International Cannabis Business Conference

SXSW Protesters Target John Boehner and MedMen's Adam Bierman

SXSW protestors holding signs over I-35 in Austin on March 15. Photo provided by the Equity First Alliance.

The Equity First Alliance, whose goal is to repair "the harms of the War on Drugs," staged a protest in Austin on March 15. The group directed its anger at former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, now on the board of dispensary giant Acreage Holdings, and Adam Bierman, the MedMen CEO who's being sued for financial mismanagement and other alleged workplace issues. Both were scheduled to speak during SXSW's cannabis track of 40 panel discussions and keynotes

Two banners were visible to cars on I-35 that heads north and south through Austin.

Statements were issued by the following organizations:

Felicia Carbajal of the Equity First Alliance and the Los Angeles-based non-profit The Social Impact Center: “Our protest at SXSW sends a bold message in support of cannabis equity, justice and repair. We stand together, recognizing that by defending the most marginalized among us, we defend all of us. We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities, and we call on all defenders of human rights to join us.” 

Chas Moore, Executive Director of the Austin Justice Coalition: “It’s hypocritical for an Austin based company like SXSW, a company imbedded in a city that preaches diversity and inclusion, to neglect the work of committing to create an inclusive space, and instead give a keynote platform to John Boehner. This is disgusting."

LaTorie Wallace of the Equity First Alliance and Washington, DC-based We BAKED.“This protest is the first step towards unifying our communities to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until we see equity in cannabis and in all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully, while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all."

In a press release, the Alliance defined the protest as against...

• Those profiting off of cannabis without an intentional plan to repair and make whole individuals,
families and communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs;
• Those profiting off of cannabis who once participated in prohibition;
•  And those who would profit before freeing all cannabis prisoners and vacating all cannabis convictions.

And made the following demands:

• 10% of companies’ annual revenue to be reinvested in communities disproportionately harmed by the
War on Drugs;
• A new paradigm of social responsibility in the cannabis industry;
• And public policies that create an equitable, just and reparative industry.

SXSW is the nation's largest music, movie and interactive conference and expo in the country. It's taking place this year from March 8-17.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.