Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jan 2012
Source: Corvallis Gazette-Times (OR)
Copyright: 2012 Lee Enterprises
Author: Cathy Ingalls
Bookmark: (Conde, William)


A Dozen Years After Fleeing the Valley, Bill Conde Remains As Pro-Hemp As Ever

Editor's note: Today is the first installment in a monthly series 
that revisits and updates stories we reported on as the 21st century 
began a dozen years ago.

Lots of people around the mid-valley remember William Conde, formerly 
of Harrisburg, who from 1984 to 2001 was a lumberyard owner, festival 
promoter, failed candidate for governor and champion of hemp and of 
legalizing marijuana.

The impressions of him, developed before he moved to Central America, 
remain quite vivid to his former customers, the law enforcement 
officers who investigated him, the Linn County Board of Commissioners 
that dealt with him, and the reporters who wrote about him.

Conde, 68, lives in his former wife's homeland of Belize, where he 
has dual citizenship with the United States.

The Democrat-Herald contacted Conde via email to find out how his 
life was going. He said he earns his living importing hemp seed oil 
in bulk from Canada to make skin products, and at one time he wrote a 
column titled "Hemp Hemp Hooray" for the Belize Times. He offered to 
send a Democrat-Herald reporter some of his hemp products. The 
reporter declined.

He also concocts herbal medicines, primarily for men, from wild herbs 
he finds in a nearby rainforest.

Information about his products and his philosophy concerning hemp and 
legalizing marijuana appear on his website:

Outside of work, he is considering sponsoring fundraisers for BHI 
(which he pronounces "be high"), a Belize Hemp Initiative. And now 
that he has Belize citizenship, he wants to organize a national 
campaign there to legalize cannabis in all of its forms.

While in Harrisburg, Conde and the Linn board of commissioners 
engaged in running battles as he openly flouted the county's mass 
gathering regulations in the late 1990s. Because of the way he staged 
two of the events, he was slapped with criminal charges.

Then in May 2001, he was convicted by a jury of aiding and abetting 
in the delivery of a controlled substance and of hindering 
prosecution, both felonies.

Conde filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the county, 
alleging that his family and his business suffered because of the 
county's actions. His suit contended that the sheriff's office 
committed perjury, mishandled evidence and corrupted the proceedings 
in his trial.

The suit also said the county reneged on an agreement for the 
supervision of his 1999 hemp festival.

In a deal worked out with prosecutor George Eder and Linn Circuit 
Court Judge Carol Bispham, Conde's conviction on a pair of felony 
charges was allowed to stand and he was barred from filing any appeals.

He was allowed to leave the state and he had to stay gone for five 
years. If he returned early, he would be placed on supervised probation.

Earlier this week, Commissioner Roger Nyquist recalled coming on the 
board in January 2001 as the county was getting ready to approve his 
last outdoor assembly permit.

"It was a 2-1 vote in favor, and I voted no," he said. "I didn't 
think the application was complete. We were giving him discretion way 
beyond what the rest of the business community in Linn County had to 
do in conforming to the rules."

While the board was ruling, Conde was sitting in jail, Nyquist said.

"The board held 11 meetings before I was here working on an approval 
for his outdoor assembly," he said. "It was my first month in office 
and I thought, man, oh man, I don't want to deal with anything 11 times."

Nyquist gives Conde credit for being "a pretty creative guy who 
couldn't stay out of his own way. Who can from a jail cell decide to 
run for governor and use his hemp festival as an attempt to gather 
signatures to get his name on the ballot?"

Larry Johnson, a former county commissioner, referred to Conde this 
week as a "very colorful individual. Very smart. Very articulate. He 
was out of the '60s, a free spirit, a hippie-style individual."

Johnson also called Conde "hard-headed, with a mind of his own."

The former commissioner said he didn't have "a real hard time with 
Bill per se. It was a land-use action for his music festivals that 
got Bill into all of his trouble. He was trying to circumvent the 
land-use rules. He actually was likable."

Dave Burright, who was sheriff at the time, said Conde figured out 
ways to work the system to get what he wanted, "and that's something 
we didn't put up with. He's one guy I get asked about to this day 
about whatever happened to him."

Sam Suklis of Albany said he and a friend once drove to Conde's 
Redwood Lumber in Harrisburg to buy materials for a couple of projects.

"We went into this building and the hi-fi speakers were so loud it 
was deafening," said Suklis, a retired Democrat-Herald advertising 
salesman. "We found him and he motioned for us to go outside, 
explaining his telephone was taken apart and spread all over because 
the authorities were listening to him, and they had bugs everywhere, 
and the only place he could talk freely was outside."

Suklis called his visit "quite strange. He jumped from topic to 
topic. Buying lumber from him once was enough. It was a little uncomfortable."

Former Democrat-Herald reporter Marilyn Montgomery Smith remembered 
Conde this way: "I do recall several lengthy phone conversations with 
Mr. Conde when he was planning or hosting the events at his lumber 
yard. He was utterly charming and very witty on the phone and 
obviously at odds with the Linn County Sheriff's Office."

Conde said in a recent email he was born in Hayward, Calif., and 
moved to Harrisburg in 1984. He has no plans to return to the United States.

"I love living here in Belize," he said. "The village contains about 
1,300 people, and the area is peaceful and fertile. I don't have the 
money that I used to, but I have the greatest wealth of all, which is 
good health and spiritual well being. My wife, Ruby, left a little 
over a year after we arrived, and I am raising my two sons as a 
single parent." Conde said his former wife and her husband live with 
Conde's daughter about 100 yards from Conde's house.

"My two boys and I live in a nice home that I built while I still had 
a lumber yard," he said. "Many nights I dream of being back at my old 
business, but I always realize it is just a dream. It took me almost 
30 years to build Conde's Redwood Lumber from a $700 start in Cottage Grove."

At the end of his email he said: "I'll write more whenever you ask. 
There is much more to say, but I must write as the spirit moves me." 
He signed his email: "From the 60s to my 60s. Remember, Peace and 
Love. William Conde."

He did not respond to subsequent requests for current photos or to 
provide answers to several follow-up questions.
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