By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
Compassionate Oregon is an organization that has been working tirelessly in Oregon to defend patients from rollbacks in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). The nonprofit has been an almost singular voice in Salem, fighting against all the changes that would hurt patient access, which have been proposed or implemented over the past several years, while also promoting education and information for physicians, patients and growers.
The organization was incorporated March 5, 2015, as a 501(c)(4) educational organization, although it had existed for the previous two years as a Political Action Committee (PAC). The organization was originally founded by Anthony Taylor and Cheryl K. Smith.
Although Compassionate Oregon lobbies, Taylor and Smith believed that a nonprofit was more suitable because they wanted to focus on patient advocacy and include an educational component. The goal was to get more physicians and other medical professionals educated about medical cannabis and assisting their patients with its use.
“Anthony has been the major driver of Compassionate Oregon,” explains Smith. “Although mostly unpaid, he has worked tirelessly to get medical marijuana accepted by the medical community, patients in need and the general public. As a patient and a Vietnam era veteran, he understands well how this medicine can be so effective for various medical conditions without the adverse effects of so many pharmaceutical drugs.”
1983 when he worked as a lobbyist through a Portland State University political science department internship with the Oregon legislature. Later, he would be hired by the Oregon Marijuana Initiative in 1985. On that campaign he worked with Sandie Burbank, John Sajo and other Oregon cannabis activist legends.
After 1989, Taylor look a leave from lobbying. He returned again in 2011 when activists were contemplating the next moves after the defeat of Measure 34, a medical marijuana dispensary initiative. Since then, he has been back at lobbying for cannabis causes surrounding medical marijuana, patients and physicians. His experience in Salem has been a key, even though he says much of it can be chalked up to luck.
“I have been really lucky in my lobbying career,” Taylor explained. “Like [getting] PTSD [added to qualifying conditions]… that was just perfect timing. All I did was make sure it got to the right place at the right time. But, I was so lucky because my Senator is a special forces combat vet and is a Republican who sits at the head of a Democratically-controlled Veterans Committee, and he introduced it. It was one of those elevator pitches where in the time it took me to walk from his office to the elevator with him, he agreed to do it.”
Compassionate Oregon helped to achieve a number of victories over the past few years, including lowering the administrative cost for an OMMP card to $20.00 for veterans, adding PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions, and helping to reduce penalties for possession of larger quantities of cannabis. (See Fig 1.)
And it’s more than just Taylor. He is the first to admit he has received support from others in the organization, especially from Cheryl K. Smith, the co-founder. She has been integral to their efforts.
“Without Cheryl’s help in all of this, our message and mission would not have been as clear as it is,” Taylor told Oregon Cannabis Connection. “Her work as a Director of The Compassion Center in Eugene really helped us focus on the patients’ needs beyond just access and her writing and editing skills really helped us get our message out, especially in the early days. We are sad she is no longer active on the Board but pleased to still have her in an advisory role.”
Compassionate Oregon was effective recently, even in the face of a gauntlet of opposition that had formed in Salem against medical marijuana. The belief that the medical marijuana system was a gateway to the illicit market was a difficult obstacle to overcome, but Taylor worked diligently to quell those fears and developed legislation that protected patients rights.
“Spending many years working at the Capitol gives Anthony an edge I think these new lobbyists don’t have because they haven’t been there long enough,” explained Brent Kenyon of Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine. Kenyon has been a longtime supporter of Compassionate Oregon and one of the few financial supporters of the nonprofit.
“Even though the legislators seemed to turn a deaf ear to anything medical last time I was in the building with him, it’s amazing to me in the amount of time we had left that Anthony was able to spearhead a pretty good coalition of [cannabis leaders] to back up his ideas on what needed to change and what needed to be done,” Kenyon said further.
Compassionate Oregon has always been professional. Smith and Taylor both bring cool and calculating heads to the table. Both are helpful skills in Salem. Taylor, in particular, has a very comfortable relationship with lawmakers and administrators. He has often strongly disagreed with Oregon Health Authority policy changes, but still is able to cultivate respectful and professional relationships with administrators.
“Anthony is a sincere and genuine advocate for medical marijuana patients,” explained Andre Ourso, Manager of the OMMP. “Anthony has not always agreed with the way the program has been administered and the implementation of the laws that govern the program, yet he always listens, approaches issues with an open mind and makes a real effort to understand a differing point of view. I respect that he always has patients’ best interests in mind. He has worked hard to ensure medical cannabis will remain an accessible and affordable therapeutic option in Oregon.”
With the millions of dollars flowing into Oregon right now, virtually none will be spent to defend patients’ rights. All the focus is now on making money, and patients seem to be left behind. There are plenty who have profited from the lobbying efforts, and many new lobbying positions with lobbying groups and associations have sprung up since adult-use legalization occurred. Pick any particular cannabis industry—dispensaries, extractors, growers—and there’s a new association lobbying for them.
“While we have seen so many advocating for political positions that increase their income (often at the expense of individuals), Anthony and Compassionate Oregon have not wavered from their stance of protecting patient rights and keeping the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program alive,” Smith explained.
Their motives are exemplary, but few have been financially supportive of their efforts. It is not cheap to lobby in Salem, and it takes a lot of hours on the ground to pull it off. Big business with big money interests can easily afford to pay for a lobbyist to advocate for their bottom line, but medical cannabis patients have few resources and little organization so they could be left without a strong voice to advocate for them. That’s why Compassionate Oregon is there.
“Raising money for a nonprofit organization is probably one of the toughest tasks that they face and Compassionate Oregon is no different,” said Taylor. “Compassionate Oregon has just started a membership drive for the first time in its history, and we hope with our membership structure to be able to not only bring more patients in, but to create involvement among the membership to help further the goals of Compassionate Oregon.”
If you are a medical cannabis patient, then you should support Compassionate Oregon if you have the means. For a small donation each month you can help support the one organization that truly defends the OMMP and medical cannabis patients’ rights. Take the time to visit their website at www.compassionateoregon.org to donate and learn more.
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