As a kid ‘up north’ in Cloquet, Minnesota I saw the world as a pretty cruel place. As long as I can remember, I have seen people who were wronged and went to authority for help, only to be further victimized. Victims, never throwing a punch in a fight, ended up alongside the aggressor for punishment. Early in life, I developed the sharp desire to help people wronged by the misuse of authority. It didn’t seem like the same rules applied to those with power. In 1999, I graduated high school and left northern Minnesota when I fell in love with St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The trees and lakes of the region made me feel right at home. I am grateful that during my time in Collegeville I had the opportunity to be the first male student security officer to work at the College of St. Benedict for four years. I never knew how important the training I received there in conflict de-escalation and discretion would be in my future. There is no doubt in my mind that I was truly attracted to the campus and program because I wanted my learning experience infused with the Benedictine value of hospitality. Hospitality requires a change in attitude about people, and the most important lesson I learned at St. John’s was: to do well in life I have to strive to be welcoming and inclusive in everything I do.
I said my farewells to college life and returned to the Iron Range. I spent the next few years working for Northwest Airlines (NWA). I did everything in my power to help passengers who had nowhere else to turn because “customer service” was woefully unequipped and unable to deal with customer’s grievances. I quickly topped the sales charts and earned NWA’s “Summit” status. Looking back, I know achieved that because of the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, training, and education of the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University.
I enjoyed customer service much more than sales, so when I was offered a job in Eagan with Uline Shipping Supplies, I decided to make a move. I began as a customer service agent, was quickly put in charge of escalated calls, and was then promoted to corporate trainer. As a corporate trainer with Uline, I was responsible for educating employees on thousands of products and shipping contracts (and also for handling the irate customers that didn’t have the best experience). I wrote the company-wide procedural manual for teaching employees to track delayed shipments and handle customer grievances in a way that retained aggrieved customers. I approached everyone (even the irate customers) with hospitality and compassion, and I rarely walked away without a happy customer in tow. However, the corporate life wouldn’t last for long.
I was called to jury duty for a products liability case being tried in the 8th Circuit District Court under Judge Patrick Schiltz. It was my first opportunity to see firsthand what could be done to seek justice and the proper use of authority in administering it. I was sold on law school by the time the case settled. I heard my calling and realized then that I had a part to play in justice and the law.
It may have been fate or coincidence that I chose to attend the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. This is where the Honorable Patrick Schiltz previously taught, and I was quickly drawn in by their mission of finding truth and reason through morality and social justice.
In 2008 when the economy collapsed, I knew that I wanted to pursue opening my own firm, and I worked with two other law students to that end before graduating with my J.D. in 2010. At that time, Minnesota lost thousands of legal jobs and although my two peers decided to go in different directions, I braved it alone.
I slowly built my firm, step-by-step, even serving in a restaurant just to pay the bills. Some of my first cases came as contracts in e-discovery. Later, I sought some advice from Tom Gallagher, a criminal defense attorney, on a DWI case. He told me to meet him on April 20th in Loring Park. I thought it an odd place to meet a colleague, but I agreed anyway. I arrived, only to witness hundreds of people standing in the cold in front of a large stage. It was no longer a surprise where and when he wanted to meet me, because this was a gathering of people in opposition of the same cannabis prohibition laws I presented at St. Thomas.
It was MN NORML, a chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws hosting the rally. It clicked in my mind after speaking to Tom, that there were memories I’d buried for a long time. The death of my grandmother and the plight of one of my best friends from northern Minnesota resurfaced.
My grandma passed away from a stroke and I distinctly remembered reading about how cannabis could have potential in fast treatment of it. Anything that could have kept her alive would have been worth it. She was one of the kindest, most compassionate people ever to walk this earth. My research into cannabis was fueled by grief. Reading was how I choose to cope with loss.
It also caused me to think of a friend who suffers from cerebral palsy and uses it to deal with the constant, daily painful muscle tightness. He took care of his grandmother when she was in hospice and I promised her I would help her grandson when she passed away. I promised her knowing that I needed to get him some relief. 20 states had already passed medical cannabis legislation, people like my friend were being helped, and I knew I had to fight for his right to this medicine.
After meeting with Tom and the rest of MN NORML’s board of directors I felt I could best serve my calling by focusing on helping those affected by prohibition and the war on drugs. It wasn’t long before I took a leadership role and became the board chairman.
