Concerns over federal pot meddling remain in Gresham
Marijuana users and businesses, including the nine dispensaries across East Multnomah County, are keeping an eye on what's happening in Washington D.C. as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era stance on states that have legalized recreational pot.
Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the policy, referred to as the Cole Memo, set out guidelines for federal prosecutors in states that had legalized marijuana to focus their resources on larger-scale concerns such as trafficking and continue to rely on state and local law enforcement to act in accordance with state laws and regulations.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Oregon for more than two years now. Last August, state economists predicted that Oregon could bring in about $142 million in marijuana tax revenue through mid-2019.
Sessions said on Thursday, Jan. 4, he would let federal prosecutors in each state decide where they would focus their enforcement actions, but that states that have legalized marijuana were not exempt from federal drug laws.
Top-ranking Oregon officials quickly criticized the news.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement her office would "fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."
"States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people," Brown said. "Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana, and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians."
"Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. "Now he's breaking that promise so that Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade. Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states' rights only when they believe the state is right."
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. — a member of the Congress Cannabis Caucus — called the move "outrageous" in a tweet.
"Going against the majority of Americans — including a majority of Republican voters — who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions that the Attorney General has made," Blumenauer wrote.
The decision is also setting another group of state bureaucrats scrambling: economists, who are charged with estimating tax revenues from the sale of recreational marijuana.
State economist Josh Lehner indicated in a post on his blog Thursday morning that the impact of the action was not yet apparent.
"Ultimately it will likely come down to enforcement, and the choices prosecutors make," Lehner wrote.
State economists will be meeting with an advisory group to discuss the consequences of these changes and "other issues and trends in the recreational marijuana market," Lehner wrote. The next state revenue forecast is expected Feb. 16.
Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon and the Oregon Attorney General did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.