Paul Stanford should be at the top of his game.
After more than two decades growing, toking and agitating to legalize cannabis, the 47-year-old Portlander is now running the largest chain of medical-marijuana clinics in the nation.
Stanford spends half his time jetting between home and Honolulu, Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle, visiting his clinics that have helped thousands gain medical-marijuana permits. His nonprofit, The Hemp & Cannabis (ahem, THC) Foundation, is on track to rake in $2 million this year.
His headquarters in Southeast Portland is the center of Stanford's dank ganja empire. On a recent Monday morning, the folding chairs and overstuffed couches in the waiting room were filled with about 30 people—many looking as if they'd just rolled out of bed—who were busily scratching out applications for permits to toke.
If there is a kingpin of pot in Portland, it's Stanford—a man who can be credited with helping more people smoke legally here than anyone else. Of the 14,831 patients currently registered in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, Stanford estimates more than half, 8,000, gained their license to burn with the help of his clinic.
"The goal of my life has been to end the adult prohibition from marijuana," Stanford says.
Oregon's medical-marijuana initiative, which Stanford helped pass in 1998, brought him one step closer and landed Stanford's clinics on the national map.
"He's certainly well known," says Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, D.C. Stanford is also winning accolades—on Dec. 15, he's set to receive the Freedom Fighter of the Year award from Oregon NORML.
But all is not well in Stanford's green-tinted world. Even his own daily dose of the herb can't dispel the fact that his five-state operation—and his own reputation—is under simultaneous attack from three quarters, each one a potent buzz-kill in its own right. Taken together, they're like dirty bong water spilled on a clean set of sheets.
First, there's former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix, who's pushing a 2008 initiative that would eliminate most of Stanford's client base by killing Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program. "It's gone overboard, and yes, he's been a part of taking it overboard," Mannix says.
And then there's the Internal Revenue Service, which WW has learned is investigating Stanford for allegedly running his nonprofit as a personal slush fund. "This is a million-dollar organization that's being run like a lemonade stand," says Victoria Cox, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice.
Finally, there are those within the movement itself who claim that Stanford and others like him are driving Oregon's medical-marijuana program in the wrong direction by running it as a thinly veiled commercial enterprise. "All they're doing is endangering this program for the very sick and disabled people who count on this medicine," says Jerry Wade, spokesman for the Stormy Ray Cardholders' Foundation, a Salem nonprofit promoting patient rights.
It's a treacherous time for Stanford, who nevertheless manages to shrug off his critics like an after-school DARE ad. A look at his past reveals that he's had his share of downers—a stint in the Oregon prison system, multiple allegations of fraud, even a bizarre plot by conspirators to take over his clinics.
Sitting recently at a Starbucks, sipping a seasonal drug of choice, an eggnog latte, Stanford was downright mellow about the world crashing down around him. "I'll keep carrying on," he says, "because I believe in what I'm doing."
Stanford is a chubby guy with a warm handshake and no small amount of charm—tools he employs to take a stranger or a roomful of people quickly into his confidence. He's a familiar face to many Portlanders from his weekly local-access cable TV show, Cannabis Common Sense . In 25 years fighting to liberalize Oregon's drug laws, he's smoked with just about everyone who matters in the ganja counterculture, including Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson and Tommy Chong.
It becomes clear soon after meeting Stanford that he gives the lie to most stereotypes of a stoner. His memory is impeccable—he effortlessly rattles off dates (his first marijuana rally: July 4, 1978), statistics (40 percent of his clients are low-income) and details, down to the lyrics of the song that was playing the first time the police kicked down his door in 1986 ("the future's uncertain and the end is always near," from the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues").
Despite his multimillion-dollar cannabis empire, Stanford doesn't go in for bling. His ride is a powder-blue 2007 Chrysler Town&Country minivan cluttered with stray Bob Dylan CDs, and he lives with his wife and three kids in a small rented house on a dead-end street in Laurelhurst.
