[ A woman was treated like a piece of meat at the Altai Brands after-party in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 17, 2016. Photo by Adam Mintz via social media. ]
Calls to boycott Altai Brands began after a disturbing photo was circulated on social media showing a nearly nude woman laying on a table covered in slices of salami and other meats. In addition to being surrounded by slices of cheese, the photo also shows people holding drinks while standing near the woman. The event, hosted by Altai Brands, was a private after-party on November 17 for the fifth annual Marijuana Business Conference and Expo which took place from Novemmber 15-18, 2016 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.
In a post titled "WTF?! And Just When You Thought Women Were Welcome Here" on the website for Her Canna Life, a community of women interested in the cannabis industry, Aliza Sherman writes, "An uproar took place online following #MJBizCon in Vegas this past week. At an after party, Altai Brands apparently went culturally tone deaf when they covered a woman in deli meats and served her up on the appetizer table. Comments ranged from shock to outrage in social media with calls to boycott the male-led company."
Indus Holding, Altai Brands, and Dixie Elixirs
Robert Weakley and Mark Ainsworth are key executives for both Indus Holding Company and Altai Brands. Indus Holding Company, incorporated in 2015 and based in Pacific Grove, California, is an intellectual property and branding venture which represents both Altai Brands and Dixie Elixirs.
Altai Brands, with a state-of-the-art production facility at 20 Quail Run Circle Suite C in Salinas, California, is a line of edible products originated by Indus Holding Company, which "offers a highly creative new line of artisanal edibles thoughtfully crafted for well being and enjoyment."
Dixie Elixirs & Edibles (Dixie), based in Denver, Colorado, has been producing THC-infused products since 2009. Dixie has expanded to over 30 different products, "representing the industry's finest edibles, mints, energy shots, tinctures and topicals."
Indus Holding Company acquired the rights to distribute Dixie's entire suite of products within the state of California. The arrangement represents Dixie's first expansion into a state outside of Colorado.
In addition to being Dixie's California distributor, Altai Brands has their own operations and product line in full effect producing gourmet, low-dose edibles which can be found at over a hundred California dispensaries. Altai's products include a variety of bon-bons, chocolate coins, and sucking candies.
In August 2015, Lesley Balla profiled Robert Weakley in an article for Los Angeles Magazine titled "Meet the Willy Wonka of Weed: Rob Weakley goes from restaurateur to high-end marijuana edibles manufacturer."
The former co-founder of the Coastal Luxury Management Group, which is behind Faith & Flower, Los Angeles Food & Wine, and Cannery Row Brewing Company in Monterey, moved on from building a restaurant empire to jump head first into the weed game. "There are a lot of parallels between the culinary world and the cannabis world," he says. "Having been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, I already know what needed to be done. In the cannabis industry, the rules are still being written. It’s exciting being a part of that conversation."
One of the partners, Gavin Kogan, a well-known cannabis attorney in Monterey County, helps on the legal issues. And a third partner, Mark Ainsworth, a San Francisco-based former Ritz-Carlton pastry chef who was last making commercial baked goods for Whole Foods, is the chocolate man.
On November 23, 2016, Gavin Kogan sent an email dissociating himself from Altai Brands. In the statement Kogan writes, "I have had nothing to do with ALTAI management since December 2015, was not at the party [...] and do not support in anyway that type of conduct in my industry."
Balla explains, "Altai doesn’t grow weed or sell it; instead, they receive oils to use and 'supply' products to dispensaries. They have an in-house publicist, for crying out loud."
Elise McDonough, a 14-year veteran author for High Times, toured Altai's production facility in Salinas and published an article in February 2016 titled, "Altai Poised To Dominate The Legal California Edibles Industry."
McDonough explains the story of how Altai Brands was named after a Siberian princess, while their logo "a circular design of an elk, is a replica of a tattoo discovered on the Ukok princess’ shoulder, a work of great skill and artistry for such an ancient people."
On November 21, 2016, McDonough published a new article in High Times about Altai Brands, "Offensive ‘Meatgate’ Incident Outrages Cannabis Activists."
Still rebounding after fraud allegations made earlier this year, the staff at Altai Brands is no doubt mortified over how the ‘Meatgate’ scandal has continued to unfold, threatening the image of their brand and potentially jeopardizing retail accounts. A winner of multiple HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup awards for their gourmet, low-dose cannabis-infused candies and chocolates, Altai invested millions in a state-of-the-art production facility in Monterey County and soon brokered a lucrative deal to distribute Colorado-based Dixie Elixirs brand in the California marketplace.
