I was saddened to hear that my friend Jim Greig passed away just after 4:20 am June 16th. He was a great man who will be missed by many, but his work will be celebrated by millions even if they never know it. Jim may have been frail in the flesh but his spirit was fierce and strong and he was a joy to work with as an activist. Rest in peace Jim. I will always cherish the time we spent together fighting for truth, justice and freedom.
Jim Greig was a force of nature, able to break the bonds that chain us to the outcomes we expect. A powerful combination of will and skill enabled this mostly bedridden man to influence the world around him. One of the first times I saw Jim ignore his limitations was when he drove up to see me at my place a few years after we met. The drive up the mountain to where I live deters able bodied men with four wheel drive, but Jim headed here in his old van by himself. These are big mountains with endless lonely roads that don't see a car for months. Cell phones don't work here. Getting a flat tire or taking a wrong turn can mean a long walk back to civilization. A daunting challenge for anyone and scary for a man in a wheelchair but Jim was determined. He took some wrong turns and had to go back to to town to call me but he kept trying and eventually made it up here. Jim never gave up. We had long talks about the injustice of the war on drugs, medical marijuana and Oregon's reform movement. Jim joined the Voter Power Board of Directors and that became the basis of our long partnership.
Most people knew Jim from seeing him in the media as an eloquent spokesperson for medical marijuana but he was also instrumental behind the scenes in planning and executing our long term plans for reform. Voter Power's plan was to fix medical marijuana by maximizing implementation but never forgeting the larger drug war issues. We knew we had to fix the OMMA by providing patients with safe access to medical marijuana. Jim knew first hand the difficulties patients face getting their medical marijuana particularly from his time at a nursing home. He translated that experience into valuable insights that helped us draft Measure 74. We had originally planned to have Jim be one of the chief petitioners for that initiative to legalize dispensaries but we choose not to because his health made that a risk. (Oregon election laws don't allow an initiative to be turned in if the chief petitioner dies.)
Jim Greig was very effective at arguing for medical marijuana. One of the best really. He did lots of media interviews and was usually brilliant because he had such a good grasp of the complexities of the issue and knew the difference between a soundbite and the spotlight. He built good solid relationships with reporters by providing timely accurate information. They called him regularly and we did many interviews at the Voter Power office in Eugene. As his health declined and travelling became harder, reporters came to him. I marvelled at the efficiency with which he was able to work. Some marijuana related event would happen somewhere in the world, Jim would call or email a reporter, a few hours later they would come interview him and our spin on events and the local angle would become a story. He also penned lots of opinion pieces that got printed and I know how much he appreciated the mentoring from Allan Erickson and others that helped Jim become an excellent writer.
Perhaps the sweetest success was getting Ellen Rosenblum elected. We first focused on this election when Lee Berger posted to dpfor about Rosenblum being good on our issues. Jim and I immediately recognized this as the perfect storm. We had been brainstorming for years about how to impact Oregon elections so we could eventually deal with the Legislature and executive branch from a position of strength. To have allies you need clout. This race was what we had been waiting for - an election we could turn and get credit for doing it. The two candidates had different positions on marijuana and were running in a democratic primary for Attorney General. Even Republicans didn't support the raids on medical marijuana providers and Holton had made himself vulnerable by launching a pretty big attack on dispensaries. It was also personal for Jim and Voter Power.
At that time we operated clinics and ran dispensaries in Portland, Eugene, and Medford. But we weren't selling medical marijuana, we were giving it away. Holton sent threatening letters to Voter Power and also to all our landlords. We had been following state law to help patients as best we could for years and Dwight Holton used the tremendous power of the federal government to go after us. We eventually lost our Medford and Eugene offices because of it.This was our chance to hold a politician accountable.
Jim and I developed a strategy to make medical marijuana a big issue in this campaign. It wasn't hard because the candidates were both qualified articulate successful people whose positions were pretty similar. We decided we would focus on the debates, use the internet, and mobilize the movement. Unity on this was more achievable because there were no details of which legalization model to pursue. We had a bad guy and everyone was ready to go after him.
Jim prepared for the Rosenblum/Holton debates for weeks. We had worked on possible questions and follow ups. Jim also had to prepare himself physically which meant timing his activities and schedule so he could make the trips and try to be at his limited peak right when he need to be.
At the Salem City Club debate Jim asked Holton why he raided patients and the sleepy room woke up. Holton did his best to explain it away but Jim pressed him with more questions. Eventually Holton's handlers tried to whisk their candidate out of the room but not before Elvy Musikka landed a few parting shots. Jim had done it.
He changed the story with a new narrative: Holton raided medical marijuana and the patients don't like it. The media and the internet did their thing and that was the story for the rest of the campaign. We went to the Portland City Club debate later. Jim got a seat inside and chatted with Ellen. I was outside with a few patients picketing. Holton and his handlers walked by us on their way into the Governor Hotel. He wasn't happy to see us. An AP photo of our Holton-Stop Raiding Patients sign made it around the world.
Ellen Rosenblum went on to win the election. Jim got to know Ellen and later hosted a fundraiser for her and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian at his house in Eugene. After she was elected she had her staff confer with him on medical marijuana issues and when HB 3460, the dispensary law, was coming down to the wire, Jim got Ellen to write a letter supporting it to the Legislators. There is no question that we have a good Attorney General and a system of legal dispensaries because of the work of Jim Greig. Oregon patients today can go to a store and buy a wide selection of medical marijuana products that will help thousands of people. Thank you Jim.