His weekends aren't exactly the stuff of a Biggie Smalls biopic either. Friday nights see him shuttling his kids to school events, then rushing to tape his cable show—where he reads the latest cannabis news, invites potheads to play guitar, interviews guests and gives advice on growing. It's the last bit that draws the most urgent calls from viewers—after three decades cultivating world-class cannabis, Stanford is an acknowledged expert who can rattle off the optimal amount of light to give a plant during vegetation (18 hours) or, more obscurely, the perfect angle at which to keep plants tilted during bloom (50 degrees).
True, being a drug czar sometimes interferes with family life. His wife—who, like Stanford, holds a medical-marijuana card and partakes almost daily—doesn't let him come to her office Christmas parties. She lives in fear someone will recognize him from TV and she'll be drug-tested at work.
The kids, who attend Mount Tabor Middle School and Franklin High School, know perfectly well what Mom and Dad are up to when they hide themselves away. But Stanford says they show no interest in experimenting with their parents' stash. "They're like all kids," he says. "They don't want to do what their parents do."
Stanford's 25 years in Portland have seen a string of hard luck and false starts. The Texas transplant attended Portland State University but never graduated, started a failed hemp-importing business, ran a string of unsuccessful campaigns to legalize pot, and supported himself by selling dope from illegal grows—getting busted twice and spending five months in prison.
But when the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act passed in 1998, Stanford saw opportunity and seized it. His window: Many doctors were wary of cannabis as medicine, and patients were afraid to ask their regular physician to sign for a medical-marijuana card. Stanford's plan was to hook up patients with sympathetic doctors. After meeting each patient and consulting their medical records, Stanford's physicians provide their signatures and Stanford charges a $160 fee—less for low-income patients.
With offices in five states, Stanford has more locations than any other medical-marijuana clinic in the country, opening in 2000. He's helped 24,000 people get permits, 18,000 of them in Oregon. In Portland, he was first on the scene. "I am always going to have a special allegiance to Paul, because when the chips were down, he was the only clinic there," says Dr. Richard Bayer, one of the original chief petitioners for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.
Stanford's headquarters is a 5,000-square-foot building on Southeast Ankeny Street. It's clearly not a typical medical clinic. Psychedelic posters advertise Hempstalk, the annual outdoor dope fest Stanford puts on in Portland. His patients are a disheveled-looking crowd, mostly middle-aged. The spicy scent of unburnt bud wafts off the patients and Stanford's 12-member office staff—most of whom hold medical-marijuana cards themselves.
One of those patients is Jerry, a general contractor from Southeast Portland who did not give his last name. Gulping a Full Throttle energy drink in Stanford's clinic, where he comes to renew his permit once a year, Jerry said he started smoking as a teenager, went "from recreational to habitual," then got a medical marijuana card two years ago for chronic pain and hepatitis. Now he grows at home and smokes every couple of hours. "I don't believe in pills and I don't believe in drugs," he says. "Marijuana is not a drug."
Stanford's success depends on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. And that's exactly what Kevin Mannix wants to do away with.
Mannix, a wonkish former Democrat reborn as a tough-on-crime Republican, is a point person for Initiative 131. If it makes it to the ballot and passes, the measure would do three things: increase penalties for repeat sex offenses, increase penalties for repeat DUIIs, and nix medical marijuana. Instead, it would allow prescription THC pills, which patients say are too expensive and not as effective. Pending a court challenge, the campaign has not yet begun gathering signatures.
For most voters, the idea of locking up serial drunk drivers and sex offenders is a slam dunk. The question is whether support for medical marijuana 10 years after the law was passed is strong enough to justify a "no" vote on the measure. And that's an open debate, because there's no small number of people—from police to neighbors living next to large pot grows—who view the act as merely a legal front for stoners to get high.
"It's been hijacked by those who are legalization proponents to use the drug—not for medicinal purposes but for recreational," says Pat Donaldson, a founder of the Citizens' Crime Commission in Portland. And he sees Stanford as part of the problem. "I'm questioning his motives," Donaldson says. "What he is doing is legal. But he is ultimately enabling people who may not be in need of this."
