Audit: State tracking, licensing system for pot needs improvement

Marijuana plants grow in a high tunnel at a farm near McMinnville, Ore. A state audit says Oregon's licensing system could make it difficult to detect illegal activity.

SALEM — Oregon’s systems for licensing and tracking recreational marijuana have weaknesses that could allow illegal activity to fly under the radar, state auditors say.

The recreational marijuana program also lacks important security measures that could protect sensitive information and IT infrastructure from being compromised.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission helps regulate the recreational marijuana program, including issuing licenses to producers, retailers and others in the recreational marijuana business. The agency also runs the “seed-to-sale” tracking program that is intended to track marijuana on its journey to market.

Among other issues auditors found, data in the cannabis tracking system is self-reported by cannabis businesses, raising auditors’ concerns about its reliability.

There aren’t enough trained compliance inspectors to adequately keep an eye on recreational marijuana activity. And auditors also found that the OLCC lacks an overall IT security management plan for the agency and a disaster recovery plan for its information.

Wednesday’s audit report comes as there’s renewed attention on marijuana, especially in states that have legalized the substance.

In early January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to U.S. attorneys in states that have legalized marijuana saying they may use their discretion when it comes to prosecuting marijuana cases. Marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams said at a marijuana conference he hosted last week that Oregon produces far more marijuana than Oregonians can consume, and that product is leaking into the black market.

Oregon voters approved recreational marijuana in a November 2014 ballot measure. Recreational marijuana became legal on July 1, 2015.

The popularity of the program is greater than state officials had expected.

Through November 2017, the state had collected about $115.5 million in state marijuana taxes since retail sales began in January 2016, according to Wednesday’s audit.

OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks said in a written response to the audit that the agency “is actively following up on all aspects of the audit” and wants to get more money to “move forward” on the technology issues raised by the audit.

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