‘Permit Patty’ Brings Renewed Focus to Racial Tensions in Cannabis Industry

Treatwell Health CEO Alison Ettel resigned after a video of her went viral this weekend.

Much like good deeds, it appears that no good meme goes unpunished either.

On Saturday morning, Twitter user @_ethiopiangold shared a video of a woman appearing to call the police on an 8-year-old girl selling bottles of water near AT&T Park. Internet sleuths quickly determined the woman was in fact Alison Ettel, CEO of Treatwell Health — a cannabis company that offers products for both people and animals.

Beyond the seeming absurdity of an adult calling the police to inform them that a child was selling water without a permit, many also noted that Ettel’s actions were yet another recent example of a white person reporting an African-American to the authorities over a pathetically minor violation. Inspired by other viral incidents that occurred at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April and an Oakland barbeque in May, Twitter users wasted no time in demanding a boycott of Ettel’s business, while also glossing her with the hashtag #PermitPatty.

Several local Bay Area dispensaries appear to have heard the message loud and clear.

In an email sent on June 23 — the day the incident occurred — SPARC dispensaries informed their customers that “effective immediately, we have ceased our relationship with Treatwell and will no longer sell their products.” SPARC CEO Erich Pearson elaborated on his company’s position in an email to SF Weekly.

“SPARC is driven by a set of core values that help our staff and customers feel good about the selection of products we offer,” Pearson says. “We encourage diversity, we are committed to treating people with respect, and we aim to be good neighbors. In this case, we felt a continued relationship with TreatWell fell short of our own values and those of the community we serve.”

SPARC wasn’t alone in taking action. Magnolia Oakland issued a statement on their Instagram on Sunday stating they too would no longer work with Treatwell. In a clever twist, they are also soliciting suggestions of non-profits to serve as the recipients of any proceeds they make from sales of their remaining Treatwell inventory.

“We would love to donate to an organization that provides opportunities to young women of color interested in becoming entrepreneurs,” they noted.

San Francisco’s Barbary Coast has also announced an end to their partnership with Treatwell.

“Treatwell products are no longer carried at Barbary Coast and were pulled from our shelves Saturday morning,” Executive Director Jesse Henry tells SF Weekly. “As a shop [whose] owners were born and raised in San Francisco and still live here with our families, Barbary Coast takes pride in supporting our city’s diverse community.”

Business dealings aside, Ettel vehemently denies any racial component to her actions.

In a detailed statement provided to SF Weekly, Ettel notes that she was working next to where the girl in question was peddling her wares. She was “…shouting, ‘two dollars — get your cold water’ next to the ballpark from around 1 p.m. till the game started around 7:15,” Ettel said. According to her statement, Ettel asked her building’s security guard to request they“keep the noise down” but the guard was unable to help.

“I went down,” Ettel continues, “and said, ‘You are shouting very loudly and I cannot work! Can you move around the corner?’ The lady with the kid said, ‘We are not moving’ with profanities laced throughout her speech. She told me to ‘go ahead, call the police.’ It escalated from there. I never spoke to the little girl. My comments were to the woman. I said I believed you needed a permit to vend there and you shouldn’t be allowed to do this without one. That’s when the taping started — after I walked away.”

Ettel further notes that any idea that her motives were race-related is entirely false.

“I never made any racist comments,” she says. “I’m amazed at this. I’m not a political person. I was talking to a woman who was white. And I did not know about the situation in Oakland last month. I have never done anything to warrant anyone ever accusing me of any kind of racism. People who know me are pouring out their support saying the racism accusation is ludicrous. I’m a people pleaser. Period.”

Ettel concluded her statement by noting that since the video in question went viral, she has received death threats and that multiple individuals have attempted to create fake Facebook profiles in her name. On Tuesday, Treatwell announced that Ettel had resigned from the company.

An official statement released by Treatwell notes, “It is Ms. Ettel’s belief that Treatwell, its employees, and patients should not have to suffer because of a situation that occurred in an escalated moment. And she regrets her part and is remorseful.”

The nature of the cannabis industry is itself fraught with racial tensions, chiefly concerning the financial gain the legalized market has afforded a largely white and affluent demographic after decades of targeted minority prosecution and incarceration. Thus, it’s not surprising to see the outrage that has stemmed from this episode.

However, as bad as the optics of the video may look, it is also fair to ask ourselves if, without the benefit of verified context, this clip alone is sufficient cause to end someone’s livelihood. By all appearances, Ettel will be dealing with the results of her actions for many months to come. Perhaps that’s for the best, but we would all do well to think twice before rushing to adopt the court of hashtags as a definitive form of justice.

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly.
feedback@sfweekly.com | @zackruskin

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