Portland Leaders Denounce Federal Stance On Marijuana In Letter To Oregon’s Top Prosecutor

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan

All five Portland city commissioners sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, opposing the U.S. Department of Justice’s reversal of the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to the legal marijuana market in Oregon and other states.

“We strongly oppose any action from the Justice Department on cannabis enforcement that would subvert the will of voters in Oregon and other states,” said the letter signed Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other commissioners.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a Jan. 4 memo that the Obama administration position, outlined in a well-known Cole Memo, undermined “the rule of law.” Sessions wrote that the Justice Department will instead let federal prosecutors decide how to enforce federal marijuana law.

The city commissioners wrote that they were “cautiously encouraged” by Williams’ comments on his plans for enforcement. In his first public comments on the subject, Williams told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he plans to be “methodical and thoughtful” about putting the new federal policy into action. He said he was troubled, however, by overproduction of marijuana in Oregon that he said leads to black market exports to other states. And he questioned why Oregon hasn’t limited the number of licenses it issues to contain marijuana production.

The Portland commissioners expressed concern over the potential disproportionately negative impact of marijuana enforcement on communities of color.

“We know that cannabis prohibition has failed,” they wrote. “It has failed to keep our children safe, it has failed law enforcement, and it has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses.”

Commissioners said the prospect of federal overreach into Oregon’s marijuana market and the harm it would cause to the local business community concerned them. There are hundreds of marijuana producers, retailers, processors and wholesalers in Portland alone, they wrote.

They are “woven into the fabric of our business community, contributing thousands of well-paying jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity.”

The commissioners wrote that state and local oversight can ensure the safe consumption of cannabis for consumers and that marijuana products stay out of the hands of children.

“The cannabis business community contributes to our state and local economy,” the letter said. “The city of Portland will continue to stand with our cannabis business community.”