Governor defends state’s cannabis regulations

EO Media Group Gov. Kate Brown wrote a letter Wednesday pushing back against accusations by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Oregon has failed to protect the public.

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown is pushing back against accusations by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Oregon’s marijuana regulations have failed to adequately protect public health and prevent leakage into the illicit market.

In a letter to Sessions Aug. 22, Brown detailed protections and improvements Oregon has made to its cannabis regulation and enforcement systems and challenged the accuracy of information Sessions cited in his questioning of the state’s compliance with the Cole Memorandum.

The memo by the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration in 2013 allowed states to operate legal marijuana programs without federal interference on the condition that states protect the public and keep cannabis from leaking out of the regulated market.

In the letter, the governor addressed concerns outlined in a letter from Sessions last month.

She noted she has signed into law several new regulations this year to prevent illegal sales and transport of cannabis products. For example, one law expands strict tracking requirements to medical marijuana, requiring all products to be tracked with radio frequency identification tags. Another law increases criminal penalties for marijuana crimes, such as illegal extraction and import and export.

Brown and several other governors have encouraged Sessions to keep the Cole memo in place. A federal task force also concluded the memo is the best strategy for handling states with legal cannabis programs, according to an Aug. 3 report by The Associated Press.

“Tax revenue from the marijuana industry is used to fund schools, to provide mental health and drug treatment and to assist both state and local law enforcement,” Brown wrote. “This does not even take into account cost savings to the criminal justice system.”

The governor’s response followed one earlier in August by Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton.

Sessions cited a draft report by OSP, leaked to and reported by The Oregonian, as evidence of Oregon’s noncompliance with the Cole memorandum.

The draft report by an outside analyst indicated only about 30 percent of marijuana market activity in Oregon complies with state regulation.

The conclusions relied on subjective data such as blog posts and unsubstantiated information from the internet and failed to take into account regulatory improvements, said OSP spokesman Bill Fugate.

The agency lacks enough objective data to draw conclusions on how well the state’s marijuana regulations are working, Hampton claimed. For instance, OSP didn’t start testing for marijuana use in vehicular fatalities until May, he noted.

The agency had no plans to publish the report until more objective information was available in the next several years, he said.“The agency attempted to make clear the document was not accurate, not validated, outdated and the Oregon State Police did not endorse the conclusion in the draft baseline report,” Hampton wrote to Sessions Aug. 16. “Unfortunately, you sourced the same leaked draft documents as evidence against Oregon’s marijuana regulatory structure.”

Oregon’s legal marijuana industry sustains 12,500 jobs and yields a projected $105 million in annual recreational marijuana tax revenue, used to support public education and services, according to a white paper by Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, who served on the marijuana regulation committee until July. Lininger has resigned from the Legislature Aug. 15, and is set to be sworn in as a Clackamas County Circuit Court judge Monday, Aug. 28.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico allow cannabis use for medical conditions. Another 17 states permit limited use of cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive element in marijuana.

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