Influential Oregon marijuana activist dies

A memorial for marijuana activist John Walsh has been tentatively planned for Feb. 13 at Lorax Manor (Creative Commons).

Marijuana activist John Walsh was best known around the University of Oregon for gathering signatures on campus or striking up conversations with students in the EMU. He was an advocate for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group.

For over 20 years, Walsh collected many signatures for several marijuana-related ballot measures, including Measure 91. It passed in 2014, allowing for the public tax and use of recreational marijuana.

Walsh passed away early in the morning on Jan. 3, 2016 at a volunteer house for The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation. He was 60 years old and a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Most recently a Eugene resident, Walsh traveled Oregon gathering signatures and support for various organizations working to end marijuana prohibition.

Paul Stanford, founder of THCF, which owns the house where Walsh died, knew Walsh since he first came to Oregon in 1991.

“John was always the first volunteer to show up to events and the last to leave,” Stanford said. “He was a powerful force.”

Stanford handled the arrangements for Walsh’s cremation and coordinated a memorial service in Portland on Jan. 17.

Walsh was known for having a good memory for numbers. Stanford recalled how Walsh kept around 500 contacts without any names in his cell phone. He could recognize each contact from their numbers alone. Those who worked with Walsh said he could recount exactly how many signatures he gathered for each ballot measure.

“John was one of the few people in this world you couldn’t say anything bad about,” Stanford said. “The only bad thing you could say about him was that he’d call you a lot.”

Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon — the group that sponsored Measure 91 — said his fondest memory is of Walsh calling him up to say, in his unique Rhode Island accent, “Anthony, we gotta get the signatures.”

“Good signature gathering days would bring a big smile to John’s face,” Johnson said. “That is another thing that I will always remember about him.”

Eugene resident Dan Koozer, who puts on the annual Eugene Hemp Fest, was a good friend of Walsh. As far as marijuana activism went, Stanford said the two were inseparable.

“John was the one who got me into activism 20 years ago,” said Koozer.

Koozer is planning a Eugene memorial service at Lorax Manner, near the UO campus. The tentative date for the service is Feb. 13.

“One day after Bob Marley’s birthday and one day before Oregon’s,” Koozer said. “I think John would have gotten a kick out of that.”

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