Jeff Sessions Goes After Oregon’s Pot

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ most recent correspondence with Governor Kate Brown has left Oregonians wondering how far the feds are willing to go to tarnish the reputation of our burgeoning cannabis economy. 

In early April, Brown, alongside the governors of Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, wrote to Sessions asking that he retain rules outlined by the 2013 Cole Memorandum – an agreement between the federal and state governments regarding the legality of recreational cannabis. 

The agreement, if upheld, ensures that as long as each state selling legal weed implements a seed-to-sale tracking system monitoring the growth and distribution of government-regulated cannabis that is available for federal review, the federal government will leave said states alone and allow them to conduct their business without federal interference.

On July 24, Sessions replied to Brown’s message and attached a copy of “A Baseline Evaluation of Cannabis Enforcement Priorities in Oregon,” a document taken from the Oregon State Police regarding legal marijuana’s impact on law enforcement in the state. 

From this police report, dated January 2017, Sessions drew several conclusions that he used in turn to criticize the “efficacy of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’” in Oregon. 

Sessions’ list of grievances include his apparent observation that only 30 percent of Oregon’s marijuana market is legal; the “fact” that the more marijuana registrants are in an area, the more black market activity occurs; concerns that a “huge profit margin” was made out-of-state from Oregon-grown pot; alarm that allowing legalization has provided an “effective means” to launder both cannabis products and the money made from them; and, finally, a strangely steep figure of $7.6 million in medical bills attributed to the costs resulting from people burning themselves in marijuana “extraction lab” accidents.

Sessions’ letter – which can be viewed on the Oregon government website, along with the police report, the four-state Cole Memo letter, and subsequent replies – appears paranoid at best. But the biggest concern Kate Brown had after receiving Sessions’ response was that the police report he attached and cited contained a massive breadth of inaccurate information. 

Not only was that particular document never officially published – in fact, it was a mixed-up rough draft that had been leaked to an Oregon news outlet on March 18 – it was also not validated, incomplete, unrevised, outdated, and, according to the Oregon State Police who originally wrote it, wholly inaccurate, being nothing more than a “living document” containing start-up data that the police planned to build upon for years afterward in order to create a defensible, official evaluation, which could eventually be provided to the federal sector.

Though it seems that anyone in Sessions’ office could have easily clarified for him that the document was a leaked draft and spared everyone months of misunderstanding, both the Oregon Governor and Travis Hampton – the Superintendent of the Oregon State Police – were forced to write letters back to Sessions to explain to him that his list of figures was incorrect. 

In addition to clarifying for Sessions that that the police report in no way represented the reality of Oregon’s experience with the marijuana industry, and that the data the Attorney General used to paint a picture of the current state of Oregon’s marijuana industry came from a document that included inaccurate information, Hampton stressed that Oregon will continue to do its best to make sure all operations remain lawful. 

According to Hampton’s letter, which is also available to the public, Oregon plans this year to add drug enforcement “investigative positions” specifically dedicated to the state marijuana enforcement arsenal. Hopefully, this convinces Sessions that allowing states the rights outlined in the Cole Memorandum has not resulted in catastrophic failure.

By Kiki Genoa