Mannix's call to eighty-six medical marijuana echoes long-held concerns that the program is a safe haven for illegal growers. Oregon law allows medical pot permit holders to designate so-called "caregivers" who can grow up to six plants for each of their patients, but they are not allowed to sell. Yet police across the state have reported trouble with caregivers cultivating massive commercial grows.
Stanford himself is a caregiver for 20 patients, and he has indoor and outdoor grows in Southeast Portland. Among the strains he grows are White Widow, Crippled Rhino, Medicine Woman, Green Goddess and Strawberry Cough. And not surprisingly, he's already taking an active role in opposing Initiative 131, blasting the measure on his cable show and preparing to pile money into a counter-campaign.
Even if Mannix's measure fails to shut down medical marijuana, an ongoing IRS investigation could hit Stanford with the ultimate come-down—revocation of his foundation's status as a nonprofit.
Based on a tip by a former employee, the state Department of Justice's Charitable Activities Section began looking into the foundation's finances in 2005. After interviewing Stanford in May of last year, the state turned the case over to the IRS—a spokesman there declined to say when the probe will be completed.
In an interoffice memo obtained by WW , DOJ investigative auditor Douglas Pearson noted the following concerns about Stanford's foundation:
- The THCF board consists only of Stanford, his mother, and Tim Herman, Stanford’s friend and handyman. They meet once a year.
- The nonprofit has no internal financial controls, with Stanford overseeing all income and disbursements.
- In 2006, Stanford received $100,000 to cover “personal expenses.” (Stanford told WW he pays himself only $30,000 a year).
- Stanford pays no federal income tax for his employees and appears to have “serious and repeated violations of IRS regulations.”
Stanford is convinced the government is cracking down on him in part because he opposes the war on drugs. Cox, the DOJ spokeswoman, says that's absurd. "An organization of this size needs professional management, and they have their corporate records in shopping bags—literally," she says.
Stanford denies any financial wrongdoing and remains convinced he'll retain his nonprofit status. "I haven't really worried or stressed on it because I haven't done anything wrong," he says.
The feds are predictable enemies of a man like Stanford. More surprising, and far more personal, are attacks he endures from within the pro-marijuana movement itself.
The most vicious come from Jerry Wade, spokesman for the Stormy Ray Cardholders' Foundation. (Stormy Ray suffers from multiple sclerosis and was one of the original petitioners for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.) Wade accuses Stanford of using his position as a ganja giant to push for legalization at the expense of patients.
"It completely discredits medical marijuana and gives ammunition to everyone who's against us," Wade says. "If you want to change the law, change it, but don't do it on the backs of sick and disabled people."
As a negative example of the way things might go in Oregon if people like Stanford have their way, Wade points to California, where commercial dispensaries have become clubs and boutique shops catering to wealthy college students—and too expensive for many sick people to afford.
Stanford doesn't hide his goal of legalizing weed. He's pushing an initiative for the 2010 state ballot that would tax and regulate the sale of cannabis to adults 21 and over, while providing medicinal dope at a nominal price in pharmacies. But he disputes Wade's criticism. "I'm absolutely against anything that would raise prices for patients," he says.
There are two other nonprofit clinics in Portland that specialize in hooking up patients with medical-marijuana permits—Voter Power, and Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse. Both are located in Southeast Portland and are headed by longtime associates of Stanford's. Their client lists don't approach Stanford's in size, and in the incestuous world of Portland pot politics, neither clinic's owner is a particularly big fan of Stanford.
John Sajo, head of Voter Power, professes respect for Stanford's business savvy—though their 25-year, on-again-off-again partnership campaigning for legalization and growing bud has at times been strained. Sandee Burbank, head of MAMA, says she's known Stanford "for too many years"—that is, since the 1980s. "He's misrepresented to me, lied to me and stole," she says. "I don't want to go into it."
