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Dear Pot Lawyer,

Is Oregon in Jeff Sessions’ crosshairs?

Absolutely. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently sent out a series of threatening letters to the governors of Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. Our Governor Kate Brown received her missive on July 24. It begins with the usual nonsense that cannabis is bad and its users should feel bad, and then notes that the infamous Cole Memorandum didn’t actually preclude enforcement of federal anti-cannabis laws. Sessions leaves this threat dangling as he turns his focus to a January 2017 report by the Oregon State Police titled “A Baseline Evaluation of Cannabis Enforcement Priorities in Oregon.”

The attorney general cherry-picks a few choice quotes and statistics from the report, but to be fair, the report as a whole does paint a fairly bleak picture of Oregon’s success in complying with the Cole Memorandum enforcement priorities. In particular, there’s substantial evidence that there are a large number of registered medical grow operations—particularly within Oregon’s Jackson and Josephine Counties—that could illegally be sending cannabis out of state. The report found an association between the number of Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) registrants in a county and the amount of black market diversion. Selfish and thoughtless criminals are exploiting Oregon’s medical program, which is desperately needed by many legitimate patients, for financial gain.

These findings explain why the Oregon legislature recently expanded the recreational seed-to-sale tracking system to cover medical cultivation as well. This seems specifically tailored to address the following statement from the evaluation: “Moreover, the discretionary grower recordkeeping exemption under the OMMP is an easily exploited loophole, which renders the program into a conduit for cannabis diversion.”

Perhaps the most damning finding of the evaluation, cited by the attorney general in his letter to Brown, is that “the reality of legalization is that it has provided an effective means to launder cannabis products and proceeds, where in essence, actors can exploit legal mechanisms to obscure products’ origin and conceal true profits.” With the drug warriors at the reins, these bad actors are putting at risk everything that the legalization movement has worked for.

At the end of his letter, the attorney general accepts Brown’s offer to engage in a dialogue on Oregon’s efforts to comply with the Cole Memorandum enforcement priorities and asks Brown to explain “how Oregon plans to address the serious findings in the Oregon State Police report, including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors.” While we do not yet know Brown’s response, I think we can be certain that she will not be intimidated and will continue to push for reform that will protect Oregon’s legalization efforts.


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