Used As A Tray For Salami
People are calling Altai Brands out in blog posts and on social media.
Coral Reefer, a proud pothead from Santa Cruz and prolific media creator now based in Oakland, wrote on the Altai Brands Facebook page, "Your clear lack of respect for women in this industry is disgusting."
Mark Rutherford, a commercial photographer for over 20 years based in San Francisco, also wrote a letter to Altai Brands on their Facebook page:
I assume I’m addressing the correct gender because it’s highly unlikely that any woman would decide that turning another woman into a food serving tray was a good idea.
This is an embarrassment to the entire cannabis industry. And highly offensive to any human with an IQ beyond a lymph node.
It would be unacceptable to do this to any person, male or female. Based on this I would be horrified to even try one of your edibles.
Clearly any organization that devalues female dignity like this cannot be trusted to provide a wholesome product intended for consumption.
We all deserve an apology and you really need to look within and work towards personal growth and maturity.
Leslie La Duke Banionis, a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, expressed, "Shame on you for turning a woman into a meat platter at the expo in Las Vegas; I won't post the image, but I shall share that I've seen it reposted in four different groups, with men and women equally disgusted. #BoycottAltai It's a thing now, and I sincerely hope that you are proactive in changing hearts and minds that are very much set against your brand on this day."
Malcolm Mirage, founder of Mirage Medicinal, a bay area marijuana delivery service, is another among the many people who have voiced their opposition to Altai Brands. In an Instagram post, Mirage writes:
I had to say something about this photo circulating of an Altai Brands event at this week's #mjbizcon in Vegas where a young woman was used as a tray for Salami. I don't want to blast the whole event because this was at an Altai Brands and Dixie Brands soirée specifically. But this shit is grotesque and disgusting. You guys are enabling a moronic sexist mindset to take root in the weed industry by financing marketing fuckery like this.
There is so much free floating sexism in this world, the weed industry should not be adding even more to it. As the brother of @nina_parks who is active in the cannabiz community along with @supernovawomen, I see this behavior right here as a threat to civility in our business. Because if some executive or rep says some sexist shit to my sister or her friends because he just ate meat off a woman's chest and is feeling himself. I will blackout on him on sight. Whoever needs to be fired for this bullshit and held accountable needs to be asap.
#altaibrands #dixieelixirs #weed #marijuana #mjbizdaily #mjbizcon #patriarchy #mmj #cannabis #vegas
Marijuana Business Daily Denounces Objectification of Women
Cassandra Farrington, the CEO and co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily, which hosted MJBizCon, denounced the episode in a posted titled, "Marijuana companies under fire for meat-covered model at party."
"Marijuana Business Daily does not support or condone any of these actions nor was involved with these events in any way," Farrington stated. "We are a woman-owned business, have written numerous articles decrying sexism in the cannabis industry, called out other events that behaved poorly with respect to women ... and have set and enforced clear policies for our events that do not allow for objectification of women or men in exhibitor booths or on the show floor."
Tepid Response from Altai Brands
In response to concerns expressed about the incident, as well as actions already taken to boycott Altai Brands, the company is reposting the same public relations statement over and over again.
Lorna Shannon is the founder of Women of Weed Street, a "sex positive safe space for women of all backgrounds, challenging stigmas while bridging the gaps between grassroots activism and the canna-business industry."
Shannon quickly retorted, "Altai Brands, apologies with carefully crafted PR phrases doesn't cut it guys. Your sensitivity should have been before the fact, not an after thought. This is indicative of more than just a mistake — not just a social faux pas, but an actual direct line to the very real threat that women face in their workplace and the rest of the world, every day. Your thoughtless, careless decisions will not go without repercussions, that much the women of this industry can assure you."
Here's the undated statement from Altai Brands:
Thank you so much for taking the time to raise your concerns with us, we appreciate it. Please see the statement below that we have provided on behalf of the recent posts:
Altai Brands sincerely regrets a poor decision we made during a private event in Las Vegas by having a professional model act as a physical server for charcuterie. It did not demonstrate the respect that we have for all women.
We pride ourselves on representing California cannabis culture at its finest and we are committed to maintaining a community that recognizes and values the inherent dignity of every person, by fostering sensitivity, understanding and mutual respect of our customers, employees and partners.
The team at Altai is dedicated to making sure that all future events meet our high standards that reflect the core values we live each and every day.
Again, we would like to apologize to the community and hope to demonstrate our firm dedication to respectful treatment of all to assure everyone this will never happen again.
