Welcome the Red State Refugees!
Greetings, readers of this fine newspaper; I am “Radical” Russ Belville, your new featured columnist in the Oregon Cannabis Connection. It’s a privilege and an honor to share this experience of marijuana legalization in Oregon with you.
For my inaugural column I considered how I would explain my love of Oregon and its love of weed to you. I quickly realized that many of you reading have a far greater claim to your affection for this state, as I am a transplant from Idaho. I moved from my home town of Boise with my wife in 2003 because we discovered we could – there are no fences, guards, gates, walls, moats, or sharks with friggin’ lasers on their heads patrolling the Snake River.
That’s one of the beauties of the United States of America; if you don’t like the politics where you live, you can move to somewhere more to your tastes. As a gay-friendly pot-smoking liberal atheist, Idaho was certainly not reflective of my beliefs. Idaho is one of three states where merely being high is a misdemeanor, without any possession at all. I once interviewed a young lady who spent two weeks in an Idaho jail for just being in a friend’s home where a brand-new, never-used bong was found by police. The Idaho Senate recently voted that marijuana shall always be illegal for any purpose, forever, even though marijuana’s already illegal for any purpose.
So move we did, and as we headed west, we discovered we were part of a growing phenomenon of red state refugees coming to Oregon on an undergreen railroad. Our move was prompted by my wife’s need for medical marijuana and my desire to avoid a marijuana arrest. Soon, we were helping others set up in the Portland area – my brother, my cousin, my best friend from Idaho and online pals from Pennsylvania, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. I’m most proud about helping those friends whose desperate medical conditions – multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, psoriatic arthritis – benefit so much from using marijuana as medicine and watching their lives literally improve before my eyes.
I also discovered a home in Oregon marijuana activism, first with Oregon NORML. There I met more people who were immigrants to this state from California, Idaho, and Alabama. Eventually, Anthony Johnson arrived from Missouri and brought people he knew from the Midwest. I watched with pride as another red state refugee helped craft the evolution of medical marijuana dispensaries here and was not at all surprised to see Anthony lead the historic battle to legalize adult personal use in Oregon.
Most of all, I was pleased to find the welcoming attitudes of the native Oregonians toward all of us red state refugees who fled for the greener pastures our west. They helped us all assimilate to Keeping Portland Weird and Keeping Oregon Green. Without all the Oregon activists and iconoclasts like Jack Herer and Paul Stanford keeping alive the flickers of freedom that first were lit with Oregon’s historic decriminalization of marijuana in 1973, there would not have been the fertile ground for legalizing medical use twenty-five years later and personal use sixteen years after that.
My first dozen years in Portland have been amazing. As my work with 420RADIO takes me all across the country, I’m always proud to tell audiences what an amazing state we live in and I’m always excited to see Mt. Hood out the airplane window as I’m returning home. Over the next dozen years, let’s enjoy the freedom we’ve carved out here and make Oregon the world’s destination for enjoying marijuana freedom.