May 28, 2024


Known affectionately as a "one-eyed fool" Jack Rio is an experienced player in Oregon politics.

Warm Springs, Cold Shoulder

Marijuana Leaf snow ice
On December 17th, members young and old of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs reservation voted overwhelmingly to proceed with a new commercial venture in recreational cannabis. Nearly 9 out of 10 tribal members said yes. But, in what might be described fairly as a travesty, while the tribe’s business office says yes, tribal government will still demand its members just say no.


Turns out that while the tribal commercial arm will build a 30,000 square foot indoor farm and sell tribal cannabis at stores around Oregon, pot will remain illegal to possess and consume on tribal property, for tribal members and visitors alike. In what seems like a perfect example of the kind of nearsighted policy-making that thinkers like Dr. Michelle Alexander have warned about, it appears that the Warm Springs Tribe, cynically or out of misguided intention, is screwing over the people who were most harmed by prohibition.

Now, it can never be over-repeated that Native American tribes have experienced a holocaust in this country, one without end. They have been so fucked over by the states and the feds alike for so long that any opportunity to rebuild should be celebrated, especially one as promising as cannabis. Certainly if casinos provided a lifeline at great social costs, cannabis offers a more positive and sustainable path to prosperity. And yes, with unemployment on the Warm Springs reservation ranging anywhere from nearly 20% according to the state of Oregon + 70% according to tribal estimatesa booming pot biz could have a wonderful impact on tribal unemployment and that is incredibly important in addressing all sorts of ills.

That said, what the leaders of the Confederated tribes have done is find a truly ironic way to punish their own members while also denying their tribe the opportunities to leverage cannabis to tackle the biggest challenges facing their community. It is well known that levels of alcohol abuse and addiction are higher in Native communities, possibly double the national average. And alcohol fuels domestic violence and crime on tribal lands, driving up trauma and PTSD rates and exhausting tribal law enforcement resources. So maybe the tribe’s leaders would want to know about emerging science showing how cannabis therapy is being used to treat alcoholism. Ditto PTSD. Etc.

It would be interesting to know how many tribal members really understood the specifics of the deal they were voting for. How many members knew that prohibition would remain in place even as the tribe moved ahead commercially? How much public involvement and outreach education happened in the lead up to the vote? (When I did a search on the Warm Springs website for either the word cannabis or the word marijuana, not a single result came out anywhere on the site.)

No one need envy the challenges of running a tribe. It sounds hellish. No doubt the Tribe’s elders and advisors carved out a Faustian bargain with investors, feds, and others, going long on big promises of revenue by cashing in the stubbornly fading loyalties to a failed drug war. My only hope is that wiser hearts and heads prevail before it is too late to change course.

Oregon’s Opportunity to Lead on Cannabis Policy


A day after the Oregon business plan summit ended, The Oregonian newspaper ran an editorial about Governor Kate Brown’s failure to lead.  It was a harsh rebuke of Governor Brown. No doubt being governor is hard.  But when it comes to cannabis in Oregon, failure to lead sums it up. The Oregonian followed up their rebuke of Brown with another editorial about the need to get our cannabis policy right and unfortunately our government isn’t doing enough to secure Oregon’s place in the market.

Who is the state’s cannabis czar? Who is advising the governor on the opportunity that cannabis and hemp present?  Who is bringing a level-headed evidence based approach to medical cannabis?  Exactly.

Oregon has been a policy innovator for generations. Our land use laws. Our public lands. Our voter laws. Our free speech laws. Our cannabis laws can be the same.

Oregon can be the green gold standard bearer for the world. But, it won’t happen, it will not happen, if the leaders of this state refuse to seize the day. So far, it’s been more seizures than seizing. But change is possible.

It begins with a shift in tone of voice. No more defensiveness. No more bigotry of low expectations. No more being grateful for crumbs. No more zoning like strip clubs, entering through the side door (or even worse.)

The cannabis community in Oregon needs to come together and demand leadership from our governor, our legislators, and our business leaders.

Let’s start here and now:

  1. Cannabis is a plant. It is non is remarkably versatile as a medicine. It is not in the same category as other drugs we regulate far less like sugar, or caffeine or fat or salt or alcohol or tobacco what prescription pills. We know these things. Pot need not be regulated like plutonium. You want to regulate something to near oblivion? Start with bullets.
  1. Cannabis and hemp present exactly the economic opportunity that rural Oregon is literally dying for. Yet, at the big self-congratulations celebration known as the Oregon business plan summit earlier this week, was cannabis on the agenda?. Nope. Not one word. Instead everyone, check out cross laminated timber! Timber! Really? You know how much more those trees are worth standing up? Though the state’s most self important voices gathered to scream for innovation, for investing in education, for saving small farms, and rejuvenating rural economy is, cannabis didn’t come up. (Gee, Colorado just sent their public schools 50 million dollars and Pueblo County is funding community college scholarships with pot taxes quest, but what do they know?)
  1. Cannabis is already huge compared to other crops state leaders need to take a deep inhale and recognize cannabis is bigger than Christmas trees and blueberries and Oregon crab put together. And hemp feeds into Oregon’s manufacturing industries, our farming industries, our biofuel industries, our natural food industries, and so much more. Imagine the research we could do on hemp building materials at Oregon State University. Imagine the work we could do on hemp extract medicines. Imagine our best and brightest students pioneering advancements and not leaving Oregon to seek their fame and fortune.
  1. Time is ticking. California will likely have legalized in less than one year. We have great wine and grape vineyards here in Oregon. But what do we say? That the Willamette Valley is the Napa of Oregon. We have great tech companies here in Oregon, have for decades. But Silicon Forest is our Silicon Valley. We have fewer than three years before way more states come on line and Oregon stands by, watches another leadership opportunity roll on by, and then we can resume the conversation about how we can create jobs and fund our schools and pay our teachers. How about this time, we let future states call themselves the Jefferson County of Michigan or the Portland of Florida?
  1. Cannabis is a natural medicine. And treating it accordingly could really help us with that opiate epidemic state leaders are rightfully worried about. Cannabis could help us with our veterans, with our sick, with the cost of prescriptions, the need for preventive healthcare, with that billion-dollar cancer adventure up on pill hill.

Look, this isn’t brain surgery, though that turns out to not be a great indicator of overall intelligence either. But the point is this: Oregon is having a moment right now. A convergence of thinkers, doers, craftspeople, tokers. And cannabis is everything that brand Oregon is: a different perspective; a more complex offering, a wonder of nature.

Oregon is blessed to have incredible leaders on cannabis at the at the federal level. Senators Wyden and Merkley and much of the congressional delegation with Representative Earl Blumenauer at the helm are strong articulate supporters of better cannabis laws.

Let us remember that the voters of Oregon ended cannabis prohibition. But obviously the stigma still hurts Oregon in ways we haven’t properly acknowledged.

This opportunity we have can only be seized by our leaders in Salem. Let’s help them see it clearly.