The success of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998 prompted Microsoft millionaire Bruce McKinney to try to legalize dope in Washington state. In 1999, he gave Stanford $100,000 to start a campaign—but in a federal lawsuit filed in Portland the following year, he claimed $63,000 disappeared while in Stanford's hands. A judge found McKinney's claim was mostly right, and in 2003 he ordered Stanford to pay back $39,000, including $4,200 Stanford had allegedly spent on a Ford Thunderbird. Stanford says he never paid.
McKinney—now a real-estate developer in Silver City, N.M.—blasted Stanford in an email to WW . "Basically, Paul Stanford is a thief," McKinney wrote. "He makes a living taking advantage of drug reformers and stealing their money. There is some debate about whether Stanford is consciously a crook…or if he is a sincere reformer who just can't separate his own personal interest from the interests of the organizations he works for. Either way, he has a long history of deceit and betrayal."
Stanford takes issue with McKinney's lawsuit, but he acknowledges that it occurred during what Stanford recalls as his darkest period. On top of the court battle, Stanford filed for bankruptcy multiple times in 1999 and 2000, his house was foreclosed on in 2001, and his wife temporarily left him that same year.
Then, in 2005—in an event that ranks as bizarre even in the Stanford chronicles—the normally tranquil atmosphere at his clinic was interrupted when Rochelle Leveque, a former receptionist at the clinic who had been fired three weeks prior, arrived with her attorney, Frederick Smith, in tow. Stanford says the two tried to take over the clinic and change the locks, then left after police arrived.
Leveque was working with a man named Daniel Keys, who was down in Salem at the Secretary of State's office that same day registering the name The Hemp&Cannabis Foundation—Stanford had failed to reapply with the state to keep the name. He lost a lawsuit against Keys to get the name back and has since changed the foundation's official name to THCF.
Leveque, who died in September of a heart attack, was the daughter of Dr. Phillip Leveque, the clinic's first doctor until he lost his medical license in 2004 for qualifying patients for the medical-marijuana program without seeing them in person. Dr. Leveque confirms his daughter planned to turn the clinic over to him after ousting Stanford. "I knew more about the damn thing than he did," Leveque says.
Don DuPay, a marijuana advocate who worked at Stanford's clinic for a year starting in 2006, says chaos prevailed. "He's always one step away from disaster," says DuPay, who lost a run for Multnomah County sheriff in 2006. "Bouncing payroll checks is one of the things that pissed me off. He's too unstable for me to be around."
Whatever his detractors say, it's clear Stanford is determined to maintain his empire. He's considering buying property for his patients' marijuana grows in east Multnomah County, and next year he plans to open a new clinic in Nevada. "I'm going to keep helping as many patients as I can," Stanford says. "We keep growing."
Stanford enrolls at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where he gets involved with the pro-marijuana movement and joins Abbie Hoffman's Yippie party.
1982: On summer break in L.A., Stanford crashes in the blacklight room of a headshop owned by "Captain" Ed Adair, a famous marijuana crusader. There Stanford learned about Oregon's voter initiative to legalize marijuana, which did not make the ballot.
1984: Stanford moves to Portland, where cannabis icon Jack Herer writes portions of his seminal pro-ganja book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes , in Stanford's house on Southeast 34th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard.
1986: Stanford leads a petition drive to put legalization on the state ballot. Vice President George Bush and first lady Nancy Reagan tour the state in opposition, and it loses with 26 percent of the vote. Stanford says proceeds from sensimilla he grew were the major source of funds for the initiative campaign.
Cops raid his four grow houses and bust down the door at Stanford's girlfriend's place to find him smoking a joint. Stanford is sentenced to five years of probation and a $7,500 fine.
1991: Stanford does five months in prison on a probation violation for visiting China (a violation of his sentence) and getting busted for possession at the U.S. Capitol, where guards searched his camera bag and found three-quarters of an ounce. When he showed his fellow inmates a picture of himself in the marijuana magazine High Times , Stanford says he was treated "like a guest of honor" in prison.
