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Radical Rant: #BurnsideBurn Part Two, How to Prevent a Weed Riot

Russ Belville

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In Friday’s column I gave you my perspective on the #BurnsideBurn, the historic smoke-out at midnight last Wednesday when marijuana became legal in Oregon. About 1,400 people gathered on the Burnside Bridge, the central point in Portland where east, west, north, and south sectors of the city are divided, right below the iconic neon sign shaped in the outline of Oregon with the script writing “Portland Oregon” and a white stag jumping over it — a perfect place for a moment-of-legalization selfie.

Now I’ve visited with another fellow greatly impacted by the morning of July 1 and have some fresh perspective.

All throughout the day, a disabled veteran activist named Porkchop had been driving his van and scooting his wheelchair through downtown, proclaiming on a bullhorn that he’d be giving away 420 pounds of marijuana on the bridge. As early as 5 pm, as directed by Porkchop and a couple of his buddies, people were beginning to line up on that bridge and by 11:30 pm, when I got out to the bridge, it was packed from west bank to east bank, 10 people thick, and stretching on a couple blocks into the east side of town.

This hadn’t come as a complete surprise. Earlier that afternoon, I had visited the Fresh Buds dispensary to talk with the owner, Jay, about the events planned for the evening. Porkchop was there when I arrived, boasting of his plan that evening to give away weed. As he told it, he’d be gathering with a group of veterans at Fresh Buds, along with a drum circle, and then marching them all to the Burnside Bridge. After the moment of celebration, he’d have the drum circle and the veterans’ group march everyone back to Fresh Buds, where he’d have a tent set up for the giveaway.

It appeared to me that Jay and Porkchop had everything worked out. I thought the march was a good idea, so I loaned Porkchop a couple of Portland NORML banners and a megaphone to help lead the march. But when I got to downtown around 9 pm, there was no drum circle and there was no group of veterans, just Porkchop, who had now taken the banners and affixed them to the front of his beat-up old van that also had stickers on it arranged to spell “Fuck the DEA,” and was using the bullhorn to tell everyone he’d be giving away 420 pounds of marijuana on the Burnside Bridge (not Fresh Buds).

So the rest of the evening transpires, the bridge fills up, the midnight hour passes, and the last I see of Porkchop, he’s being trailed by a man with a large marijuana flag, heading west on the bridge into downtown. I assumed he was on his way to Fresh Buds, but it was a strange route to take, requiring him and his followers to head south and cross over the Hawthorne Bridge to get back to the east side of the river where Fresh Buds was located. Wouldn’t it make more sense to cross Burnside east, and tell everyone in that line to fall in as they headed to Fresh Buds?

It turns out that Porkchop never came back across the river or went to Fresh Buds. Instead, he decided to take the small parade following him to the federal courthouse grounds downtown in order to smoke weed and chant “Fuck the DEA.” I never would have approved this, considering one of the eight tenets of the Cole Memo is for states to not allow marijuana on federal property.

Meanwhile, I’m on the bridge as the rest of Porkchop’s line starts filing by, repeatedly telling them on my bullhorn that the giveaway is at Fresh Buds dispensary and how to get there. People were understandably upset to have waited for a good spot in a long line, only to be told to go queue up somewhere else blocks away. That’s where my story ends.

Jay, the owner of Fresh Buds, had absolutely no clue what was going down. It turns out that he’d been busy at his shop and to him, Porkchop was just another customer who was rambling on about something. Jay had listened to me about the plan for smoking weed on the bridge beneath the sign and that was it. He hadn’t even planned to be at the bridge, but when he heard from friends how huge the celebration was becoming, he headed down there.

After the celebration, Jay decided to walk downtown and grab a drink at one of the Old Town bars. He’s sitting there enjoying himself when he gets a frantic call around 2 am from his employee. “There’s a huge crowd down here that thinks Porkchop’s giving away 420 pounds of marijuana from here. You might want to get down here!”

Jay tells me, “When I got down to the shop, and it’s surrounded by hundreds of people, I seriously considered just skipping town and never coming back. One of my friends, a couple, were near the front of the line. They told me they left after they started hearing people behind them saying that there were so many people here, we should just break into the dispensary and loot it, since the cops would never be able to arrest everybody.”

Jay, however, handled the situation like a pro. Recognizing Porkchop was a no-show, Jay managed to rouse a couple of medical marijuana patients he knew to bring a bunch of marijuana to the crowd. They broke up the couple of pounds of weed into some buckets and Jay’s buddies started handing out buds to everyone in the crowd who still remained.

And thus, the Great Portland Weed Riot on 2015 was averted, thanks to Jay from Fresh Buds dispensary at 110 SE Main Street. Here’s a cell-phone video from soon after Jay arrived at the shop. Jay does a remarkable job of keeping everyone cool:

In retrospect, it seems so obvious to both me and Jay we made a huge mistake putting any trust into Porkchop. But the world of weed growers and marijuana activists is sometimes a weird one. If you immediately dismiss someone a little too tattooed, counterculture, or prone to bragging, you’ll have few people to work with. Leading up to the event, Porkchop had assured us everything was under control, handled by him and “the veterans”, and talked a good game. Prior to that night, his references to giving away 420 pounds of marijuana were always followed by “this year,” not “tonight on the Burnside Bridge.” We regret the mistakes we made in trusting him and promise to make it up to anybody who was grossly inconvenienced by Porkchop, the Pied Piper of Pot.

(Photo via finance.yahoo.com)

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