VALE – The name of the horse was Big Sky and Dave Eyler already knew the animal was going to be a challenge.
That day in 1987 at a college rodeo in Haines, Eyler still felt his chances were good to score high and help his team from Eastern Oregon University collect needed points.
Matters went wrong the minute Eyler entered the chute and the events that ensued introduced him to the medical benefit of marijuana.
“He crushed me,” said Eyler of Big Sky.
The horse knocked the wind out of Eyler and bruised his sternum. Then, after the chute opened, Big Sky delivered a season’s worth of punishment in a few seconds.
The horse bucked toward the stands and then tossed Eyler so violently he sailed over the fence.
“I held my reins and that was the last thing I saw before I hit the cement on my back,” said Eyler.
That night, Eyler felt waves of pain race up from his back. It was hard to breath. Two friends – both Hawaiian cowboys – told him he should try cannabis to help with the pain.
Eyler was skeptical.
But he was tired of the pain. So, he tried marijuana.
“I felt so much better almost immediately. I had done it before but not in great quantities. But this time, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. That is a pain management tool right there,’” said Eyler.
Eyler, a fixture at Vale High School where he taught and coached for more than 20 years, stepped into the local limelight recently as one of the chief petitioners of an initiative to repeal a ban on the sale of retail marijuana in Ontario. Eyler retired in May.
Earlier this month, Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter verified that MalheurCAN collected the required number of signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot.
For Eyler the news was satisfying, especially after the past few weeks where he says he received negative feedback from locals about his role in the petition effort.
Eyler, though, said he believes in the healing power of marijuana. More importantly, said he thinks voters should have the final say on the matter.
“To me it is about democracy. If it doesn’t pass, well, that is how our country runs,” said Eyler.
For Eyler, occasional use of marijuana while he competed as a rodeo cowboy proved crucial.
“I was able to function at a high level. I never thought about using another drug,” said Eyler.
He said after he became a teacher he stopped using marijuana.
“It was hard for me to reconcile. I wanted to set an example. I don’t want kids to try it. It should be for 21-year-olds and adults,” said Eyler. Eyler said he hopes to eliminate what he feels is a stigma connected to marijuana use.
“I want people like me, that are good people, to not be thought of as criminals or second-class citizens. It is not illegal and should be available,” said Eyler.
Eyler said the toughest part about his role in the MalheurCAN effort was the negative reaction he received from some local residents.
“I felt it at the (Vale 4th of July Rodeo). I had some people I really respected question my integrity. But I am still the same person. I am not a drug dealer. I feel like people don’t understand why I am doing it,” said Eyler.
Eyler said legal retail marijuana sales in Ontario will actually slice crime, not increase it.
“If I am involved in a dispensary, which may or may not happen, it is going to keep cannabis away from those who shouldn’t have it,” said Eyler
Eyler said any time a product is banned – whether it is alcohol or marijuana – it creates a black market and crime.
“The black market is the pathway for kids to get it,” he said.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: pat@ malheurenterprise.com or 541- 473-3377.