As my advocacy grew, so did the circles in which I moved. I met people with glaucoma, muscular dystrophy, MS, cancer, Tourette’s, and many other illnesses successfully treated with cannabis. These people finally found relief, yet their government was (and still is) bullying them as authority did when I was a child; only this time authority was hurting people who obviously needed help and doing so on the basis of laws made nearly a century ago, with rationales couched in racism and fearmongering.
As I gained ground in my advocacy work, to pay the bills, I worked within electronic discovery which exposed me to patent law, data breaches, pharmaceutical cases, class actions, mergers and acquisitions, and a wide range of other legal matters. As an effective leader, I was even asked to manage a team in the discovery process of a licensing dispute case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. These cases gave me an opportunity to view the legal landscape on a state and national level that would have never happened had I sought out a traditional (and dwindling) legal career.
Throughout my time with MN NORML, I worked closely with another board member, Kurt Hanna, and he quickly piqued my interest in data practices and reinvigorated my interest in the murky waters of administrative law. The privacy, civil, and human rights that we witnessed disappear became starkly apparent to me as things that needed challenging that were all part of the same misuse of authority I saw so many years before.
A couple years passed. It looked like hope was on the horizon for cannabis patients. Several lawmakers and patients organized to finally put an end to the insanity of the criminalization of medical cannabis patients. While this failed to address racism and other collateral consequences of the drug war, I thought it was a compassionate first step for people who needed immediate relief. If this truly is a war, the wounded need to be cleared off the battlefield first.
That changed when Governor Dayton made it perfectly clear he would sign no such compassionate legislation as part of his promise to the law enforcement union lobby bosses. Little did I know that big politics would destroy what was a workable bill and turn it into something that seemed designed to faceplant.
A rally and protest were organized at the governor’s mansion for all of the patients about to be left behind. It was there where I first ran into John Denney. I previously met John’s brother, Bill, who earlier that year, had come to a caucus training event put together by MN NORML to get people interested and involved in politics. This gave me a deep respect for Bill. He put forth real work within his party to change its platform to include a sensible stance on cannabis.
John was passionate and he wanted to put together a strong third-party push to deal with government spying and money in politics. He also shared my views on the destruction the drug war had wrought on society.
A few weeks later I was approached by the Grassroots party to run for office as Attorney General. I initially agreed, but asked to keep it quiet as I mulled over how to announce my candidacy and whether I actually wanted the job or to run as a protest vote. In the following week, the Libertarians approached me to run with them but I felt, because already said yes to the Grassroots party and was still hesitant about that, I needed to decline the offer. The next thing I knew, Bill and John Denney were approaching me to run with the Independence Party; it felt right.
I did not know when to announce my official candidacy but was inspired to speak up at the Independence Party’s Congressional District 5 caucus. It was there I also met Bob Helland and Kevin Terrell, and saw their true passion for a better government. It sparked a fire in me because, before I knew it, I was addressing the caucus. So many things fit together that night, and I felt as a major party candidate I would have better access to debates and a chance to really explore and investigate what the general public wanted out of their Attorney General’s office – compassion, transparency, civil rights, and accountability. These were the cornerstones of my campaign and later became the foundation of the law firm I now operate.
In January, 2015, while I was considering a job in Washington, D.C., Maren Schroeder (then MN NORML’s Treasurer and my Southeastern Regional Campaign Office Coordinator) and I decided to embark with a farmer, Andrew Johnmeyer, and my longtime friend and fellow policy expert, Kurt Hanna, on a journey that ended up with the formation of a new non-profit that would focus on cannabis education, the failed war on drugs, and advocacy for the patients who were to join Minnesota’s heavily restricted medical cannabis system. Thus, Sensible Minnesota was born. We successfully pushed for the addition of intractable pain, notified the Department of Health and the Office of Medical Cannabis about potential holes and threats of data breaches, petitioned for and added PTSD as a qualifying condition, and have helped countless patients navigate the new system.
Initially, to stay in Minnesota, I re-launched Borgos Law in July, 2015, and took clients. I consulted, advised, and gave directions to well over a hundred people trying to find legal help in my almost seven years of being an attorney and the last two have been the most fulfilling.
I were asked to do it all again I would and I would do so without hesitation.