In letters to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Oregon’s governor and police chief defended their state’s legal marijuana industry.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton each wrote letters to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month defending their state’s recreational marijuana market. The letters were in response to an earlier letter from Sessions, in which he claimed that Oregon had not done enough to combat its illegal marijuana markets. Leaders from Colorado, Washington, and Alaska – the four states with operational adult use markets — received similar letters from Sessions.
Sessions claimed in his four-governor letter that marijuana legalization has caused serious public health and safety issues. In reference to Oregon specifically, he cited findings from an Oregon State Police report that found that legalization increased emergency room visits and illegal cannabis cultivation, and that there continued to be “pervasive illicit cannabis cultivation in the state.”
Sessions also warned that he believes Oregon and the other states are not complying with the 2013 Cole Memorandum, the Obama-era guidance that called for the Department of Justice to not prioritize resources for enforcing federal law on states that had passed marijuana policies provided the state took adequate precautions to ensure certain public health and safety standards.
In their respective responses to Sessions, Brown and Hampton rebuked the data the attorney general had used to draw his conclusions on the illegal market, claiming it came from an inaccurate report.
“The Oregon State Police determined that the draft report required significant additional work and revision, because the data was inaccurate and the heavily extrapolated conclusions were incorrect,” Brown noted in her August 22 letter, posted on the state’s website.
Hampton told Sessions that the report, which had leaked, was the “first and least defensive draft,” and that his agency “had no immediate plans to publish until objective data could be recovered for many years.”
“The agency attempted to make clear the document was not accurate, not validated, outdated and the Oregon State Police did not endorse the conclusions in the draft baseline report,” Hampton added. “Unfortunately you sourced the same leaked draft document as evidence against Oregon’s marijuana regulatory structure.”
Brown’s letter also referenced legislation signed into law earlier this year that would address the other issues brought up by Sessions. The new policies included plant limitations, an increase in criminal penalties, and tracking technology.
“Oregon boasts the most robust testing regimen of any state to legalize marijuana… to avoid exacerbation of any public health consequences associated with legalization,” Brown wrote. She also warned “dismantling of the Cole Memorandum would [drive] existing lawful product into the unregulated black market and [fund] criminal enterprise.”
Brown also told Sessions in her letter that Oregon’s marijuana industry has raised over $60.2 million in revenue and created over 16,000 jobs. Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana November 2014 and retail sales began October 2015. The law allows adults ages 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana in public, or up to 8 ounces of marijuana at home. According to a state economist, Oregon’s cannabis sales have the potential of rivaling those of Colorado’s in a couple of years.
At the end of Brown’s letter, she suggested collaboration between the Justice Department and the District of Oregon “to end black market marijuana operations, and to provide mutual education and support of our legal and regulated marketplace.”
The governors of Alaska and Washington state also recently pushed back against Sessions and defended their efforts to properly regulate the marijuana industry. A total of eight U.S. states have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, and 29 have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Sessions has been a staunch opponent of cannabis, and has even attempted to convince Congress to allow the Justice Department to go after medical marijuana states, but his position is based on fear, not fact.