PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Paul Stanford’s eyes flit about a cramped storefront in southeast Portland. He’s surrounded by true believers, the men and women of the pro-cannabis movement who have stood by him and his cause for nearly three decades.
If he were a politician, this would be his hard-core base.
Stanford — his bulky, 6-foot-3 frame uncomfortably tucked into a small folding chair — is fronted by a table full of the accoutrements of the medical marijuana trade.
There’s no fresh bud, but there’s lots of hemp: hemp oil and hemp lotion and even hemp shampoo.
The pro-cannabis rally is the site of the launch of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, Stanford’s 2012 ballot measure intended to legalize, tax and sell marijuana.
The room reeks of pot, the goods in the hands of a few people who likely got their first legal toke after walking out of one of Stanford’s clinics.
Stanford assures them they will be successful in legalizing marijuana in 2012. It won’t be long, he says, before cannabis is sold, taxed and used freely.
“He’s a great man,” said 59-year-old Michael Harris of Portland, dressed in a tattered brown leather jacket, his stringy white hair in an unruly knot. “He’s doing great things.”
Indeed, to some dope enthusiasts, Stanford is something of a savior. It was he who brought the medical marijuana law from theory to practice, the one who went beyond the idea of asking patients’ personal physician for permission to use marijuana and instead, simply brought marijuana-friendly doctors to them.
These are the folks Stanford has inspired in 30 years of marijuana activism.
But he’s angered others, among them hopeful venture capitalists left empty-handed, pro-marijuana political donors who feel cheated and fellow medical-marijuana campaigners who insist Stanford’s motives are impure.
Stanford, a former member of the far-left Youth International Party — the Yippies — started down this road when he drove to a smoke-in on his 18th birthday in Washington, D.C.
By 1980, he was in college in Washington state and running legalization drives there.
He moved to Oregon in the mid-1980s. Here, it’s worth considering how a novice computer science major rose to such a high station among medical marijuana advocates. It began with the boot of a police officer plowing through the lock on his apartment’s front door in 1986.
Stanford, joint in hand, was caught growing pot. He served five months probation, and forged ahead with plans to legalize marijuana in Oregon.
In 1989, Stanford founded a hemp importation business. It was called Tree Free Ecopaper and it was not successful. Stanford lost a court battle when he broke his probation by traveling out of the country, and served a five-month prison sentence in 1991.
Upon his release, he returned to the business, but managed to anger investors, and lose lawsuits from people who accused him of taking money while running up debts he has yet to repay.
Stanford explains it now as a simple problem of paying his employees too much and not managing expenses.
His former investors disagree.
In 1993, Stanford called Rich Okada, a Berkeley grad with some cash to invest. A boat with hemp paper was waiting at a Portland dock, but the shippers refused to let anyone near it without a payment.
“He said, ‘Rich, this is a great opportunity, all we need is some (venture capital) just get to the product off the dock,'” said Okada.
Stanford took the loan and sold the hemp, but Okada never saw a return. A judge ruled Stanford still owes Okada more than $3,500. It’s one of a series of judgments against Stanford, few of which he has repaid.
By 1997, Stanford’s hemp-importation company had gone bust. Creditors, and bankruptcy, were closing in.
A year later, 600,000 Oregon voters decided marijuana had a medicinal purpose and, for Stanford, everything changed.