just thinks the whole system is a sham—especially the corporate media.

But nothing Moore said to me over two hours of pointed conversation struck me as remotely racist or hateful. Ditto for a long scroll of his Twitter feed. He just thinks the whole system is a sham—especially the corporate media. So he gets some portion of his news from the kind of “alternative sources” and “conspiracy sites” that knowingly or not use this kind of coded language.

Anyway, what’s the War on Marijuana if not a giant conspiracy—backed by big lies and enforced by the government—to violently suppress an incredibly beneficial plant? All to protect pharmaceutical profits, fill for-profit prisons, control marginalized communities and keep Big Oil from facing the threat of industrial hemp.

So no, based on a single encounter and some cursory research, I don’t believe that Patrick’s paranoid or a Jew-hater. Also, please note: While I would have continued to interview him if he was a racist, I definitely would have stopped puffing weed with him.

Now, those Stone-wannabe YouTubers—they were hateful little shits.

Here’s the thing, the real crux of the matter:

Whatever Roger Stone’s personal beliefs, he’s very clearly made a career out of delivering the “hateful little shit” vote to guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan—who both loved nothing more than busting hippies and minorities for weed. In fact, Stone’s done his job so well that the hateful little shits of the world now feel like they own the place.

Keep in mind, there’s long been a conservative wing of the marijuana legalization movement (Limited Government! Free Enterprise! Personal Liberty!), identified with principled voices like William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on up to Gary Johnson and Grover Norquist. There are currently bipartisan cannabis bills in Congress, sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. So this rift at the expo isn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it isn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention.

The rift at the expo wasn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it wasn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention.

“Roger Stone would have had an audience at the Expo, but it wouldn’t have been that big,” Beth, a friend of Patrick’s and fellow cannabis activist, tells me. “People at a business expo aren’t there to see keynote speakers, especially ones that aren’t even in the cannabis business.”

Beth declined to give a last name, but did join our vaping circle. She met Patrick years ago at a local Occupy organizing event, and despite “disagreeing on almost everything else,” they became allies in pushing for “real” cannabis legalization and against corporate control of the industry. She called Roger Stone an “absolutely inappropriate pick” for keynote speaker, and doesn’t disagree with the boycott. She just feels it misses the point.

“The whole conference is misleading,” Beth said, calling out a large number of CWCBE exhibitors as crass opportunists come to cash in, with no ideals or agenda beyond their own enrichment. That’s the real danger, she says, not some speech.

“Do I agree with the politicians Roger Stone has worked for?” Beth asks, rhetorically. “Oh, hell no. But I see that he’s tenacious, and wants his cannabis coalition to encompass multiple viewpoints, including the kind of real legalization we’ve been trying to promote. In coalition building for a political cause you’ve sometimes got to put other issues aside.”

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‘We Need To Build Bridges’

Emmett Reistroffer likewise believes there’s a need to find common ground and be inclusive of diverse viewpoints.

A policy consultant from Denver, in 2012 he was lead coordinator of the petition drive and ballot qualification process for Amendment 64, Colorado’s historic recreational cannabis law. More recently he was one of the authors of I-300, a “social use” initiative that passed in Denver last November. He doesn’t support the boycott. But he did join me in taking advantage of the Alchemy Lounge’s “bring your own buds” policy.

I looked at Roger Stone’s record, and there wasn’t enough for me to say ‘Absolutely not, this guy can’t affiliate with us.’
Emmett Reistroffer , Policy consultant on Colorado's Amendment 64 campaign

“Right now a lot of the activist community fears that things are going in the direction of crony capitalism and a corporate take-over. And that understandable frustration is going to keep popping up in different ways,” he says. “But I think we also need to build as many bridges as possible, and a boycott is a middle finger. That’s a hardline tactic that I think we should only resort to under extreme circumstances.”

Reistroffer labels himself a libertarian and says he agrees with many of Roger Stone’s policy positions, though he won’t defend his tactics. He counts close friends and colleagues among the boycott’s strongest supporters, and “totally respects their decision.”

“I looked at Roger Stone’s record, and there wasn’t enough for me to say ‘Absolutely not, this guy can’t affiliate with us.’ A lot of that frankly comes down to political strategy. Because no matter how much you might dislike President Trump, he’s the gatekeeper right now who has the ability to either set this industry back ten years, or move it forward ten years. And we don’t exactly have a lot of friends within the current administration.”

Reistroffer’s roommate, Andrew Mieure—proprietor of Denver’s Top Shelf Budtending—tagged along to the Alchemy Lounge out of “morbid curiosity.” Andrew and Emmet “argue about everything” (just like Patrick and Beth) while also managing not to be racist assholes or self-righteous pricks about it. They watched the Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone together. Mieure admits he mostly came to see if the man of the hour “lived up to the character portrayed in the movie.”

‘Politics Isn’t Theater. It’s Performance Art.’

And therein lies Roger Stone’s true political genius. Through long practice, he’s perfected a signature blend of hyper-partisan politics, spectacle-grade entertainment and absolute gutter fighting that’s really hard to ignore. His persona comes across like an evil wisecracking Pro Wrestling manager in a fancy suit who’s forever throwing sand in your eyes and smiling.

Is Stone really here to make sure the little guy comes out on top—just this once?

Which brings to mind another Stone’s Rule:

Politics isn’t theater. It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake.

Case in point: I just wrote 2,500 words on a guy who didn’t show up. And this story’s not even about him—not really. It’s about a political grassroots revolution that grew up from the margins of society and changed the world despite massive government oppression and tens of millions of arrests, only to watch fat cats and carpetbaggers swoop in and lay claim to the spoils of war, or the peace dividend, depending on how you look at it.

So is Roger Stone the guy to fix things?

Is he really here to make sure the little guy comes out on top—just this once?

Unclear.

But I will direct you to one last Stone’s Rule.

Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business.