Blumenauer Blasts Oregon U.S. Attorney On Pot Stance

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh

Oregon’s leading marijuana advocate in Congress took exception to a Friday opinion piece penned by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

“Billy Williams is wrong about where Congress stands on this issue,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and longtime marijuana advocate, said in a statement to the Statesman Journal.

The rebuke came in response to an article by U.S. Attorney Billy Williams voicing a range of concerns about marijuana production, sales and black marketing in Oregon.

“Congress’s judgment on marijuana activity is reflected in the Controlled Substances Act,” Williams wrote in The Oregonian/OregonLive, referring to the fact that marijuana remains on the federal list of illegal substances.

Blumenauer said, “For the last several years, Congress has passed my amendment preventing the DOJ from interfering with state … medical marijuana programs. And we’re working to expand those protections.”

The Portland Democrat was referring to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, a stopgap measure that prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana operations and users in states where the use has been legalized.

The amendment’s protections were included in a continuing resolution approved by Congress late last month to fend off a government shutdown — but the resolution expires next week.

“I’ve talked to more members of Congress about this issue than anyone,” Blumenauer said. “No one thinks (marijuana) should be a Schedule I drug. And I think Congress might have more to say about this in the next year — and certainly after the next election.”

Williams’ concerns included an overproduction of pot in Oregon fueling the black market.

He claims that in 2017, agents found 2,644 pounds of weed inside postal packages and more than $1.2 million worth of cash. He compared that to Colorado, where officials seized only 984 pounds of pot over four years starting in 2013.

“Overproduction creates a powerful profit incentive, driving product from both state-licensed and unlicensed marijuana producers into black and gray markets across the country,” Williams wrote. “This lucrative supply attracts cartels and other criminal networks into Oregon and in turn brings money laundering, violence, and environmental degradation.”

The article’s publication followed a decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month to revoke an Obama-era policy that told Justice Department officials like Williams to generally leave states with legal weed alone.

Williams also wrote that he worries there may not be enough resources to police and regulate marijuana in Oregon.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates recreational marijuana sales, threw a red flag on the industry Wednesday when it announced more than a dozen retailers from a sample class of 66 were selling marijuana to minors. The legal age is 21 years old. State regulators will be conducting more sting operations throughout the year to see whether more retailers are doing so.

Williams said in his article he will be inviting law enforcement officials, public health organizations, Oregon marijuana-industry players and other groups to a “summit” aimed at addressing his concerns.

“This summit and the state’s response will inform our federal enforcement strategy,” Williams wrote.

Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for Williams, told the Statesman Journal, “At this time, we are going to hold off doing any further interviews or providing comments in advance of the summit.”

Meanwhile, Blumenauer will discuss Sessions’ revocation of the so-called Cole memo in a keynote address Jan. 24 at the Portland Expo Center during the 2018 Cannabis Collaborative Conference. The speech will come after the congressional continuing resolution’s Jan. 19 expiration date.