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Cookies Dispensary Owner Alicia Deals Fights to Free Her Father Robert Deals, Serving 18-Year Sentence For Cannabis

By Stephen Post

03 Jan, 2024

Learn more and take action to help #FREEROBERTDEALS here. Alicia Deals is a trailblazer in Arizona’s cannabis industry and a driving force behind the movement for business success and social justice reform. As a partner with Berner in Arizona’s first Cookies dispensary, Alicia embodies the entrepreneurial spirit reshaping the cannabis landscape. However, her journey is not solely defined by business accomplishments; it intertwines with a profound personal mission. Alicia stands at the forefront of advocacy, collaborating with Berner and Last Prisoner Project (LPP) in a relentless pursuit: the release of her father, incarcerated due to outdated cannabis-related laws. Her dedication extends beyond entrepreneurship; it embodies a strong belief in correcting injustices and championing reform within an industry she passionately serves. In this conversation, we discuss Alicia’s dynamic role as an entrepreneur, advocate, and catalyst for change. Her partnership with Berner and LPP underscores her commitment to the larger societal impact of cannabis laws, striving to right the wrongs and pave a path toward justice. Alicia shares her experiences, motivations, and the compelling intersections between entrepreneurship, advocacy, and family-driven activism in the area of cannabis reform. Thank you, Alicia, for taking the time to speak with us and sharing your fascinating journey. Your advocacy for cannabis justice reform has been such an inspiration. Could you introduce yourself and share the personal story behind your passion to enact change within the cannabis justice space? My name is Alicia Deals. I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. I’m a cannabis entrepreneur and came into the industry in 2022 as a social equity license holder and winner. How has your experience been since entering the legal cannabis space as the first Black woman to own an Arizona dispensary? Like all things in life, it has its positive points, its setbacks, and drawbacks, but it has been a wonderful journey. With the success of your Cookies location, the legal cannabis industry has been good to you and has been a blessing to you in so many ways. For anyone on the outside looking in, your story sounds like a dream. With such a wonderful journey, lets get into why we are speaking today. As it has been a blessing, it also has been my family’s biggest burden. My father, Robert Deals, was given 18 years in prison for a cannabis charge. He’s in the 12th year of that prison sentence. I have been advocating for him since day one through the grace of a turn of events in life, I’ve been using my growing voice to continue to advocate for him on a bigger platform. Cannabis, as I said, has been a burden and a blessing, and I’m duly set with a motive and intention to bridge the gap between those who have suffered and those who have benefited based on cannabis. Can you tell us just a little bit about what happened with your dad? He was here in Arizona in 2011, roughly a year or so before legalization came out, and it seemed to be a heavy push to incarcerate as many people as possible behind the plant, so he was “wrong place, wrong time”. Someone was trying to buy cannabis; someone turned out to be the police. So the police show up, and they charge him, the man sitting on the couch, with everything they charged the owner of the home with. He filed for malicious prosecution, and it snowballed. It got real-real, real quick, and it put us in the biggest battle of our lives with numerous attorneys. None of the charges were pled down. He had many mitigating factors. He’s a tenure Air Force veteran, a husband of over 30 years, a father, a grandfather, a community advocate, and a leader in many ways, and they showed no grace or remorse in any way, shape, or form. They gave him multiple enhancements. Essentially, he tried to plead out. They gave him flat time. No back time. So, as it stands, he’s done 12 years, but only 10 of those years count. They did not accredit him a single day in 22 months in the county. He fought the case for almost two years from the county, and they did not accredit him a single day. Many of the factors, even when I say them back, are just so unbelievable, so harsh. It’s a complete injustice, but he never stopped fighting. I mean, to get that amount of time is devastating, and a lot of people give up. But through the grace of God, he never stopped fighting. We have made it back in court with some newly discovered evidence. He filed a post-conviction relief petition; we’re waiting on the State’s response. So, by the grace of God, we do believe this 12-round, heavyweight fight will end here. We are heavyweight champions, 12 rounds! So we’re fighting, and I’m so grateful. Something I think a lot of people get wrong is about who is in prison, why they’re in prison, and what type of people go to prison. Even though you were still a very young woman when your dad was incarcerated, you were about 22, you were fortunate to have been able to spend your childhood with him. Can you share a little bit about Robert Deals as a man and as a father? That is a very unfair stigmatization. We shouldn’t say that everyone in jail is a bad person and that they belong there, and it’s not to say everyone is innocent, but there are a lot of people doing a lot more time than they should do, especially based on cannabis. Robert Deals is a great man. He’s been a wonderful