Oregon Pushes Back Against Jeff Sessions' Marijuana Enforcement Letter

The state joins Alaska and Washington in rejecting the attorney general's criticism of state pot regulations.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday pushed back against sharp questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed at her state and three others that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Brown, in a letter dated Tuesday, tells Sessions her state’s marijuana laws are working, questions the attorney general’s criticism of Oregon’s regulatory structure, and explains the state’s efforts to safeguard public safety.

Sessions, an avowed opponent of marijuana legalization, sent letters to Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Colorado ― the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana ― challenging the states’ oversight of the nascent pot industry. Sessions told Oregon that a January 2017 state police report “raises serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state.”

“Oregon has been diligent in reaching out to our federal partners to build a collaborative and mutually beneficial understanding regarding our marijuana system,” Brown told Sessions in her letter. “I look forward to continuing to work together to ensure a successful marijuana market while protecting the safety of our communities.“

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Obama administration urged federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. Sessions in February named a task force to review that policy. In response, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska submitted reports to the Justice Department, detailing well-regulated legal marijuana industries that generate vast tax revenue and no measurable increase in crime or health problems.

The Associated Press has reported Sessions’ task force largely reiterated the Justice Department’s current policy on marijuana and has not pushed for a crackdown.

Brown’s letter explains that all recreational marijuana legally sold in Oregon is tracked from seed to sale, using radio-frequency identification tags, strict security precautions and surveillance cameras. The state thoroughly tests all legal marijuana products for safety, and has enacted laws with stiff criminal penalties for those operating outside the regulated framework.

The state police report Sessions cited, Brown says, “does not (and frankly does not purport to), reflect the ‘on the ground’ reality in Oregon in 2017.”

The document was intended to provide a “baseline understanding” of marijuana in Oregon prior to legalization, and it “provides little insight into the effectiveness of Oregon’s post-legalization regulatory measures,” Brown’s letter says. She adds that data in the police report was “inaccurate and the heavily extrapolated conclusions were incorrect.”

Marijuana legalization activists fear Sessions may be willing to ignore evidence and resume strict enforcement of federal prohibition. The Obama administration guidance that allows state-legal marijuana could be reversed or altered by Sessions in ways that could doom thriving industries many states now consider legal.

Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana. National support for marijuana legalization has risen dramatically in recent years, reaching historic highs. Ninety-four percent of Americans support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it, according to a Quinnipiac poll this year.

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