The federal government is showing signs that it might be interested in cracking down on Oregon's nascent marijuana business — and the state has given the feds some ammunition.
The Oregonian reported last week that the United States attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, met recently with the state's top marijuana regulators. The topic of conversation was a report from the Oregon State Police suggesting that despite the legalization of marijuana, Oregon remains a leading black market exporter of pot to other states.
The Oregonian obtained a copy of the report after the State Police declined to release it to the paper, saying the report was a draft that the agency planned to refine.
Well, first, draft reports are public records. In any event, the report was sufficient to draw the attention of Williams, who went ahead and requested the meeting.
That request is interesting because it's still not clear how the Trump administration plans to deal with states like Oregon that are in the forefront of marijuana legislation, both for recreational and medical use.
The Obama administration gave states some leeway to move ahead with legalization via a 2013 memo from James Cole, then a deputy attorney general. In essence, the memo said that marijuana would remain illegal under federal law, but that the feds would tolerate legalization on the state level — as long as those states worked hard on eight enforcement priorities, including keeping pot out of the hands of minors and controlling the black market.
It's that black market that prompted Williams to request the meeting with state officials — and, potentially, could provide the ammunition for a federal crackdown in the legal pot market.
The Trump administration continues to give mixed signals on how it intends to deal with states that have legalized pot: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who arguably is focused on other matters these days, has said that he believes pot is "only slightly less awful" that heroin, a judgment which is frankly inaccurate. But he also has said that he believes the Cole memo is "valid."
The smart move for the Trump administration would be to allow states to continue to experiment as they see fit with legal pot under the general guidance of the Cole memorandum. But it also is true that this administration (how to phrase this gently?) has not always distinguished itself by making the smart move.
To that end, the state needs to continue its efforts to crack down on the black market for marijuana, which seems to be concentrated in the medical marijuana industry, which has been regulated more loosely than the recreational industry.
The good news there is that the Legislature has been working during this session to add additional restrictions to the medical marijuana market. Among the new regulations is one that requires medical pot growers with more than a dozen plants to be tracked in the same way as recreational producers.
The Legislature also has slapped new limits on the number of immature plants medical growers can have; in the past, those growers faced no limits. The idea, in addition to tightening regulations in the medical pot market, is to rein in some of the overproduction that state officials have noticed.
Will that be enough to ease the concerns of federal prosecutors? State officials better hope so; after all, marijuana sales since legalization have produced more than $60 million in tax revenue and reports say that legal marijuana has created more than 12,000 jobs.
And, overall, we've been impressed with the careful way in which the state has implemented legalization, despite the inevitable bumps. Let's hope that federal officials don't take advantage of one of those bumps to shut down Oregon's continuing experiment with legalized pot.