Local officials attend pot summit, say feds are listening, watching
DON RYAN/Associated Press
U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams speaks at a marijuana summit on Friday in Portland as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown sits at right.
By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
Oregon's top federal prosecutor told local, state and federal officials on Friday that something needs to be done about overproduction of marijuana in the state and transportation of marijuana from Oregon to other states.
The prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Billy Williams, didn't announce any federal crackdowns on the industry, however. He spoke at a marijuana summit he convened at the federal courthouse in Portland.
"He did not cross that barrier and say what is going to happen," said state Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. "What he didn't say is, 'What I'm going to do about it.'"
Instead, Williams listened to an array of interests ranging from growers and their neighbors to county sheriffs and commissioners, plus federal and state authorities.
The press wasn't allowed to attend beyond the opening remarks at the summit.
However, Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel attended, as did county commissioners Lily Morgan and Dan DeYoung. Daniel and Morgan said afterward that the summit served as a forum for varied interests.
Daniel said it got "all the parties talking," while Morgan said it was "the start of a conversation." Also attending were Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler and Central Point Police Chief Kristine Allison, along with postal inspectors, other U.S. attorneys and marijuana industry representatives.
Here are some of their reactions to the summit:
• Wilson said Williams was "reasonable and non-threatening, but in a very determined way." He wanted to find out where illegal shipments were coming from — whether from recreational marijuana farms, medical marijuana growers or illegal marijuana grows.
"He believes it's coming out of all of them," Wilson said.
Wilson said Williams wasn't dismissive of the state's efforts so far to control illegal sales, but feels that "something's got to change."
And Williams didn't threaten to shut down the marijuana industry.
"He's not talking about shutting the program down," Wilson said. "He's not threatening the existence of the program."
Wilson said representatives from several other states were on hand — states where marijuana was still considered illegal by state law — and that they were "getting sick" of Oregon marijuana showing up there.
Property owners were there, too, mainly from Deschutes County. "(Williams) is concerned about neighbor-to-neighbor relations," Wilson said.
What really gets the attention of federal authorities are stories of people driving vehicles with out-of-state license plates at marijuana grow sites and being belligerent.
"That's when they get real interested," he said.
Wilson said Portland marijuana industry attorney Amy Margolis, director of the Oregon Cannabis Association, agreed at the summit that there's an oversupply of marijuana and that it was finding its way to other states.
"She absolutely pledged the cannabis industry was committed to cleaning itself up," he said.
• Daniel said everyone agreed that the black market is hurting legitimate growers and that Southern Oregon is a "pin on the map" for federal authorities.
"I do think we're a pin on a map nationally," he said. "In fact, I think we're the No. 1 pin nationally."
Daniel said Josephine County was mentioned by name no fewer than eight times — and not by him, but by federal authorities.
He said "lots of constituencies" were represented: anti-pot, pro-pot and law enforcement, plus federal prosecutors from all over, as well as the FBI and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Also attending were Gov. Kate Brown; her marijuana policy aide, Jeff Rhoades; and representatives of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority.
Daniel said he was impressed with Williams and his "fact-gathering, information-sharing" approach.
Those in attendance were "a great representation of all the partners in the game," he said. "A positive event."
Also discussed was the Southern Oregon Marijuana Initiative, which would impose a new tax on marijuana producers. It needs legislative and local voter approval first.
"If we don't do something, somebody else is going to," said Daniel, a supporter of the initiative. "And that's not good for us. I want to handle this on a local level. It has yet to be seen if (the initiative) has traction or not."
• Morgan said she mostly listened. She said one message she heard is that it was important to respect the states where marijuana is legal and those where it was not.
Another thing she heard Williams ask repeatedly was why there wasn't a state-imposed limit on the number of marijuana growers. She said it was suggested that growers have contracts with retail outlets.
"They don't want us to grow for the nation," she said.
She also said Williams visited Southern Oregon a couple weeks ago and that authorities still want to hear from people who have not yet been heard.
The Associated Press and City Editor Chris Bristol contributed to this report. Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.