WYATT REED acknowledges the contradiction.
For half a year, Reed's been collecting signatures for the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH), a committee pushing two proposals that would usher in a hazy new day for Oregon pot users. It's more than a job, Reed insists. He's pushing his beliefs.
Yet Reed and eight of his coworkers are now the campaign's biggest headache. They've been working against CRRH since earlier this month, demonstrating outside its headquarters and throwing the effort into tumult just when it needs unity the most. The workers have legitimate gripes about poor cash management, late paychecks, and dispiriting work. But they've also made laughable demands like free medicinal marijuana.
"It's this culture of secrecy and lack of transparency that makes it necessary for us to go to these lengths," Reed said on Monday, June 16, as he and other striking employees, bullhorns at the ready, prepared to march on CRRH's Northeast Portland headquarters. "We stand for legal marijuana for all of Oregon."
The clash is beginning to seem familiar. Public opinion appears to have swung in favor of legal pot. These days, it's the movement's own backers throwing up roadblocks.
Last month, as the Mercury first reported on June 13, the Oregon Secretary of State's Office fielded two complaints about CRRH. Alleging election improprieties, they were gripes any civic-minded citizen might raise. But these complaints happened to come from supporters of a rival legalization measure, run by the campaign New Approach Oregon.
On May 9, Portland resident Michael Hanna formally complained CRRH wasn't filing campaign finance reports on time, and suggested officials might be paying canvassers per signature, a practice that's banned in Oregon.
"Unreported expenditures are a red flag that the signature circulators are not being paid on the books," Hanna wrote in the complaint, obtained by the Mercury. "It is apparent that something improper is going on, because signature gatherers have been collecting signatures, but payments made to them have gone unreported."
Hanna says he's concerned workers on the campaign aren't being treated fairly, but it's clear his interests extend further. As the former president of Multnomah County's main union, AFSCME Local 88, he's worked extensively with former County Chair Jeff Cogen. And Cogen, these days, works for Democracy Resources, an influential signature-gathering firm that's running point on canvassing for New Approach Oregon.
Hanna also knows Mark Wiener, the veteran campaign consultant working with New Approach. Wiener and another well-paid consultant for New Approach, Liz Kaufman, have helped high-profile campaigns such as Charlie Hales' bid for mayor in 2012.
Their involvement is an indication New Approach has tapped into the muscle of Oregon's political establishment, while CRRH sits on the periphery. The embrace of New Approach by political professionals follows months of large national donations—money that's otherwise escaped CRRH.
Hanna downplays those connections, but he's clearly in favor of New Approach's proposal. He points to a failed pot legalization bid in 2012 by CRRH chief petitioner Paul Stanford, which got 47 percent of the vote in a year Colorado and Washington welcomed legal pot.
"AFSCME has worked with Mark Wiener forever," Hanna tells the Mercury. "I know he's gonna do it right."
Two weeks after Hanna's complaint, a Democracy Resources employee named Kyle Gates filed another, alleging CRRH sent out a canvasser who hadn't been cleared by the Secretary of State's Office to collect signatures. (That canvasser's name is Duncan Lopez. He's participating in the strike against CRRH.)
CRRH denies paying canvassers by the signature, and records show investigators tossed this allegation out. Still, the campaign acknowledged it was fined for late finance reporting, and said the errant signature gathering was an honest mistake. CRRH also claims Democracy Resources has been attempting to snatch up its canvassers by offering better pay.
It's not hard to see why there might be tension. The various proposals come as polling suggests Oregonians are finally ready to embrace legal marijuana. If one campaign makes the ballot while the other falls short—distinctly possible given the low signature numbers CRRH is reporting—voters will face a less confusing decision.
It's clear there's some bad blood. Stanford was involved in New Approach's effort early on, but says he was summarily dismissed last summer. He's claimed New Approach will now only communicate with him through intermediaries.
"There's plenty of dissent, disunity, and discord within the marijuana community here, stemming from personal disagreements with sort of the movers and shakers," says Leo Townsell, the communications director for CRRH.
"We've really been trying to be professional about it, making sure people understand we're working toward our legislation without concern for these types of personal gripes."
In January, a Canby attorney named Michael McNichols went to war on a proposal filed by New Approach ["Slow Burn," News, March 12]. McNichols claimed that he favored legalization, but said he didn't think New Approach's proposal was best. He preferred the ideas of Stanford and CRRH.
So McNichols held up the New Approach petition by appealing its proposed ballot language to the Supreme Court. It's a time-tested delay tactic in ballot politics, and questions swirled about the attorney's motivations—was someone putting him up to it?
Stanford, for his part, said he didn't even know the guy. "I sometimes think when he says he likes ours better, maybe he's trying to hurt us," he said.
New Approach eventually scrapped the disputed petition and filed a new, nearly identical proposal, Initiative Petition 53, which escaped McNichols' attention. IP53 currently has 100,000 signatures, potentially enough to make the November ballot.
And CRRH? It's still scrambling to collect tens of thousands of signatures by the July 3 filing deadline.
It's also not being helped by the current labor dispute. On June 5, CRRH announced to staffers it didn't have the money for their paychecks. The campaign was waiting on its own check from a fat cat contributor.
The funds were in hand by June 9, but by then a handful of canvassers had decided they'd had enough. Citing an incident in May in which several checks bounced, the workers formed a union, and scrawled out a list of demands, including $15 an hour, paid overtime, which the campaign says it's now providing. The list also included things like sensitivity training and free medical marijuana for workers who are also patients.
With the filing deadline looming, the striking workers have staged repeated protests and tried to convert working CRRH canvassers.
"We're trying to run [canvasser] trainings and we're hearing all this stuff outside," says CRRH communications director Townsell as protesters chanted in front of campaign headquarters on June 16. "How would you feel if it was your first day? It's very disruptive."