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Law Enforcement Officials Say Oregon Is Struggling to Contain Black Market Cannabis

The District Attorney and Sheriff of Deschutes County sent a letter to state cannabis regulators decrying overproduction and black market sales, continuing a string of legal weed struggles in Oregon.

by Zach Harris

It's been a rough couple of months for Oregon's legal weed industry. After uncovering a number of retailers selling adult-use cannabis to minors, things have only gotten worse, with an internal audit turning up significant regulatory issues and threats of federal enforcement thanks to underenforced overproduction and black market sales.

Now, adding insult to injury, top law enforcement officials from one Beaver State county held a press conference where they decried state regulators and accused them of allowing illegal canna-business to continue operating, the Associated Press reports.

"Our state has no regulation for the marijuana industry," Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said at Tuesday's press conference. "In order to have regulation, an agency has to have enough resources to be effective at enforcement of the regulations. Oregon does not have this."

Nelson and Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said that they have requested a list of sanctioned growers from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the group responsible for cannabis oversight, but has not heard back. Because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, privacy is still a highly contentious topic in state-approved medical and adult-use cannabis industries, with many providers still wishing to keep their names out of the hands of law enforcement.

But in a cannabis catch-22, continued issues at the state level and a refusal to turn over a list of legal growers could quickly escalate into a showdown with the feds. At a summit of law enforcement, ganjapreneurs, and U.S. attorneys in the first week of February, Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams raised similar issues with the Beaver State cannabis industry, telling state cops and the OLCC that if local changes weren't made quickly "we are going to do something about it."

The overproduction and black market sales problems are also compounded by recent sting operations at licensed retailers, in which 16 pot shops were caught selling weed to minors. In an audit of the local cannabis industry from Oregon's Secretary of State, released February 7th, state officials confirmed a need for stronger regulatory enforcement and oversight, and pinpointed a lack of funding and staffing in the OLCC as the primary culprit.

To try and correct the glaring issues and avoid a federal cannabis crackdown, OLCC officials have requested additional funding from the Oregon legislature in recent years, but so far they've been denied. In an interview with The Oregonian following the Secretary of State's audit, OLCC executive director Steve Marks said that the agency will once again ask state lawmakers for a $197,000 funding bump during this session.

"It's our highest value to stop black market diversion, to create a good consumer market," Marks told The Oregonian. "Those are fundamental to our mission. We have been building out staff and systems to do that."

Currently, the OLCC has 23 inspector positions, with only 18 of them filled.

As for Deschutes County, Sheriff Nelson expressed a personal vendetta against cannabis grows in his jurisdiction, using Tuesday's press conference to threaten Oregon cannabusinesses.

"I have taken a stance. No more recreational commercial marijuana grows in Deschutes County," Nelson said. "The state needs to take a time out and assess the oversupply that is more than likely going into the black market."

The Sheriff is right in one sense, and Oregon will certainly need to figure out a more sustainable path forward for legal canna-businesses. That said, one rogue law officer taking on a major county's (legal) weed growers sounds more like a made-for-TV movie than a policy position.

Follow Zach Harris on Twitter


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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