Altai Brands Team
Boycott Altai Brands
For many people, the response from Altai Brands has fallen flat and failed to dissuade them from advocating for a boycott.
Replies to Altai Brands have included:
Sri Kavuru asks, "Is this the best public response you guys can do? A shitty Instagram comment? Not even a Facebook post? Did Donald Trump write this?"
Kayla Arielle writes:
I don't know if the action or the 'apology' was more of a disgusting and pathetic attempt at public relations ... What THE fuck. I dug your brand beforehand. We'll bring you to light and leave you in the shadows. Hope the lovely lady is presented an opportunity befitting her skills and talents. She's more than a meat tray Altai.
My favorite parts: 1) "private event" ... only in public should this be an issue ... 2) "professional model" ... I'm sure she loves being covered in meats then ... 3) "act as a physical server" ... so now the 'professional model' has become an actress specializing in pretending to be what ... A waitress-type of 'server' or an inanimate object type of 'server'? 4) Plus of course, "warm regards". Keep it light, am I right? I think you've officially gotten the memo — your audience and industry are far more intelligent and have much higher standards of integrity than you expected. Please consider bringing an "evolved" woman onto your team as a main leader. It would help you in many ways.
Anger and calls for boycott have also been directed at Dixie Brands for sponsoring the after-party.
Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer of Dixie Brands, published a statement attempting to distance himself and Dixie Brands from involvement in the after-party.
I am the CMO at Dixie. I wanted to let all on this thread know that not only did we not sponsor that event but that we totally agree with you. I hadn't been able to reach out to Altai until this afternoon but I now have (I am currently in Amarillo, Texas having left for our annual family road trip upon returning from Vegas). Truly ... Altai kindly included us as a "sponsor" because they are our distributor. But we paid no money, had no presence beyond a logo and had no knowledge of or input into the event.
As a father of three which includes an eight-year-old girl, a husband of one for 20 years and someone who is very conscious of how women are objectified in our society and/or treated in our world ... the Dixie brand starts and ends with me. I assure you we had nothing to do with it. And in fact ... if you were there you would have found many brands with full displays and engagement. But not Dixie. At the end of the day, our logo was there and as such I have to take full responsibility. But for all of you who are upset, and even those who aren't, please know that we are addressing it and that we did not condone it. If we share any friends in common, please ask them if this is something I would have approved of for Dixie, and I am willing to guarantee they will tell you no. Please provide Dixie with some benefit of the doubt in this situation. Thank you."
Elise McDonough also obtained and published the following statement by Robert Weakley, CEO of Altai Brands, in the article, "Offensive ‘Meatgate’ Incident Outrages Cannabis Activists."
"This experience has been humbling and eye opening and I personally take full responsibility and apologize to all attendees, customers, the cannabis community, and the females in my life. I could try to explain what we were thinking but that would be pointless as there is no excuse – it was a bad choice and it was offensive. If I can see anything positive coming out of this situation it is that it has opened up an important dialogue. Our focus right now is on the enormity of having offended people whom we deeply respect and making whatever amends we can. I have heard your voice and it has made a personal impact on me. I will continue to listen and am actively engaged in seeking ways to increase awareness and support of women’s rights and concerns."
— Robert Weakley, CEO of Altai Brands
Lorna Shannon, founder of Women of Weed Street, told me she feels their apology falls short of taking accountability for how bad they messed up, and that only time will tell if they are going to do better or if this apology is just sweeping it under the rug. Shannon states:
I was not in Vegas for the MJBiz conference, but most of my friends were. When I saw the image of the meat clad model on multiple social media outlets and learned of its context from other women in the industry who were very upset by it, I was instantly triggered from what feels like a lifetime of sexual abuse, assault, objectification and harassment, simply for being a woman. I was appalled. Sunday night I received a phone call from a close friend who attended the Altai party and had returned to Colorado shaken and disturbed by her experience which seemed to normalize the overt exploitation of women.
I decided to organize a live streamed Google Hangout with the powerhouse women I know in the industry and people who can shed a light and share their experiences of sexism and misogyny in and outside of the Cannabis realm.
Women of Weed Street is a coalition that was built on the need for safe space for women to organize without being subjected to sexual harassment and objectification at our own political meetings. This situation strikes right to the core of the work I engage in as an activist. Right now my friends and I are being harassed by men who don't understand why this is a problem. I feel that what happened in Vegas mirrors the presidential election in a lot of ways. Tonight's discussion is going to be highly educational as to why this was a problem and why Altai's apology doesn't even come close to cutting it.