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Feds looking to up enforcement in OR

 

By Guest Columnist

By Billy J. Williams

After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued his memorandum on marijuana in January, I committed to taking a methodical and thoughtful approach to developing an enforcement strategy for Oregon. In early February, our marijuana summit brought together more than 130 people from 70 organizations representing a wide range of interests, values, and perspectives.

Among those in attendance were Gov, Kate Brown, representatives from 14 U.S. Attorney's offices, Oregon congressional delegation staff, and members of the Oregon Legislature. The summit featured presentations by state officials, policymakers, federal and state law enforcement agencies, industry representatives, adversely affected landowners, public health organizations, banking executives and tribal leaders.

Although participants offered diverse views, the summit also revealed agreement on a number of important issues.

First, there is an urgent need for transparency and regularly-reported data from the state. We must have comprehensive and accurate data analyzing Oregon's legal and illegal marijuana markets and their impact on public safety, health, youth, land use, and livability. Second, the state has not devoted sufficient resources to regulatory enforcement and oversight. And finally, too much surplus marijuana is being produced and exported out of state.

Many summit participants, including officials from our office and the marijuana industry, expressed concern with the state's current ability to regulate the market. Industry representatives continue to decry the state's failure to limit the amount of marijuana grown. This overproduction encourages illegal black-market sales.

Producing and sharing comprehensive industry data will help stakeholders collectively address all of these issues. Tax revenue and job creation statistics make headlines, but those advantages fail to account for the collateral consequences imposed on communities affected by this largely under-regulated industry.

As the primary federal law enforcement official in Oregon, I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law. At the same time, our office's resources are not infinite.  In light of these facts, and using the lessons learned from the summit and our partnerships with all affected stakeholders, the following will be the marijuana enforcement priorities for the District of Oregon.

First, we will prioritize federal marijuana violations involving overproduction and interstate trafficking. This priority will be of particular importance to us as long as data continues to show that Oregon suffers from a formidable overproduction problem.

Second, we will prioritize violations that threaten public health, with a particular emphasis on access or exposure to minors. I would note that this priority fully aligns with state law, which strictly prohibits marijuana use by individuals under 21 years old.

Third, we will prioritize violations that involve a substantial risk of violence or other threats to public safety, especially those involving firearms. Threats of violence or the improper use of firearms in conjunction with the use, production, or sale of marijuana will not be tolerated.

Fourth, we will prioritize violations that fuel other criminal activity such as racketeering, organized crime, federal income tax evasion or money laundering.

And finally, we will prioritize violations that adversely affect federal public land or other natural resources, including water, air, and listed species. Oregon's livability transcends the interests of any one industry.

I'm sharing our strategy so Oregonians know the types of marijuana cases we will prioritize for both civil enforcement and criminal prosecution. Rest assured, marijuana-related federal prosecutions will be assessed using the same sound judgment and discretion we use when deciding to charge any other case.

Our marijuana enforcement strategy will evolve over time based largely on two critical factors: the resources the state is able and willing to commit to monitor and enforce its regulatory scheme and the availability of data that can be used to measure the state's progress in addressing regulatory gaps.

Put simply, our strategy will be flexible based upon data and the need to address public safety. As always, we will continue building on the long tradition in Oregon of carrying out law enforcement in close coordination with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners.

Billy J. Williams is the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.