1992: Stanford starts Ropewalk Paper&Fiber with seed money loaned from Steve Orgel, owner of the House of Hemp in downtown Portland. The company, which imported legal hemp products from China, goes belly up, and Orgel sues Stanford. A judge rules in 1996 that Stanford owed Orgel $24,000, with interest—a sum Stanford admits he never paid back.
"It was at one party in 1971. I went to sleep and missed the party. And that was it. Didn't want to miss any more parties."
Kevin Mannix, backer of an intiative to kill the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act
"I follow the U.S. Navy's policy of nuclear weapons on its vessels: I do not confirm or deny. I don't engage in discussion in these kinds of questions…whether Bill Clinton wears boxers or briefs."
Lee Montgomery, editor of Tin House Books and 2007 Oregon Book Award winner for The Things Between Us
"That's just so irrelevant. The last time was probably 1975. The first time was probably 1969."
John Callahan, syndicated cartoonist
"The first time was when I was 14. I didn't think I was stoned the first time, but we were sitting watching some cows in a field. It came to a culmination when we were driving and I leaned my head out the window and made the sound of a sheep as we were passing a herd of cows. I had gotten the salutation wrong, and everyone laughed at me. I couldn't quite figure out why. And then I had a bad LSD trip when I was 18. It scared me so badly that I think that's the last time I smoked pot."
Bill Sizemore, political activist
"I never smoked pot. But let me tell you this story: I was a park-ranger aide during a rock festival in 1970, I believe it was. I had to go around and make all the people outside the fence pay to stay in the state park. Every tent I went to I got a very strong whiff of marijuana smoke every time I pulled back the tent flaps. I never got a buzz. I didn't see how they could breathe it. I grew up around the drug culture, and I was curious about it but never drawn to it."
Mary Starrett, former AM Northwest host, Constitution Party candidate for governor in 2006
"First time I was a senior in college in Boston. The year was 1975. The next time I smoked pot was in 1983. Both times were horrible experiences. Someone told me there must have been something in what I smoked. It was just very oppressive, very disturbing. It was almost terrorizing. I must be THC-sensitive. So I never tried it after that because it wasn't something I enjoyed."
Storm Large, actress and singer
"First time was in seventh grade....last time was about a week ago...and the next time will be when I go to Zoolights."
Patty Wentz, acting spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski
"The governor is very busy dealing with the disaster response. We can get back to you with an answer to this question after all the people in Vernonia, and Tillamook, Lincoln and Clatsop counties are taken care of. Until then, we're heads down."
John Doussard, communications director for Mayor Tom Potter
"My guess is that Tom isn't going to see much utility in participating in this."
We also left messages with U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.); Democratic U.S. Senate contenders Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick; state Sen. Kate Brown; city Commissioners Sam Adams, Randy Leonard, Erik Sten and Dan Saltzman; ex-Mayor Bud Clark; Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale; Brian McMenamin, Portland LumberJax owner Angela Batinovich, and Beavers owner Merritt Paulson. They did not return our calls by the time WW went to press.
Stanford's pain from an Army knee injury qualifies him for a medical-marijuana card, which he uses to inhale high-grade skunk from a vaporizer most nights before bed. A vaporizer heats buds to convert the active ingredient, THC, into a mist. The user then inhales the pure drug without the harsh smoke.
This year, an assistant U.S. attorney in Yakima, Wash., tried to subpoena records for 17 of Stanford's patients—an attempt Stanford defeated in court with the help of the ACLU.
Stanford's local-access cable TV show airs Fridays at 8 pm on Comcast Cable Channel 11.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are 300,000 regular marijuana users in Oregon, which has a population of 3.7 million.
To qualify for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, patients must have been diagnosed with one of the following: Alzheimer's, cancer, hepatitis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS or another condition that causes nausea, severe pain, seizures, muscle spasms or cachexia (loss of appetite).