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Kevin Sabet Takes on Roger Stone at Politicon

July 31, 2017
(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
In only its third year, Politicon has grown into a national “unconventional political convention,” pitting neoliberals, libertarians, Berniecrats and the alt-right head to head in panels designed to provoke, inflame and hopefully enlighten the American voter.

'If there’s any place where we can all build coalitions and get the fuck along for a while, let it be weed!'
Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing editor

This year’s show, held at the Pasadena Convention Center, focused on the Trump phenomenon, and many of the biggest events pitted supporters and detractors against each other (Chelsea Handler vs Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro vs. Cenk Uyghur). Cannabis landed on the schedule with the Weed Wars panel, hosted by VICELAND’s Krishna Andavolu and featuring Trump political advisor Roger Stone, Project SAM’s Kevin Sabet, “Daily Show” correspondent Roy Wood Jr., Civilized founder Derek Riedle, Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, and the ACLU’s Kellen Russoniello.

Politicon 2017 lineup (L-R): Roger Stone, Xeni Jardin, Kevin Sabet, Roy Wood Jr. (Getty photo courtesy of Politicon)

Considering the overall chaos of the political moment, most of the panel rejoiced in the bipartisan consensus amongst audience and panel alike on cannabis legalization. As Xeni Jardin put it, “If there’s any place where we can all build coalitions and get the fuck along for a while, let it be weed!”

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Social Justice and Selling Out

Krishna kicked things off with a sort of theme for the panel—“the battle for the soul of weed”—as cannabis transitions from an activist subculture into an emergent industry.

The legalization advocates and the panel’s lone prohibitionist, Kevin Sabet, all claimed the social justice mantle. Sabet evoked nightmare scenarios of a well-moneyed Big Cannabis lobby attempting to seed poor communities of color with stores and cultivation centers, while people of color continue to suffer disproportionate possession arrests in legal markets.

The ACLU’s Kellen Russoniello countered this by noting the social equity components of California’s Proposition 64, as well as the city of Oakland’s mandate to award 50% of licenses to people and neighborhoods negatively affected by the war on drugs. But he acknowledged that the criminal justice advancements in legalization will be incremental rather than sweeping. “This is a fundamental shift in the way the US deals with drugs and race, primarily race,” Russoniello said. “We have yet to figure out what to do with race since before we were a country. This is an important step forward in acknowledging and repairing that bias.”

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MMJ vs. Rec

The second tug-of-war took place around medical vs. adult use. Xeni Jardin, a medical cannabis patient, started off the panel with her conversion from an opponent of the “Botox and buds”-style pot shops to a grateful cancer survivor who credits weed with helping to save her life and reduce her opioid use. “Pot was the least worst drug I put in my body,” she said.

Roger Stone also revealed that he purchased cannabis for his dying father during his battle with cancer. Sabet chose not to dispute their testimonies, but told Xeni that he wouldn’t have minded if Xeni had used meth or heroin for her treatment. Xeni continually rebuked him for this as well as other false equivalencies he made throughout the panel discussion: “You can’t OD on pot. Apples are not oranges, and tobacco is not marijuana.”

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While Sabet threw the most elbows, Stone clearly commanded the strongest presence as both the man with the President’s ear and Krishna’s designated “unlikeliest dude to be down with ganja.” Even Sabet refrained from challenging him on his proposed “Tricky Dick” brand cannabis line. Stone confidently predicted that “Candidate Trump’s” states-rights position on legalization would prevail administration drug warriors like Jeff Sessions.

'I am convinced that the President will do the right thing. Wait and see.'
Roger Stone, Trump adviser

Clearly, Stone is a busy man on this issue: He revealed that he would be serving as a witness in the recent federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, which claims that the Schedule I status of cannabis is unconstitutional. He’s also teaming up with Florida criminal justice attorney John Morgan to petition Trump himself to honor his pledge and de-schedule cannabis once and for all.

Stone’s prediction didn’t win many converts. Most of his fellow panelists were skeptical that Trump’s chaotic administrative style could bring together a disciplined and coherent position on anything, much less cannabis. Stone disagreed, pointing to a Cannabis Caucus-infused House that can easily shoulder cannabis law reform between liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans. This calculus, he admitted, does not exist in the Senate, but he still feels “the votes can be found.” And as far as Trump goes, “I am convinced that the President will do the right thing. Wait and see.”

Not a Defining Issue

To be fair, Sabet reminded the audience that cannabis still occupies a low-priority status among most voters. Even citizens who vote in favor of legalization often fall prey to nervous NIMBYism when it comes time to implement in their own town.

Stone disagreed. “The train has left the station,” he said. The main question now, he added, is what the emerging industry should look like and who’s going to run it. Civilized founder Derek Riedle felt that ultimately cannabis will become “an economic and a global issue,” with Canada and Israel positioned to take the lead in the short run.

But at least, in case you were wondering, there was some fun to be had. Stone revealed that he joined the Libertarian Party in 2012 because he thought Republican nominee Mitt Romney was a turd, and claimed he fired Ohio Gov. John Kasich back in 1976 for selling weed. When Sabet cited a statistic claiming that most people who try cannabis don’t like it, Riedle shot back: “They’re doing it wrong.” And Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. closed the panel with a request: “I wanna come back to Politicon next year and talk about… shrooms.”