father to me. He’s been there for me from day one. I have one younger sister. We were the center of his life. He’s always been a protector and a provider. He had some issues when my grandmother died. It just left him in a different place, but he continued to want to provide in any way that he could. I think that’s what led to him being around certain people he should not have been, but still, they were buying cannabis. It doesn’t justify him being there or what they were doing, but it was just cannabis. Robert Joseph is a wonderful man. He’s also a minister. He’s been a licensed minister for over 20 years. He does Bible studies and youth mentoring while serving his time. He just recently sent me all of his certificates. We were preparing his clemency package, and it was just amazing to see all that he has achieved; he has about two hundred certificates. He’s a good man with a good heart who would help anyone and deserves to be home. You have three children, 10, 13, and 15. Have they been able to form a proper bond with their Grandfather with him being incarcerated for most, if not all, of their lives? My son has never seen his Grandfather outside of a visitation room or an orange jumpsuit. My daughters were much too young to even recall. That’s another sad part of it all: not having those memories. When people were asking me for pictures of my father, and of me with him, we don’t have any pictures in the last decade. Arizona DOC does not have picture day, or when you go for a visit, we can’t take pictures, so we literally have no pictures of him over the last decade. My children don’t know him outside of a prison visitation room. People need to realize that’s no way to serve society. I know some people don’t agree with bringing children to prison visitations, but that is just another hard choice I had to make. I heard and saw an ad that said, “When you go to prison, everyone you love goes to prison.” and it is literally as such, and that’s how we’ve been living over the last decade. That is such a great point. I try to stress often to people that it’s not just the person incarcerated behind bars. The holidays are difficult for everyone. Just because you’re home, it’s still not the same because your loved one is incarcerated. When you look at the impact that your father, being incarcerated for all these years, has had on you, him, your family, your kids, what would you want people to know is the most harmful part about that? It’s a definite ripple effect. As you say, it affects us all, and in different ways, and from the head down. The most difficult part about it is the injustice of it all. Not everyone is innocent, he’s not completely innocent, but the crime doesn’t fit the time. It just does not fit. And in his case, where everyone else that was in the house is home…they’ve been home! All of his co-defendants have been home for 5+ years, and he’s still there. It’s that part when you know it’s just not right, and it’s time that you can never get back. You don’t get back those holidays. You don’t get back those anniversaries. It’s the time, and we know our time on this earth is the most valuable thing, it truly is. People get up every day, trading 8 hours a day for whatever menial amount of money. It’s time that matters, and we can never get it back. Now that you are in the cannabis space, what does your dad think about it? It’s more than irony, right? It is the most divine opportunity. How it came together for us is just an undeniable factor that we are here to bring change and awareness for all in this situation or in similar situations. When we were awarded the license, my dad was in the 11th year of his prison sentence, they chose us as Number 11. We founded Life Changers on 11/11/21, so those will be my forever lottery numbers. This is a divine opportunity that we will bring to the forefront. I’ve come into the industry, and I just continue to be amazed. Not only was I the first woman of color to open a dispensary in Arizona, but the first to bring the large Cookies brand to Arizona. I didn’t know at the time that the founder of Cookies, Berner, had a miraculous story of his own with the Number 1111 that tied to his mother. Everything in life runs full circle, and when things like that align and match, it just gives me the strength and the courage to continue going. I knew I was on the right path, doing the right thing, and it’s only going to get better. He’s gonna come home, and we’re gonna help many, many others come home as well. As a successful person in the cannabis space, who is still being negatively impacted by cannabis criminalization, what does cannabis reform look like to you? What would you see as the first step to righting the wrongs done by cannabis prohibition? It’s ironic that we are talking about a plant, but my answer is to get to the root of the issue. The demonization and criminalization of the plant in the first place, this is the issue. We have to start by decriminalizing the plant as a whole. There are still states where it’s completely illegal, which is completely absurd. We’re on the right track, and we’re getting there, but it needs to move much faster and go straight to the root of the problem. Cannabis has been a Schedule One drug for far too long. It’s absurd when half of the country is operating delivery services. Obviously, immediate release for those who are still incarcerated. As you said, your eyes have been opened going through this journey, it opened my eyes to how many people are truly suffering, and as you know, there are people with even worse stories than ours. Get to the root