Out of all the people I interviewed at the Imperious Expo + Directory, I have to say I did have a favorite. I know, it’s not good to be a journalist and play favorites, right? Well, guess what? I didn’t go to journalism school. But seriously, getting to sit down and chat with Charlo Greene was a dream come true.
Rachel Kurtz is more knowledgeable than most people about both the similarities and differences between Washington’s and Oregon’s marijuana programs. She has lived in both states—first Washington, when they rolled out legalization, and now Oregon, as they roll out their version. She also has mostly been in the right place at the right time to learn about both sets of programs, and to influence drug policy and even get paid for doing it.
Rachel was an army brat and, consequently, moved a lot. The last stop before she left home was Alabama, where she attended Auburn University. In 1995, after her father was transferred to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, and her family moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Rachel came for a visit. While in the area, she learned about Evergreen State College, a private university, and that was all it took to decide to transfer colleges and move to Olympia, Washington.
After graduation from Evergreen in 1997, Rachel worked on Brian Baird’s congressional campaign. With a desire to work on drug policy reform, and believing that a law degree would help her meet that goal, Rachel enrolled at the University of Washington Law School. Rather than a driving desire to be an attorney, she wanted to increase her options and make a difference in the world.
As luck would have it, while Rachel was in law school, the King County Bar Association (KCBA) Director recognized the importance of drug policy, so KCBA started a Drug Policy Project. She immediately got involved in the project and after it received grant funding, she became the Deputy Director, working with Director Roger Goodman.
In 2003 Roger and Rachel started working with the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (www.vcl.org), and served as Director and Deputy Director. Rachel worked in that position until the end of 2010.
She shifted gears again when the Drug Policy Project job ended after Roger Goodman, a Washington state legislator, ran for the US Congress. Still wanting to influence policy and put her law degree to good use, Rachel volunteered as the Executive Director of the Cannabis Defense Coalition—a grassroots advocacy organization that included patients. In this position she lobbied for a regulated medical marijuana system. Not everyone agreed with that approach, so despite legislative passage of a law to implement such a system, Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed the bill, so it never got off the ground.
At that point the system that allowed collective gardens for medical marijuana came into play and dispensaries continued to be unregulated. Then, in 2012, I-502, the initiative that legalized marijuana in Washington passed. With that change, two systems were regulating marijuana—legal and recreational. Medical marijuana could not be added to 502 because, in Washington, there is a prohibition against changing an initiative passed by the voters without a 2/3 vote of the legislature.
Ultimately, the resistance to a regulated medical system and desire to keep the broad collective gardening system backfired when the law changed on July 1, 2016. Medical was absorbed into recreational and we are now feeling the fallout.
Not to be deterred from her goals, and still passionate about cannabis policy, Rachel became Director of Operations for a medical marijuana clinic, where she stayed for a year and a half. She also began to work with Steve D’Angelo and Henry Wykowski on 280E reform, doing training around the US.
In 2013, Rachel eventually joined the Wykowski & Associates law firm, then later joined Gleam Law to assist cannabis companies with licensing. While that was interesting and paid the bills, it wasn’t quite where she wanted to be in the long run.
Ultimately, Rachel moved to Oregon when she met her former fiance, Drew, who had been a medical grower for almost 15 years. With that connection and the impending merger of medical and recreational marijuana systems and a noticeable culture change, Rachel believed that the time was right to move to Portland, Oregon, where she could better pursue her interests.
She and Drew moved in together in 2015, with plans to pursue their dreams. But the best of plans run into roadblocks and pitfalls, and Drew lost his extract company, True North.
The two are planning to start another extract company within the next year and, to that end, are looking for investors. They have a lot to offer with Rachel’s legal and business knowledge and Drew’s experience with CO2 extraction. They are both extremely motivated.
Rachel still has some connection to Seattle, where she was wrapping up some final legal obligations when we talked. She continues to serve on the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, a mainly peer-run project where she meets monthly via Skype. She is also on the Board of the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, which produces the Terpestival—similar to the Cannabis Cup, which awards prizes based on terpenes in the product—among other things. And, if that is not enough, she is the Speaker Coordinator for the Seattle Hempfest, a position in which she has served since 2004. In that role she coordinates the more than 100 speakers on six stages throughout the three-day event.
In addition to the Seattle-related affiliations, Rachel has gotten involved in the Oregon scene by joining Women Grow and serving on the board of Portland NORML.
Rachel is not only well-versed in the law and policy related to cannabis, but she is a true believer in its medical powers—which makes Oregon a good place for her to be now. She believes that all cannabis is for wellness and that we need to keep the medical system in place, and listen to the patients, because they have valuable insights from their experiences with this amazing medicine.
Wherever Rachel ends up within this system, people will benefit. She is motivated, caring and knowledgeable: another powerful Woman in Cannabis.
Cheryl K. Smith is a former attorney who also didn’t go to law school to “be an attorney.” She has worked in the medical cannabis industry for almost a decade. She is now “retired,” raising miniature dairy goats, writing, editing, serving on several nonprofit boards and chairing the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM) for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.