Justin Hampton's Bio Image

Justin Hampton

Justin Hampton has written about cannabis since High Times published his first national byline in 1993. He has also contributed to SPIN, the Los Angeles Times, and the LA Weekly. He works as a lifestyle/communications consultant.

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  • Daisy Eloise Applewhite

    So I see there are people in and out of politics who are surprised by Roger Stone’s advocacy for the medical use of marijuana. As he explained, marijuana was the only substance that brought relief to his father who was dying of cancer. Anyone who has witnessed a parent’s suffering would be in favor of anything that eased their parent’s agony. I’m sure that plays a large part in Stone’s advocacy. But, remember, he became a Libertarian several years ago. One core principle of libertarians is individual freedom. The government must remove cannabis off the Schedule 1 category. It should be my right to use marijuana in any form if I use it for medical reasons. I fully support Mr. Stone and the bipartisan coalition he joined for the legalization of marijuana.

    • Franklin

      Roger Stone did a courageous thing in helping his father and telling the story. I’m not surprised as I have many conservative friends who support legalizing marijuana. The partisan differences in polls disappear when we allow for education. Among educated conservatives over half are in support of legal cannabis. Among baseline supporters support is only 40%. That is clearly a problem of ignorance. As the standards for education continue to rise we can expect higher support and more conservatives coming and out admitting they enjoy the plant or at the least want it available for themselves and others when a medical issue arises.

  • Franklin

    Sabet isn’t ever fair. He repeats lies that he knows are lies to do anything to obstruct progress. And just note Saber’s Twitter account. Most of his post are only liked by the SAM account which is managed by him. Why is he relevant? Even among cannabis rejector-denier groups. They don’t want to be associated with Kevin Sabet. Why? Again look at his Twitter account for the last 3 months. He claims all medical marijuana is a sham to legalize all drugs. It’s there you can read it.

    Then in a public forum like this he adjust his facts to fit the level of nonsense being allowed in the discussion. He cheers when Vermont and New Hampshire didn’t pass decriminalization plans this year. Those would have only affected how many people go to jail l. On this panel he know that would make him look as evil as he is so he goes the other way and admits the the plant should not be a high priority.

    President Trump would be the smartest man in America if he decided to take credit for ending marijuana prohibition. There is no single issue that could do more right now and save money at the same time. Again Sabet is wrong. Marijuana is a high priority topic, more so in states that have terrible laws still on the book. Lack of people speaking up openly about has everything to do with not wanting to be shot in the face or put in a cage and lose everything you own. Call me crazy, but it’s fact the more people admit to something when it doesn’t carry a harsh penalty, like being put in a cage.

    No this is not like other social issues. Half of all arrest were for simple possession last year and the year before. There has never been an issue that takes up over 50% of our law enforcement resources up for debate. It’s easy for us out West to talk opening but take a visit back to the East coast. It’s like the 1950’s back there when it comes to cannabis. This is not a joke. People lose their lives from being caught doing exactly what Roger Stone did. He went and bought and S1 substance and delivered it to another person. If he discussed that with anyone then that is felony conspiracy. In a three strikes you’re out state Stone could be facing life in prison for that one act of real bravery on his part. Not that billionaires get arrested for anything, but if he was a middle class man he wouldn’t be telling that story as openly.

    Don’t forget about the South either where marijuana prohibition fuels Jim Crow laws. Keeps private prisons full where they sell the labor to cousin Bubba’s road construction company so he gets to make a higher profit on the government contract. Just look at how dependent the Southern states are on the federal government. Cannabis reform isn’t a high priority for those people? Or could it be they are intimidated to speak out?

    • Gary Craig

      If only I had the resources to make a western move. Alas I’m stuck in Maryland!

      • Alana

        MD passed MMJ laws a few years ago. The slow nature of MD politics, and the Black Caucus is the only thing holding it up from being dispensed currently.

  • lovingc

    Having Sabet there was a wasted space but I see the thinking behind inviting the idiot. Sabet is not really interested in cannabis one way or the other all he is there for is to promote his hate and push his so-called recovery industry which is nothing but a money hole.

  • calvet11

    Sabet- IS A TOOL. All I got, wish I had more time but that say’s it all.

  • Blue

    It’s no wonder the whole legalization movement is such a shithole, with folks like the article writer and the panel unwilling to challenge this cretin on his charge that he was “poisoned with polonium by the Deep State” last January. He should have never been on stage to begin with after helping to propel Jeff Sessions into the AG’s office. I know of many meth-heads who also smoke pot. Big deal. Thanks to Roger, I have to deal with a Jeff Sessions and a Ben Carson, now trying to evict me from my HUD apartment over my life-saving use of cannabis, with spinal disease and bone cancer both. This guy is a certifiable loon and after appearing on stage at this event, he was back on the Alex Jones Shill-A-Minute Certifiable Lunatic show. And he’s wrong about libertarians being the founders of and main proponents of cannabis legalization. Many of us could care less about your legalization. We want it descheduled. Period. I thought libertarians were all about small or no government, the rights of states and the rights of the individual? All I see here is the greedy lining up to profit, and acting like either saints or victims of bad publicity. And us medical patients continue to suffer, after you greedy commercial bastards rode our coattails into legalization, you kicked us all to the curb.