I will miss Jim tremendously. It is hard to imagine doing politics without him as a partner. Politics is about disagreements and arguing but he was never disagreeable. He always found a way to move forward and always set an example for the rest of us.
Thank you Doug for being there and thank you Judi for being a great sister.
Rest in peace Jim.
John Sajo - June 17, 2014
By Steph Sherer, Executive Director, Americans for Safe Access 6/17/14
As the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), I usually reserve this space for medical cannabis policy, but today I am writing as an organizer, a student, and a friend who is mourning.
On Monday, cancer took the life of medical cannabis activist Jim Greig. Jim had suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a severe form of arthritis, since the '80s. He was confined to a wheelchair and was bedridden 80 percent of the time. He began using medical cannabis in 1995 and became a tireless advocate shortly after.
Last month, I had the honor of visiting my friend, colleague, mentor, and my sometimes yogi, Jim, who spent his final days fighting cancer at his home in Eugene, Oregon. It is always a surreal event to go to say goodbye to someone, especially someone who I admire and hold in such high regard. However, in this case, I had a two-hour drive to prepare my thoughts.
I set the GPS for my drive from Portland and just let my memories of Jim well up inside. To my surprise, under these circumstances I felt as I have always felt in his presence: hopeful, inspired, willful, and a bit righteous. Over the last decade, Jim and I have spent hours strategizing, organizing, and encouraging one another in our work to reform cannabis policy.
I first met Jim years ago in ASA's Oakland office. He had been working with some of our California chapters and came in to meet with our staff. Jim was a slight but handsome man with silver hair and usually sported dark glasses while he glided around in his automated wheelchair. As soon as we sat down to talk, Jim's confident presence made him seem six feet tall. He was thoughtful and shrewd with an amazing grasp of party politics, political strategy, and community organizing. His ability to use all of the tools at his disposal to engage people in this way was unparalleled.
Jim had two objectives leaving that meeting: 1) to organize his fellow veterans, and 2) to bring safe and legal access to Oregon. When Jim called me in March to tell me about the aggressive cancer he was fighting, he reminded me of that other fight that he'd won. "I always said I would live to see legal dispensaries in Oregon," Jim told me over the phone, "and we did it, Steph."
Jim proved to be one of the most powerful patient advocates the medical cannabis movement has ever seen. Jim was instrumental in getting pro-medical cannabis candidate Ellen Rosenblum elected as Attorney General of Oregon. Rosenblum was a much-needed champion for medical cannabis and there is no doubt that the current distribution laws would never have been enacted had her Republican opponent won in 2012.
By the time I got to Jim's place, I was prepared for anything, but very excited to see my friend. When I entered the room where he lay bedridden, I instantly made my way over to him for a hug. My slight friend was now even tinier and surrounded by ominous machines that were keeping him alive. He asked me to sit across from him, and in no time, we began talking about the 2014 elections and upcoming votes in Congress. It was like any other conversation we had ever had, except for when timelines entered the conversation, and we knew he would not live to see his strategy play out.
He asked me to get a notepad. I immediately said, "You're organizing! You're giving me work," and started laughing. He joined me and said, "Oh, like you're not going to be organizing on your deathbed."
He proudly played me a voicemail that Attorney General Roseblum left for him when she found out he was ill (as if you could love her even more). He made me promise that I would see her to her rightful place as Governor of Oregon.
He also made me promise to see to it that hospices, adult living centers, and hospice workers become educated on medical cannabis and to ensure that there are cannabis hospice services in all medical cannabis states.
And then he asked me to make the most important promise: to continue to lead from the front. "Lead from the front" was something that Jim always said to me. He felt that if, from his wheelchair, he could write letters to the editor (publishing dozens), write press releases, conduct media interviews, participate in candidate debates, organize fundraisers, lobby every level of government, travel to DC, and participate in rallies (to name just a few of Jim's accomplishments), he could also inspire others to work with him.
And he did. Jim believed, as I do, that leadership is earned from rolling up your sleeves and getting it done, while showing as many people as possible how to do it too. Jim had an amazing talent in picking out advocates to mentor and encourage, and I know many people, including myself, who came to depend on his support.
Jim and I got to reminisce during my visit. We got to curse at his cancer. But mostly, we got to say the things we always wanted to say to one another; a wonderful gift that I will always treasure. After a few hours, his pain was taking over and we both knew it was time to say goodbye. Through tears and tubes, we hugged and he told me, "Go do great things, poverty and world hunger could use your help, and I will see you on the other side."
In 2013, I had the honor of presenting Jim with ASA's Patient Advocate of the Year award. He told me that it was a proud moment in his life. I can't help but wonder what our world would look like if we were all more like Jim. So, if you are one of 1 million legal medical cannabis patients in the U.S., or if you are one of the 237 million Americans that support medical cannabis, I hope Jim can inspire you to help us change the laws that continue to prevent patients from gaining safe and legal access to their medicine. After all, one person can change the course of history.
Thanks, Jim, for your friendship and for reminding us all that we can, and should, "Lead from the Front."