By Gooey Rabinski
“Radical” Russ Belville, the hyperkinetic host of The Russ Belville Show on CannabisRadio.com, is one of the most ardent and well-informed voices in the fight to legalize medical and adult use cannabis in the United States.
An Idaho native now based in Portland, Oregon, Belville travels extensively, taking his show on the road. He interviews the people who are shaping legalization and defining the parameters of regulations that directly influence cannabis businesses across the nation.
Belville brings a wealth of experience to his current cannabis advocacy efforts, including contributions to High Times and Marijuana Politics. He has also spoken at popular events such as the Seattle Hempfest and he is the former executive director of Portland NORML.
Cannabiz Business Journal enjoyed an exclusive interview with Belville at the recent Portland Indo Expo in early August.
Cannabiz Journal: “So what are you up to, Russ?”
Russ Belville: “Mostly I’m on the road. I’ve fallen in love with Anchorage, Alaska.”
CBJ: “It’s a beautiful place.”
RB: “Of all the states that have legalization, it’s the smallest [in terms of population and industry]. But they’ve moved forward on some things that the other [legal] states have stalled on. For example, they’re going forward on cannabis lounges. ”
CBJ: “Let’s talk about that….”
RB: They have this great lounge in Anchorage called Pot Luck Events. It’s at 420 3rd Avenue—literally, 420 is their address! It’s just a [place to] bring-your-own-buds, hang out, talk, watch movies … you know.”
CBJ: “Is that how the law [in Alaska] works? As long as you bring your own and the establishment isn’t furnishing the material?”
RB: “Right. And Alaska is actually looking at allowing onsite consumption at places that have sales. Now, compare [Alaska] allowing pot lounges to Washington State, which just felonized them. And Oregon, which just added cannabis smoke to the Clean Air Act so you can’t smoke anywhere indoors. Colorado is still fighting; they have an initiative where they’re trying to get the lounges.
“When we said ‘legalize marijuana,” we knew what we meant. We meant we should be free to smoke. What they thought was ‘All right, stay in your house … as long as we don’t see ya, we won’t bust ya!’”
CBJ: ”In the closet….”
RB: “Imagine the mayhem there would be if you could buy alcohol but only drink it at home! How long would that last?!”
CBJ: “It just seems so ridiculous because these are mechanisms and systems that people created. And now we’re spending all this money, time, and resources trying to uncreate them!”
RB: “It’s ironic, because in prohibition, there was actually a weird degree of freedom in that we didn’t have regulations, we didn’t have inspections, we didn’t have taxes to pay….”
CBJ: “But there was still the same amount of weed being smoked, I would say….”
RB: “We’re growin’ it, we’re buyin’ it, we’re sellin’ it. But all the rest of the stuff that comes with business wasn’t a part of it. So now, as things are becoming legal, to some of us it almost feels as if it’s becoming less free. ‘Cause there’s all of these hoops now to jump through.”
CBJ: “That was seen classically with the Washington state medical versus recreational system. Everyone that worked on the medical side pretty much had free rein to do whatever they wanted.
“And then you get over to the rec side and it’s like, oh, we’re all on cameras and the LCB is watching our every move. Well, no, they’re not, but they want you to think they are. It just seems so backward. A lot of people seem to be coming to Oregon because it is more lax….”
RB: “Of the four [legal] states, I would say Oregon is the best for growth and being pro-industry, at this point….”
CBJ: “What are you following as far as new legislation coming up, Russ?”
RB: “Obviously this [year’s] election is huge, with five states voting on [adult use]. My focus right now, with the five voting on [adult use], is Massachusetts, which looks like it’s not going to pass.”
CBJ: “Boston just opened its first dispensary. They’re had medical for a couple of years now.”
RB: “Yeah, this will be their third presidential election year where they’ve voted on something. In 2008, they decrimmed; in 2012 they did medical. In 2016, we figured we’d get the hat trick and go for [adult use]. Latest polls are like 46 percent [for], so it’s not positive.
“You’ve got a situation where the governor, the mayor of Boston, the Speaker of the House, the Attorney General … like 121 of the 200 legislators are publically against this legalization plan!”
RB: “And I’m thinking, this is Massachusetts, this is a blue state. This is liberal hippy dippy. But maybe not so much.”
CBJ: “Maybe not anymore.”
RB: “With medical, I’m excited that it’s Florida, Missouri, and Arkansas. One of the three is going to start the South.”
CBJ: “And three that had such strict rules prior. Like Florida being another no-tolerance state, much like Nevada, which has [medical legalization] now. While states like Montana, which has had medical since 2004, are going backwards!
“Anything else exciting for you, Russ?”
RB: “One of the exciting moments this year was in Texas. There’s one aspect where Texas is freer than Oakland or Portland. They have a march [in the Dallas area] from a park to the county courthouse, full police escort—everybody blazin’ while they’re smokin’—in Texas!
CBJ: “And they were totally fine? Nobody got arrested?”
RB: “Yea, and this isn’t Austin, where that’s cool, right? This was like Fort Worth—cow town—Republican. One of the speakers was running for mayor in his small town of like 170 people … one of these little Texas towns. His staff mass-resigned because they didn’t want to be working for a pothead!
“I always say [that] people come to this movement and activism in one of three ways: Number one, they got busted and they’re pissed off; number two, they got sick and they figured out it’s medicine; or three, they’re just like me and they have this natural sense of what liberty and freedom is supposed to be….”
CBJ: “A weird moral compass?” [laughing]
RB: “How could a country founded by a bunch of hemp farmers ban growing hemp?! [laughing]