You may have heard of Paul Stanford in the news lately. He was hit by the IRS for $2.7 million in tax debt and penalties, a figure he disputes as “only around two million”. He was accused by his signature gatherers of stiffing them on pay, which he readily admits to. He even acknowledges owing them “a few thousand dollars” and that “the vast majority” of the money donated to the campaign comes from his THCF. “If I had the money, I’d donate more,” he says.
Yet there seems to be enough money for THCF to sponsor the stage, electricity, security, sanitation, transportation, permits, booths and other expenses necessary to host a two-day smoke-in at the outer edge of civilization. To be fair, there are other sponsors of Hempstalk. The fees vendors pay also help defray expenses. But since its founding in 2005, Hempstalk to my knowledge has never made a profit or broke even. (I’ll be happy to eat crow if someone can prove otherwise.)
While the other hempfests are promoters of legalization, none of them are so intertwined with the campaign for legalization as Portland Hempstalk is with Oregon’s Measure 80. Without THCF, there would be no Hempstalk and there would be no Measure 80. New Approach Washington sponsored Seattle Hempfest, but they obviously have the fundraising to afford sponsorship, as well as a well-trafficked public venue and a duty to help inform the potential voters who were being counseled to vote against legalization by members of the Hempfest staff themselves. And New Approach Washington’s banner at Seattle Hempfest was dwarfed by the Prime Sponsor banner of… wait for it… THCF.
Yes, that’s right, as petition signature gatherers have to complain to the media to get paid, as the campaign to legalize marijuana in Oregon is running a deficit, and while there is no advertising on Oregon airwaves, Paul Stanford was spending money (I believe a Hempfest Prime Sponsorship costs $50,000) on a Hempfest in another state that was begrudgingly officially neutral on marijuana legalization on the ballot.
But hempfests are not the only major drain on THCF’s ability to mount a professional legalization campaign. Last summer, THCF was the prime sponsor of what was to be a fundraiser for Measure 80, the Hempstead World Music Festival. This three day, three city event, was booked for Eugene, Redmond, and Portland, Oregon on July 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, respectively. It was a spectacular failure at each stop, with tiny audiences on hand to hear reggae legend Toots & the Maytals, activist poet Jon Trudell & Bad Dog, and some other local artists.
In Portland, the concert was held at an amphitheater high up in the forests of Washington Park on the 4th of July, while simultaneously the enormously popular four-day Waterfront Blues Festival was happening downtown, for free if one donated cans of food for the food bank, where one could see over 120 acts on four stages that included Grammy Winners Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams, and Robert Cray, and James Brown’s saxophonist, funk legend Maceo Parker. Young student activists from seven college campuses in Oregon were so dismayed at the reported $200,000 of potential campaign money lost on this concert they admonished Stanford publicly while voting unanimously to back a competing initiative, not in the belief it had any better chances of qualifying and passing (it did not qualify for the ballot), but in the belief that at least it was being run by more responsible campaigners.
When Stanford was confronted by the activists on the foolishness of counter-programming against Waterfront Blues Fest, he apologized and said that if had known it was going to be such a bust, he wouldn’t have done it. Yet Stanford and THCF sponsored the exact same three city, three day fundraising concert idea the year before. It was headlined by Jon Trudell & Bad Dog, it overcharged for tickets, and it was attended by at best two-dozen people. I was performing (playing bass) with Tim Pate at one of the gigs and it was sad to see so many empty chairs, knowing that the money renting the hall and hiring the band could have been spent on campaigning for a medical marijuana dispensary measure that was on the ballot at the time.
Supporters of Hempstalk have already criticized me for my viewpoint on this. “I guess having Libertarian VP Candidate Judge Jim Gray and Green Party Presidential Candidate Dr. Jill Stein speaking at Hempstalk was a waste of time, huh?” was one response I got to my tweets on the issue (I paraphrased the 140 characters so it would make sense.) “What’s wrong with celebrating our freedom and rewarding our volunteers?” was another.
I’m happy that the third-party candidates came to speak to people who will already vote for legalization. But understand that their appearance there was to pull votes for their candidacies in a state that is currently polling 50% Obama / 42% Romney. Neither is going to win the presidency and help legalize marijuana in Oregon. The only effect they could possibly have on the election is helping to inaugurate a President Romney who will “fight medical marijuana tooth and nail”, much less legalize marijuana for healthy people in Oregon. And I’d prefer to celebrate my freedom on November 7th after legalization has passed in Oregon, thanks.
We should all be thrilled here in Oregon that legalization is on the ballot, but with no real campaign to speak of, how disappointing will it be when it loses badly at the ballot box? It already has a tough row to hoe in being the only legalization of the three states that proposes no limit whatsoever on personal possession and cultivation – you could literally plant your entire back yard in pot and store bales of it in your garage! Legalization in Oregon, even when asked in the general “should it be legal” sense, doesn’t pass, with the July PPP poll showing 43% support, 46% opposition, 11% undecided. Nobody yet knows the poll on “should it be legal to have personal cultivation and possession without limits” because there’s no campaign money to fund it, but I’m guessing it would poll significantly worse.
In 2010, activists in Oregon ran Measure 74, an initiative to create a regulated supply system for the state’s medical marijuana patients. It contained strict limits on cultivation and possession for producers and suppliers who would have been licensed by the state. That measure failed at the ballot box with just 44% of the vote, close to that same 43% who support general legalization now. I fear that without any campaign to speak of and the easy attacks opponents have in “limitless personal use” and “teach our kids how great pot is”, it will poll worse than the dispensary measure and maybe not even break 40%.
The situation has become so dire that some activists may organize fundraising to promote Measure 80 with an organization separate from the official Measure 80 campaign. I have heard from several activists that there are some large-money donors who want desperately to support legalization in Oregon, but will not contribute one dime to anything Paul Stanford touches. His history of financial mismanagement is well-documented by Oregon media and they don’t want their names or companies anywhere near that.
Oregonians deserve a better shot at legalization and leadership more concerned with actually winning than throwing parties and wasting money. Unfortunately, if Measure 80 goes down in an embarrassing defeat, Stanford & THCF won’t back away, recognize deficiencies and work to correct them, and step aside to support other leaders with perhaps less damaging baggage and better-polling legalization language. Stanford’s a man on a mission, a true believer who was “taken down by the man” and has now sworn the he will be the one who legalizes marijuana in Oregon — that’ll show ‘em! And so long as there is a burgeoning medical marijuana community that both reveres and enriches him, he’ll be able to keep plugging away at the same “OCTA” he’s been pushing since the 1980′s.