of it. Decriminalize, Decarcerate, and then start expunging records. Help those that are incarcerated and those that have obtained records from the plant and move forward with a true and positive approach to the plant. This is truly a medicinal plant, and the criminalization and demonization of it came from the supposed war on drugs. I feel a lot of it is rooted in targeting communities of color. Many of these extreme sentences, I feel are based on color. Someone can have 10 pounds and get probation, but I could be sitting on the couch when they were supposed to come with it, and you give me 18 years. It’s the absurdity and hypocrisy of it all. The national average for manslaughter is only 10 years. Let’s be fair across the board, and let’s just be real and transparent about it. Cannabis has caused harm to no one. Right now, it may be a crime to have a joint in your pocket in a particular state, but who and what in the world are you harming? No one and nothing. It’s crime equals capital. If they can demonize the plant and demonize you, the prison is a new plantation. The change must come from the top down. Decriminalization is the very, very first step, and it has to be done. So what action do you want to see people take in terms of supporting your father in his release efforts? What can those who read your words and hear your story do to make their voices heard, to let those in power know that we don’t want Robert Deals in jail for cannabis or anyone else for that matter? We have a petition. We also have a call to action campaign through you, Last Prisoner Project: #FREE ROBERT DEALS . We’re calling for clemency. People can send a letter directly to the Governor’s office by going to the LPP website Take Action page. And just saying his name. We have initiated Freedom Fridays. Unfortunately, especially as people of color, many of us know someone who is in jail, who is going to jail, who may have just come home from jail…support them. The littlest things matter, like you said, the holidays can be so depressing. Just a letter, even from someone you don’t know, can help. That’s why the LPP Holiday Letter-Writing drive is so important. It will take all of us caring about those incarcerated. If you know someone incarcerated, saying their name on Freedom Fridays is a push for change. We’re also initiating Life Changers Law Firm, which will assist in the fight. First and foremost, we have to mount a strong defense to stop our people from going to prison in the unfortunate event. If they do end up there, support them and give them a bridge when they come home and it will bring true change. You are surely going to be on the right side of things when it is said and done. Your father, as well as the other tens of thousands of people incarcerated for cannabis, are blessed to have someone like yourself, Berner, and other people in the industry who care and are willing to continue to speak out until change happens. What would you like to impress upon our readers as the most important takeaway from this conversation? Not having your dad around for some of the most important times in your life, like the birth of your children, and the opening of your store, are milestone events that he unfortunately had to miss, and those are the things that people really need to understand this is a negative ripple effect on our communities and this country as a whole. Veterans Day was particularly hard this year. Too many veterans are punished for cannabis. No one who has served this country should be sitting in prison for cannabis. Does that make you feel like, “No, those in power don’t care about veterans”? Very much so. Who Robert Deals was as a man was never even considered, or spoken of. The judge didn’t even read his provided character letters at sentencing. My father even asked “Well, my God, judge, did you even read my character letters?” to which his reply was “Oh, no.” before quickly thumbing through them. There was no care, no concern, no sympathy of any kind, no respect in any regard. Yes, he’s a 10+ year Air Force veteran from Illinois. That’s how we even came to the valley. He was stationed in Arizona, and my parents had me and my sister. He served his country, his community, and his family, he deserves to be home. As thrilled as I am to see individuals walk out of those gates, one person at a time is not enough. Of course, when your father comes home, it will feel great, but it’s a drop in this big bucket, and that’s why mass releases are crucial. It’s unexplainable. It doesn’t add up in any reference. It can’t be justified on any day, and there’s no way we should have to keep fighting this battle, but I believe we’re coming to an end. One last question from one Daddy’s Girl to another… Do you believe your dad is proud of you? Yes, yes he is. Opening Cookies was not only a win, but a vindication. It was a way to send my dad the message that ‘God had not forgotten us. God’s not mad about cannabis, Dad, you don’t deserve this. This is wrong, and we’re going to fix it and help so many others in the process”. You have to take some bitter with the sweet. My dad always says “We haven’t just survived this…We’ve thrived in this!” He’s elated about it all, and I know it gives him hope in and of itself, that he’s coming home and knowing he’s not a bad person, and he didn’t deserve this. Our love as a family has grown so much stronger. When you don’t have anybody but each other, those who really love you, are going to prison with you. Some had forgotten us, had mocked us, but now stand in awe.

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