Just Who the Hell is “Radical” Russ?
One of the entertaining things about being an opinion columnist is getting feedback from people who think I am completely full of shit.
Entertaining, because it’s fascinating the kinds of names I get called and assumptions that are made about my motives. For supporting the marijuana legalization that makes the ballot – always – I have been called a “paid shill”, a “sell-out”, a “hack”, a “corporatist”, an “appeaser”, a “libertarian” (that last one hurts, guys), and those are just the polite ones.
If that’s the case, I must lodge a complaint. I didn’t know I could be paid to shill for ending my own criminality. If I knew I could sell-out my vote to take power away from the police to harass me, I would.
But the plain, simple, non-conspiratorial fact is that I’m just a pot smoker like you who doesn’t want to be discriminated against, fined, arrested, and caged.
Fifteen years ago, I had just moved to Portland, Oregon, from my hometown of Boise, Idaho. I had gotten married and had intended on moving west, getting serious about my IT career, and settling down. I had just spent the previous fifteen years as a barely-aspiring long-haired rock-and-roll musician (yes, I had hair, and it was long and glorious) and was tired of the road and poverty.
But two years of living in Portland introduced me to a world that doesn’t exist in Boise. Everybody was so political and, for once in my life, to the left of me! I didn’t get the nickname “Radical” because I’m some hardcore leftist revolutionary. I got it because where I grew up in the 1980s, believing as I did that gays aren’t abominations, religion isn’t necessary, drugs can be fun, trickle-down economics is bullshit, and women shouldn’t be forced to give birth gets you labeled as way outside the mainstream.
Then I come to Portland with hating gun control, driving an SUV, eating meat, loving football (tackle, not soccer), and rejecting beer. I went from being considered a liberal left-wing “Radical” in Boise to being considered a conservative right-wing “Radical” in Portland… without changing anything but my zip code.
By 2005 I had met Madeline Martinez and joined Oregon NORML. After 37 years, I finally discovered what I was meant to do. Once I was in the movement, everything happened faster and bigger than I could imagine.
In 2006 I entered a national talk radio contest on a lark. I’d never done radio and had never considered it. Despite my lack of experience and belief, five talk radio professionals, including “Big” Ed Schultz, chose me as the winner out of over 500 contestants.
In 2007 I’m on the air, broadcasting in AM radio on Portland’s then-biggest-in-the-nation liberal talk station and on XM Satellite across the continent. I was on the air almost two years having never worked in radio or formally studied politics.
In 2008 through a series of lucky breaks (for me), I am tapped to replace Chris Goldstein as the host of NORML’s Daily Audio Stash podcast. I had gone from a volunteer NORML chapter leadership position to one of the few salaried positions in national drug law reform in just three years with no college degree.
In 2009 I start getting my first writing gigs in the cannabis space. I’m attending national reform conferences and starting to meet the leaders then and the activists who have become the leaders now in our movement.
In 2010 I’m able to use those contacts to help establish the first Marijuana Election Night broadcast, which, to my knowledge, was the first time anyone ever dedicated a live program to covering our vote as a serious news broadcast.
In 2011 I get my first assignments writing for HIGH TIMES. To this day, I don’t believe it. Do you know how many back issues of HIGH TIMES I sifted shitty Idaho weed on back in my long-haired musician days?